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Taliban choices in new cabinet could hamper recognition by West

Afghanistan‘s new rulers have rewarded Taliban veterans and hardliners with plum posts in the cabinet despite promising an inclusive government, but the choices could pose obstacles in the country getting Western recognition and aid.

At least three members named in what was described as an acting cabinet on Tuesday were among the Taliban Five, long-term detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay who were freed in 2014 in exchange for an American soldier in Taliban custody.

The interior ministry went to Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani Network, who is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a bounty of up to $10 million.

His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

The 33-strong cabinet was dominated by Pashtun men, mostly battle-hardened veterans of the two-decade war against the U.S.-backed government.

There were no women and just three members from minorities, although these included the powerful positions of deputy prime minister, held by the Uzbek Abdul Salam Hanafi, and army chief, held by the Tajik Qari Faseeh udin.

“The way they have set about constituting a government sends the wrong signal,” said Rohan Gunaratna, professor of security studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, adding that the choices made it extremely difficult for the international community to recognise the new government.

“Afghanistan will not achieve a seat in the U.N.,” he said.

Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay.

The European Union said it was ready to continue with emergency aid to Afghanistan, but will keep a close eye on the new Taliban government.

Afghanistan faces the collapse of basic services and food and other aid is about to run out, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

THE HAQQANIS

The three “Taliban Five” members in the cabinet were Head of Intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, Borders and Tribal Affairs Minister Noorullah Noori and Culture Minister Khairullah Khairkhwa.

The rising stature of the Haqqanis, whose fighters were at the forefront when the Taliban captured Kabul last month, was also a matter of concern, some analysts said.

The Haqqani network is described as a terrorist organisation by the United States, which has also said it receives support from neighbouring Pakistan, especially its ISI spy agency. Islamabad has denied the accusations.

However, some analysts noted that ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed visited Kabul at the weekend, just ahead of the announcement of the cabinet.

“The elevation of Sirajuddin (Haqqani) to Interior Minister and his uncle Khalil to a ministry reflects the fact that finance and protection from the ISI have leveraged the Haqqani Network into a powerful position at the heart of the new administration,” said Michael Semple, an Afghanistan expert at Queen’s University in Belfast.

The choice of Mullah Hasan Akhund as prime minister came as a surprise.

Although not known as a hardliner, he was favoured over Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office and the public face of its negotiations with the United States and other governments.

Baradar is deputy prime minister, but Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said: “We can perhaps read this move as a successful effort by hardline Taliban factions to sideline Baradar, who is a relative moderate within the Taliban.”

The other power centre in the Taliban, said Asfandyar Mir, an analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, was with old-timers from the Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan who draw their clout from their proximity to Mullah Omar, the late founder of the movement.

“What happens is in terms of inter-tribal dynamics, what region you’re from, how long you’ve been around and what’s your association with Mullah Omar,” Mir said.

“A lot of those factors continue to be more important than the developments of recent months, or years,” he said, referring to the moderates.

( Originally published on Sep 08, 2021 )

Announcement on Afghanistan government soon: Taliban

Amid Pakistan Foreign Minister’s Kabul visit Taliban has announced that talks on the formation of a new government with Afghan political leaders are underway and that a new government will be announced in the near future.

“Our political officials met with leaders here in Kabul, their views are important, discussions are moving, there is hope for an announcement on the government soon,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the participants of an emergency session of the CSTO have expressed concern over the events in Afghanistan and potential threats from this country, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. Collective Security Treaty Organisation or CSTO is an Eurasian military alliance comprising Russia, Kazakhstan. Tajikistan, Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. Afghanistan is an observer to CSTO. These countries are worried over spillover impact of extremism & narco trade from Afghanistan into this region.

Members of the Taliban’s political office over the weekend met a number of politicians in Kabul including former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), and discussions focused on the overall political situation including the formation of an inclusive government.

The members of the Taliban’s political office who arrived in Kabul on Saturday include Shahabuddin Delawar, Abdul Salam Hanafi, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhaw and Abdul Rahmand Fida.

Abdullah Abdullah in a Facebook post confirmed the meeting with the Taliban leaders, saying that discussions were focused on the political process and the formation of an inclusive government.

Some Afghan political leaders, however, criticized the way the talks are taking place, saying that the political process should be inclusive.

“I don’t see this game as a good one because it looks like a game of inpiduals, everyone tries to promote himself and does not show respect for the Afghans,” local Afghan media reported quoting Sayed Eshaq Gailani, the head of the Nahzat-e-Hambastagi Afghanistan party.

Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh, said that the next government will not be acceptable if it is not inclusive.

“The war has not ended, we have a long way to go, we will test them (the Taliban), we will emerge again … either to resolve it through an inclusive government or war,” said Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh.

India and Russia have emphasised on the necessity for inclusive government in Kabul. Amid this New Delhi and Moscow on Monday held high level discussions in Russia to expand joint defence production.

( Originally published on Aug 23, 2021 )

Afghan government formation by Taliban postponed; to be announced on September 4

The formation of a new Afghan government by the Taliban, which was to be announced on Friday, has now been delayed by a day, according to the spokesman of the insurgents Zabiullah Mujahid. Mujahid said the announcement about the formation of the new government will now be made on Saturday.

Sources said that Chairman of Taliban’s Political Office, Doha, Qatar Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar is likely to be the head of the Taliban Government.

More than two weeks after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the hardline Islamists are all set to announce the formation of a new government in Kabul on the lines of the Iranian leadership, with the group’s top religious leader Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada as Afghanistan’s supreme authority, a senior member of the group has said.

“Consultations are almost finalised on the new government, and the necessary discussions have also been held about the cabinet,” Mufti Inamullah Samangani, a senior official in the Taliban’s information and culture commission, said.

In Iran, the supreme leader is the highest political and religious authority of the country. He ranks above the president and appoints the heads of the military, the government, and the judiciary. The supreme leader has final say in the political, religious and military affairs of the country.

“Mullah Akhunzada will be the leader of the government and there should be no question on this,” he said, indicating that the president will work under his oversight.

Mullah Akhunzada is the top religious leader of the Taliban and has been serving at a mosque in Kachlaak area of Balochistan province for 15 years.

Samangani said that under the new governmental set-up, governors will control the provinces, while the district governors will be in-charge of their respective districts.

The Taliban has already appointed governors, police chiefs and police commanders for provinces and districts.

The name of the new governance system, the national flag and the national anthem are yet to be finalised, he said.