Afghanistan‘s Taliban leadership on Tuesday rolled out a new “caretaker government” dominated by longtime members of the Islamist insurgency now in charge in Kabul, including at least one new minister whom the U.S. officially considers the head of a terrorist organization with a $5 million price on his head.
The appointments raise further questions about recent pledges by senior Taliban officials that they would seek to form an “inclusive” government after having ousted the U.S.-backed Kabul government in a lightning offensive last month.
The Biden administration and other Western governments have said the composition of Afghanistan‘s new leadership will play a critical role in deciding whether they will consider diplomatic recognition and the resumption of aid to a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.
The delay in naming a new government — and the fact that Tuesday’s announcement covered only a temporary, caretaker regime — sparked speculation that the Taliban are divided over the way forward and how much to temper the insurgency’s hard-line Islamist stances to attract international support. All of the appointees are reportedly serving only in an acting capacity for now.
The Taliban‘s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday that the new head of state will be Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, who was foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the hard-line Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who gained international prominence as the head of the Taliban negotiating team that struck a withdrawal deal with the Trump administration in early 2020, will be one of his top deputies.
The spokesman listed no non-Taliban nominees — and no women — among the new leadership, even though some figures tied to the just-ousted government, including former President Hamid Karzai, had been in talks with the triumphant Taliban leadership following the fall of Kabul.
The lineup is also heavily tilted toward the country’s ethnic Pashtuns, who make up about 40% of the population but have long been the heart of the Taliban resistance.
Two powerful posts went to sons of prominent leaders of the 20-year fight against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, according to the Taliban spokesman.
Mulla Yaqoob, son of the Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, will be the new acting defense minister, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the violent Haqqani network and son of the fabled warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, was named interior minister. Mr. Haqqani was selected even though the U.S. government has officially labeled the Haqqani network a terrorist organization and has offered a $5 million reward for the new minister’s capture.
Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzad, considered to be the lead spiritual authority for the Taliban movement, endorsed Mullah Hasan’s selection to the top job but was not present to make the announcements. The reclusive Taliban leader has yet to appear in public since the group’s military victory.
Despite the hard-line lineup, the Taliban still seem to be concerned about the image they are projecting as they face the challenge of running a huge, poor, divided country.
“Our message to our neighbors, the region and the world is that Afghanistan‘s soil will not be used against the security of any other country,” a policy statement released by the new government insisted. The statement pressed foreign diplomats and international aid agencies to return to Afghanistan.
But the make-up of the new government did little to quiet Republican criticisms of President Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis and the administration’s wait-and-see approach on whether to try and work with the new Taliban-dominated government.
“If you had any doubt of how ill-advised the Biden administration‘s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was, all doubt should now be removed by the lineup of thugs and butchers who now form the interim government of Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said in a statement. “I will oppose any and all efforts by the Biden administration to legitimize the Afghan Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.”
• This article was based in part on wire service reports.