Wed, October 20, 2021


Taliban forms acting government in Afghanistan, saying permanent leadership to be named soon, as protests grow

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban on Tuesday took its first step toward formalizing its rule of Afghanistan, announcing the leaders of a caretaker government that included members of the powerful Haqqani network but excluded representatives of the countrys toppled government.

The group said it would name permanent leadership soon. The interim cabinet - all Taliban members, many of whom had close ties to Taliban founder Muhammad Omar - excludes Afghanistan's former leaders, such as former president Hamid Karzai and former national reconciliation leader Abdullah Abdullah, who have held talks with Taliban leaders in recent weeks.

The move reflects the Taliban's dominance politically and militarily in Afghanistan, just days after the last U.S. troops withdrew from the country. But it could complicate the movement's pledges to restart the country's economy. The United States, which controls billions of dollars in frozen reserves that Afghanistan relies on, had pushed for an inclusive government consisting of non-Taliban members.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid defended the appointments, describing them as inclusive, with the Taliban holding discussions about the temporary cabinet "all over the country." He said people were chosen based only on who "fought hard and sacrificed the most for freedom."

Muhammad Hassan Akhund, a close aide to Omar, was appointed acting prime minister. Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the Taliban's founding members and a longtime confidant of Omar, was named Akhund's deputy. The acting defense minister, Mohammad Yaqoob, is a son of Omar, who died in 2013.

In a statement, Akhund said the temporary ministers would protect the human rights of all Afghans and called on educated and experienced citizens not to leave the country, saying Afghanistan's new government "desperately needs their talents, guidance and work." The Taliban has been accused of not allowing hundreds of Afghans in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif to leave the country on planes chartered for their evacuation.

Members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group closely allied with the Taliban that has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, were also named to head two ministries, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was appointed as the acting interior minister. Haqqani, the leader of the network, is on the FBI's most wanted list in connection with a 2008 terrorist attack in Kabul that killed six people, including a U.S. citizen.

The announcement of an acting government came as the movement faced growing anti-Taliban protests across Kabul. Hundreds of men and women marched the streets of the capital Tuesday in support of resistance fighters in Panjshir province after the Taliban claimed victory and took control of the area Monday.

For much of the march, Taliban fighters escorted the protest - until the demonstrators neared the presidential palace and the firing began.

"We were attacked by Taliban, they opened fire, some of the protesters were detained. Journalists were stopped from filming and covering the rally," Maryam, an activist, texted from Kabul. She also said a Taliban vehicle plowed into the crowd.

Maryam, who for security reasons spoke on the condition that only her first name be used, said the rally in Kabul was against foreign interference in Afghanistan, particularly by Pakistan, which is widely seen as a backer of the Taliban. Online videos showed people running for cover amid gunfire, and there were reports of women detained.

Maryam added that Taliban members deleted photos and videos of the protests from phones of people they seized. A cameraman for Afghanistan's Tolo News was briefly detained by the Taliban, according to the station's owner, Saad Mohseni.

"People were different today," said one protester and employee of the former Afghan government, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Many of the protesters "were afraid, but they pushed forward anyway."

Following the demonstration, Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said protests would not be allowed during this tenuous period, so people are not able to "use the current situation to cause trouble."

On Monday, women also marched through the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. The demonstrators dispersed only when the protest threatened to turn violent, with Taliban fighters growing agitated. One witness said two police vehicles intentionally drove toward the marchers.

"We were afraid, but at least we demanded our rights," said Karima Shujazada, a 26-year-old protester in Mazar-e Sharif who helped organize a march to the provincial governor's office and through the city.

Women's rights protests have also taken place in recent days in Herat and Kabul. Women also took to the streets of Zaranj, near the border with Iran, to demand respect for civil liberties. The Taliban on Saturday violently suppressed a march in Kabul, although a spokesman for the group later told the Guardian newspaper that the Taliban detained four men who allegedly struck women at that demonstration.

Across Afghanistan, a generation of girls has grown up in a world completely different from the one their parents knew. When it last ruled, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned girls from school and women from the workplace. While the Islamist militants have pledged to govern more moderately, many Afghans remain deeply skeptical of such promises.

As university classes resumed across Afghanistan this week for the first time since the Taliban takeover, some institutions imposed gender segregation and divided classrooms with curtains or boards.

"I really felt terrible when I entered the class. . . . We are gradually going back to 20 years ago," a female student at Kabul University told Reuters.

The Taliban's actions are being closely watched from abroad, with Western governments signaling that the resumption of most aid will be contingent on whether Afghanistan's new rulers respect basic human rights.

Mujahid said at a recent news conference that women would eventually be "asked to return" to their jobs.

Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the last pocket of resistance forces in the Panjshir region, on Monday called for a national uprising against the Taliban, saying the group had "become even more brutal, radicalized, hateful and fanatic."

The Taliban said Monday it had seized the mountainous province from forces led by Massoud.

A senior resistance official said that while the Taliban had taken control of the Panjshir Valley, resistance forces had retreated into the mountains to fight the Islamist militants. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said that some families who live in the valley have fled for the relative safety of Kabul and other provinces.

A top U.N. official pressed the Taliban this week to facilitate humanitarian work as the group consolidates its control of Afghanistan. Martin Griffiths, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and coordinator for emergency relief, spoke with reporters after a visit to Kabul, where he met with Baradar, the senior Taliban official who was named acting deputy prime minister Tuesday.

"My message to him was actually rather simple," Griffiths said. "I said we need to work together for a reason, because we need to deliver the humanitarian assistance that the people of Afghanistan urgently need. . . . So I set out to the Taliban very clearly what humanitarian agencies around the world, in every country, need to operate."

Among the things Griffiths said aid groups would require were guarantees about the security of their employees, the ability to independently deliver and monitor assistance, and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms for women.

Griffiths said Baradar appeared to agree to at least some of the United Nations' requests. "Although he did add that the rights of people in Afghanistan were subject to the culture and religion of Afghanistan," Griffiths said.

The Taliban takeover has occurred as humanitarian needs surge in Afghanistan, where conflict has already forced many Afghans from their homes and where drought and the coronavirus pandemic have added to already strained conditions. Griffiths said that roughly 18 million Afghans require some kind of humanitarian assistance.

One of the key ways that any aid could get into the country would be via the Kabul airport, which Qatar and Turkey have offered to help run, although an agreement remains elusive.

Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said Doha hopes that the Kabul airport can reopen in the next few days.

Amid the uncertainty, U.S. officials are under pressure to find ways to help evacuate remaining American citizens and at-risk Afghans from the country. In Mazar-e Sharif, several planes chartered to evacuate people have been unable to leave the country for days amid conflicting accounts on why they are being held up.

An Afghan official at the airport told the Associated Press that those seeking to leave were Afghans, many of whom did not have passports or visas. But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said at least two planes were waiting in the city to take American citizens, at-risk Afghan allies and their families to safety in Qatar.

Asked about that at a news conference in Doha, Blinken said the United States was making efforts to ensure that charter flights can fly out of Afghanistan safely. Washington estimates that nearly 100 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, including dual nationals, he said.

Blinken said the Taliban has agreed to allow anyone to leave as long as they have valid documentation, and he said he is unaware of any "hostage-type" situation.

The State Department helped four U.S. citizens leave Afghanistan over land Monday, a senior department official said, marking the first such evacuation it has facilitated since the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan last week.

Published : September 08, 2021