The Taliban took the leader of a US-designated terrorist organization into a new government to formally mark the group’s return to power after 20 years of war with America as the West struggles to recognize or reject the new ones. government.
Mullah Mohammad Hassan, the little-known head of the Taliban leadership council, has been named acting prime minister, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said at a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday. Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the main public face of the group that signed a peace deal with the Trump administration last year, will serve as his deputy.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network and on the FBI’s most wanted list for terrorism, will serve as acting secretary of the interior. That could complicate any move by the US to cooperate with the Taliban, especially as President Joe Biden is urging the Taliban to cut all ties with terrorist groups.
The Taliban want good relations with all countries in the world, including the US, Mujahed told reporters. He called the cabinet a “diverse group” from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, although no women were elected.
“We are not a tribal force,” Mujahed said, adding that the group wanted good relations with the US despite the war. “We hope that all countries in the world will recognize the legitimacy of our government and Islamic regime.”
The US and its allies have looked at whether the Taliban would form an inclusive government that could stabilize the country and prevent a return to civil war. Other demands include freedom of travel for those seeking to leave Afghanistan and rights for women, who faced extreme repression when the Taliban last came to power at the turn of the century.
During a briefing on Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she had no timeline for when the US would recognize the new Taliban government and was still evacuating the remaining Americans.
“There is no rush for recognition,” she said. “It will really depend on what steps the Taliban take. The world will be watching, including the United States.”
Much is at stake for the new Taliban government. There are signs of an economic crisis: prices of essential goods are rising in Kabul, while banks are strapped for cash. The US has frozen about $9 billion in assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank, or DAB, the country’s central bank, and the International Monetary Fund has cut the group from using fund reserve assets.
Mujahed made no mention of Taliban commander-in-chief Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has not been seen in public since he became the group’s leader in 2016. Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of former Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammad Omar — who refused to surrender Osama bin Laden to the US before the 2001 invasion — became acting defense secretary.
Other key cabinet members included:
- Abdul Salam Hanafi, Second Deputy Prime Minister
- Amir Khan Muttaqi as Acting Foreign Minister
- Hedayatullah Badri as Acting Finance Minister
- Din Mohammad as Acting Minister of Economy
- Mohammad Edris as Acting Governor of the Central Bank
Regional and wider security threats have already played out at Kabul airport, where a suicide bombing attributed to a local offshoot of the Islamic State terrorist group killed nearly 170 Afghans and 13 US servicemen in the final days of the chaotic US evacuation of the country.
The Taliban have tried to recast themselves into a more moderate form: they promised amnesty for their enemies, pledged to build an inclusive government with diverse ethnic groups, keep terrorist groups off Afghan soil, and allow women to work within the boundaries of Sharia.
But many Afghans are hesitant about the promised shifts in the Taliban’s stance, highlighted by two weeks of desperate scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Several people died as massive crowds rushed to the tarmac soon after the terrorist group took over, and even the suicide bombing failed to deter the crowd.