The Taliban declared their government on Tuesday, with a UN-blacklisted veteran of the hardline organisation at the helm, just weeks after storming to power and deposing the US-backed president. However, as the Taliban transitions from a terrorist organisation to Afghanistan’s ruling power, security forces are dealing with an increasing number of anti-Taliban protests, with two people shot dead in the western city of Herat.
Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a top official during the Taliban’s violent and repressive regime in the 1990s, was named interim prime minister at a news conference in Kabul, a spokesperson claimed. The Taliban pledged an inclusive administration that would represent the ethnic mix of the nation, but all senior positions were given to important officials from the organisation and the Haqqani network – the Taliban’s most deadly affiliate notorious for catastrophic assaults.
“We will attempt to take individuals from other regions of the nation,” said spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, adding that the government was only temporary. Shortly after the new lineup was unveiled, Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s hidden supreme commander who has never been seen in public, issued a statement declaring that the new administration will “work tirelessly to defend Islamic norms and sharia law.”
Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder and late supreme commander Mullah Omar, was designated defence minister, while Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, was chosen interior minister. Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban who oversaw the signing of the US departure deal, will serve as Hassan’s deputy.
“It’s not at all inclusive,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “The Taliban has never said that any of its cabinet members will include anyone other than themselves.” Following a 20-year conflict, the Taliban now face the mammoth task of administering Afghanistan, which is beset by economic issues and security concerns, particularly from the Islamic State group’s local chapter. There has been an upsurge in the number of protests around the country in the recent week, with many Afghans fearful of a repeat of the Taliban’s previous brutal and repressive regime.
Hundreds of people gathered at multiple demonstrations in Kabul on Tuesday, a display of defiance unimaginable under the previous administration, as Taliban guards fired bullets to disperse the crowds. Hundreds of protesters marched through Herat, holding banners and the Afghan flag (a black, red, and green vertical tricolour with the national symbol superimposed in white), with some yelling “independence.” According to the Afghan Independent Journalists Association in Kabul, 14 Afghan and international journalists were briefly held during the Kabul protests before being freed. The Taliban spokesperson advised the population not to take to the streets during a press conference on Tuesday night. “No one should demonstrate until all government offices have reopened and the regulations governing protests have been clarified,” Mujahid added. The organisation, which killed people in stadiums and severed criminals’ hands in the 1990s, has repeatedly stated that it will not tolerate any opposition to its authority.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed the Taliban have repeated their commitment to let Afghans to leave freely. US President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure after reports that several hundred individuals, including Americans, have been barred from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan for a week.