Taliban appoint loyal followers to top government posts

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban on Tuesday announced an interim government that will take an important step in restoring their Islamic emirate, Afghanistan, and strengthening many of the movement’s supporters from their regime in the 1990s.

After weeks of assurances from Taliban leaders that the movement would offer a more moderate and inclusive style of governance, most of Tuesday’s incumbent appointments were held by high-ranking figures who served in similar roles decades ago – a sign that the conservative and theocratic core was breaking up the group’s existence remains largely unchanged. All were men, and some are classified as global terrorists by the United States and the United Nations.

“I assure all of our compatriots that these officials will work hard to comply with Islamic rules and Sharia law,” said Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the movement’s supreme leader, in a written statement distributed at a press conference in Kabul . “The Islamic emirate needs the continued support of its people in order to rebuild the destroyed country together.”

The Taliban made it clear that more appointments would come, extending a process that had dragged on for weeks since the group suddenly took national control last month.

The highest-ranking position, announced on Tuesday, went to Mullah Muhammad Hassan, who was appointed incumbent Prime Minister, making him head of government. Hassan is a hardliner who has held a similar role on the insurgent leadership council in recent years and was deputy prime minister of the first Taliban government.

Some analysts had assumed that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led the Taliban’s negotiations with the US, would take on this role, but instead he was appointed deputy along with Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, a prominent Uzbek member of the negotiating team.

The highest security posts, however, went to relative newcomers from a younger generation of Taliban leaders, both of whom serve as Sheikh Haibatullah’s powerful military deputies.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, 48, appointed Minister of the Interior, for years led the insurgent campaign that terrorized the capital, Kabul. His new post will give him extensive police and legal powers. Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, who was appointed acting defense minister, is the eldest son of the founding leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and will live to be around 30 years old.

Much of the cabinet, including Mr Baradar, had served in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar. Among them were Amir Khan Muttaqi, the incumbent foreign minister; his deputy, Sher Abbas Stanikzai; and four of the so-called “Guantánamo Five”. They were held in the American prison camp in Guantánamo Bay for 13 years before being used against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured by the Taliban, in 2014.

To rule, the Taliban must secure aid that has been frozen by the US and other nations. But US sanctions against some cabinet members, including Mr Haqqani and his uncle Khalil Haqqani, who has been appointed acting Minister for Refugees and Repatriation – both listed as leaders of the Haqqani network, which has been labeled the terrorists – will make this a difficult endeavor.

Another factor will be foreign governments, lenders and aid agencies waiting to see the fate of the opposition and whether the Taliban respect the rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities. Just hours before the Taliban announced their new government posts, their militants were on the streets of Kabul for the second time in less than a week, violently breaking up a peaceful demonstration.

As the crowd of protesters grew on Tuesday, with hundreds of women and at least as many men joining in, the Taliban began beating protesters with rifle butts and sticks, witnesses said, and the crowd dispersed into the air after the fighters began to shoot.

Rezai, 26, one of the organizers of the recent protest, said the demonstration was planned in coordination with people trying to organize national resistance against the Taliban.

“We invited people who use social media platforms,” ​​she said. “And there were more people than we expected. We expect more rallies tonight because the people don’t want terror and destruction. “

When they marched on Tuesday morning, they carried a banner with a single word: “Freedom”.

The protests are taking place as the Taliban are also consolidating their military hold in the country, announcing on Monday that they had captured the capital of troubled Panjshir province.

Afghanistan is also facing a worsening humanitarian crisis. Basic services like electricity are threatened while the country suffers from food and cash shortages.

Thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee the country as the United States evacuates dozens of its citizens. Speaking at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, Foreign Secretary Antony J. Blinken said Tuesday that US officials were “working around the clock” to ensure that chartered flights with Americans can safely leave Afghanistan.

A senior Western diplomat said, on condition of anonymity, that the fact that it took the Taliban more than three weeks to proclaim even a transitional government, despite the urgent need to restore services and economic functions, could be taken as a sign that “They” They weren’t really ready and they had no plan. “

The officials appointed, all of whom were men, were also notable for the fact that, despite the ethnic diversity of the country and the Taliban’s promises of inclusive government, they included few non-Pashtuns.

At the press conference on the appointment of the new cabinet, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, who was appointed deputy minister for information and culture, emphasized the government’s transitional nature.

“This is an acting cabinet that has been appointed to handle current affairs and we are preparing the foundations for government and state-building,” he said. “In the near future, the role of popular participation and the Shuras will be further developed.”

Taliban officials said a nationwide gathering of religious scholars and elders was still planned to affirm Sheikh Haibatullah, a native of Kandahar province and a widely respected religious scholar in the movement, as the supreme leader of Afghanistan.

The coverage was contributed by Wali Arian, Sami Sahak, Mujib Mashal, Adam Nossiter, Michael Crowleyand Farnaz Fassihi.


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