KABUL: The Taliban announced veteran Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund as the leader of their interim cabinet on Tuesday, while giving key positions to some of the movement’s top officials. No woman has been included in the interim set-up.
Hailing from the spiritual Taliban heartland of Kandahar, Akhund served as governor of the key province during the group’s first reign in the 1990s. He was a close aide to the group’s co-founder Mullah Omar, held the position of deputy foreign minister, and is on a UN blacklist.
At a press conference in Kabul, chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar will be one of the two deputy leaders, alongside Abdul Salam Hanafi, a member of their political office in Doha, Qatar.
Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Omar, was named defence minister, while the position of interior minister was given to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who also doubled up as a Taliban deputy leader. After sweeping into Kabul on August 15 following a lightning offensive that decimated the former Afghan army, the Taliban had pledged a more "inclusive" brand of rule than in their first stint in power in 1996-2001.
Zabihullah Mujahid said that the new government would be an interim one. "The cabinet is not complete, it is just acting," Zabihullah Mujahid said. "We will try to take people from other parts of the country."
“The government we announced is an acting government, it is not the future and permanent government. Some of the ministers have not been declared yet, which will be soon," Zabihullah Mujahid said.
"The declaration of government is not final. These are acting ministers. I do not say they are not deserving, but at this stage, we are at an emergency state," he added. Responding to concerns about a perceived Daesh interference from within Pakistan in Afghanistan's internal affairs, especially in Panjshir, Zabihullah Mujahid denied any such possibility.
"People have been talking about Panjshir, but we tell you the Panjshir province is safe, there have been no exchanges, and there has been no war in the Panjshir [valley]," he said. "Now we do not allow people to abuse the current situation in order to cause trouble. The interference of Pakistan is a rumour that has been bandied about for 20 years.
"We do not allow interference. We act with complete freedom and we were able to fight the countries of the world who were occupying our country. From the outset we fought the whole world for the sake of Islam and this country," Zabihullah Mujahid said.
"Not that I want to drive a wedge between us and Pakistan. We have sacrificed and provided many sacrifices in defence of this country and the people of this country," he added. Speaking of demonstrations in the capital he said: "There are also people that are carrying out demonstrations with security and safety in the capital. We also know some people do not have enough experience to deal with demonstrators and I would like and hope that this is left for the future so that it can be dealt with properly within a full-time government."
Zabihullah Mujahid also warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule. "Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard. We will not allow another," he said. Zabihullah Mujahid will work as spokesman for the presidential palace while Mullah Ameer Khan Muttaqi was appointed as the foreign minister.
Other members of the cabinet include Mullah Hidayatullah Badri (finance minister), Sheikh Mullah Noorullah Muneer (education minister), Mullah Khairullah Khair Khawah (minister of information and culture), Qari Din Haneef (minister of economy), Shaikh Maulvi Noor Mohammad Saqib (minister of Haj), Maulvi Abdul Hakim Shariey (minister of justice), Mullah Noorullah Noori (minister of frontiers and tribes), Mullah Yunus Akhundzada (minister of rural and rehabilitation development), Mullah Abdul Manan Omari (minister of public works), Haji Mullah Mohammad Esa Akhund (minister of mines and petroleum), Mullah Abdul Lateef Mansoor (minister of water and power), Mullah Hameedullah Akhundzada (minister of civil aviation and transports), Maulvi Abdul Baqi Haqqani (minister of higher education), Maulvi Najibullah Haqqani (minister of telecommunications), Haji Khaleelul Rahman Haqqani (minister for refugees), Mullah Abdul Haq Wasiq (acting head of directorate general of intelligence), Haji Mohammad Idrees (head of state bank of Afghanistan), Mullah Ahmad Jan Ahmadi (head of administrative office), Mullah Mohammad Fazel Mazloom (deputy defence minister), Qari Fasihuddin (chief of army staff), Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai (deputy minister), Maulvi Noor Jalal (deputy interior minister), Zabihullah Mujahid (deputy minister of information and culture), Mullah Taj Mir Jawad (first deputy of directorate of intelligence), Mullah Rahmatullah Najib (administrative deputy of directorate general of intelligence) and Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund (deputy minister counter narcotics of ministry of interior).
The Taliban’s supreme leader on Tuesday told the newly appointed government to uphold sharia law, in his first message since they swept to power. "I assure all the countrymen that the figures will work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and sharia law in the country," Hibatullah Akhundzada, who has never been seen in public, said in a statement released in English.
Akhundzada told Afghans that the new leadership would ensure "lasting peace, prosperity and development", adding that "people should not try to leave the country". "The Islamic Emirate has no problem with anyone," he said. "All will take part in strengthening the system and Afghanistan and in this way, we will rebuild our war-torn country."
Akhundzada’s public profile has largely been limited to the release of messages during Islamic holidays, but the group has shed some light on his whereabouts. "He is present in Kandahar," Zabihullah Mujahid said after the Taliban seized power.
Another spokesman had said Akhundzada was due to make a public appearance "soon". Meanwhile, the Taliban on Tuesday fired shots into the air to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered at several rallies in Kabul.
At least three rallies were held across Kabul in a show of resistance that would have been unthinkable during the Taliban’s last stint in power. General Mobin, a Taliban official in charge of security in the capital, told AFP he had been called to the scene by Taliban guards who said that "women were creating a disruption".
"These protesters are gathered based only on the conspiracy of foreign intelligence," he claimed. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had reiterated a pledge to allow Afghans to freely depart Afghanistan.
The Taliban told the United States that "they will let people with travel documents freely depart", Blinken said at a news conference in Doha, where he and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Qatari opposite numbers.
US President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure amid reports that several hundred people, including Americans, have been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan. Washington said meanwhile it was in "no rush" to recognise the new government. "It’s really going to be dependent on what steps the Taliban takes," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said. "The world will be watching, the United States included."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday gave a guarded response to the new Afghan government announced by the Taliban, saying he would closely follow its future course.
In his first comments on the Taliban’s appointments, Erdogan said he did not know how long the new government’s current makeup would last. "As you know just now, it’s hard to call it permanent, but an interim cabinet has been announced," Erdogan told reporters during a joint media appearance with visiting DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi in Ankara.
"We do not know how long this temporary cabinet will last. Our duty now is to follow this process carefully." Earlier on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also sounded a cautious note, saying the international community should not rush into recognising the Taliban’s legitimacy. "There is no need to rush," Cavusoglu said. "This is our advice to the entire world. We should act together with the international community."
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