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News Analysis | Taliban’s message to the world — We haven’t changed

Formation of interim government makes it clear that the old guard reigns supreme and that they care little about what the world thinks about their conduct of governance.

After capturing Kabul on August 15, Taliban leaders had repeatedly said they would establish an “inclusive government” representing all sections of Afghan society. There were also discussions on whether the Taliban 2.0 would be different from the last time they were in power. But with the formation of an interim government on Wednesday, four days prior to the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the Taliban have made it clear that the old guard who ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 still reigns supreme in the group and that they care little about what the world thinks about their conduct of governance.

Old guard

Almost all the senior positions of the interim government have been allocated to top Taliban leaders who were associated with the old regime. Mullah Hassan Akhund, who was the Foreign Minister of the previous Islamic Emirate, will head the government. Mullah Akhund, who is on a U.N. blacklist, is one of the Taliban’s founders. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, another co-founder who was heading the Taliban’s Doha-based negotiations with the U.S. and other countries, will be his deputy.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is heading the dreaded Haqqani Network, is the Interior Minister. Sirajuddin’s father Jalaluddin Haqqani was a Minister in the previous Taliban regime and then a commander of the militants. Mohammad Yaqoob, the oldest son of the Taliban’s founder Mullah Omar, is the Defence Minister.

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Khalil Haqqani, another senior member from the Haqqani Network, has been named the Minister of Refugee Affairs. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid has said the list is not complete. But the first list indicates that the key portfolios have been divided between the Taliban’s religious leadership and the Haqqanis, who provide military muscle to the group.

Sirajuddin is a globally designated terrorist wanted by Washington. The FBI has offered a reward of $5 million for information about him. He will now be in charge of internal security, police forces and intelligence. His Haqqani Network has close ties with Pakistan’s military establishment and had helped al-Qaeda in the past.

The appointment could make it difficult for other countries, especially for India and those in the West, in normalising relations with the Taliban regime. (The Haqqanis are blamed for the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in which 58 people were killed). But the Taliban leadership, like their peers in the 1990s, doesn’t seem to care.

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Four of the top five commanders who were detained in the Guantánamo prison and released by the Obama administration in 2014 in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were also given senior posts in the regime — Mullah Khairullah Khairkhah, Minister for Information and Culture; Mullah Noorullah Noori, Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs; Mohammad Fazl, Chief of Army Staff; and Abdul Haq Wasiq, Director of Intelligence.

No woman, no Shia

Most of the Ministers are Pashtun, which is the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (the Taliban are predominantly Pashtun). Unsurprisingly, there is no woman in the government. Afghanistan’s Shia minority, who make up roughly 10% of the population, has also found no representative in the interim government.

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In the 1990s, the Shia Hazara minority, who are largely concentrated in Mazar-i Sharif in northwest Afghanistan, faced systemic persecution under the Taliban regime. Iran, a Shia theocracy that had established contacts with the Sunni extremist Taliban years ago, had reportedly put pressure on Afghanistan’s new rulers to include Hazara Shias in the government. But the Taliban did not relent.

Two days before the government announcement, the Taliban’s Education Ministry had issued an extensive document, issuing instructions to educational institutions and the women who were going to colleges and universities. All female students, teachers and staff must wear an abaya robe and niqab covering the hair, body and most of the face as well as gloves to ensure hands are covered, stated the document, signalling how the regime would treat women. It also ordered classes to be segregated by gender or divided by a curtain.

Protests broke out in parts of Afghanistan, including in Kabul, where women staged rallies demanding freedoms. On Tuesday, the crowds were dispersed by the Taliban using force, which was followed by Zabihullah Mujahid’s night-time press conference in which he announced the government formation.

Islamic system

In September 1996, after capturing Kabul, Mullah Omar said the Taliban would establish “a pure Islamic system” in Afghanistan. On September 7, 2021, after the interim government was announced, Hibatullah Akhundzada, Taliban’s Emir who will be the supreme leader of the new Afghanistan, issued a statement saying: “Our previous 20 years of struggle and Jihad had had two major goals. Firstly to end foreign occupation and aggression and to liberate the country, and secondly to establish a complete, independent, stable and central Islamic system in the country.” He added: “Based on this principle, in the future, all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the Holy Shariah.”

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