The Taliban have announced the formation of an interim government, in a move that would further cement their hold over Afghanistan. It will be led by one of their founders -- Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund – and have a US-designated terrorist as Interior minister.
Sarajuddin Haqqani, the new acting interior minister, is head of the militant Haqqani network which has been behind some of the deadliest attacks in the country's two-decade-long war. He has a $5 million US bounty on his head.
His appointment may complicate any moves by the US to reach out to the Taliban.
Disagreements between the Taliban’s multiple factions had so far held up the government formation. The name of a lesser known Talibana leader, who is on the United Nations terror watch list, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, was doing the rounds as a compromise prime ministerial candidate. In fact, there had been intense speculation that the consensus to make Mullah Hassan the next Prime Minister was arrived at during the Pakistan military intelligence chief's stay in Kabul.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, he main public face of the Taliban who signed a peace deal with the Trump administration last year, will be Hassan’s deputy, a spokesman told reporters.
The other appointments include Mullah Yaqoob as acting defence minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi as acting foreign minister, and Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi as a second deputy. Yaqoob is the son of former supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar who refused to give up Osama bin Laden to the US before the 2001 invasion. ‘‘The Taliban want good relations with all countries in the world, including the US,’’ spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said at a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday. He called the cabinet a "diverse group" that included a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds, although no women were chosen.
"We're not a tribal force," Mujahed said, adding that the group wanted good relations with the US despite the war. "We hope all countries in the world will recognize the legitimacy of our government and our Islamic regime. "The US and its allies have been waiting to see whether the Taliban would form an inclusive government that can stabilize the country and prevent a return to civil war.
At a briefing on Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she didn't have a timeline for when the U.S. would recognize the new Taliban government and was still working to evacuate remaining Americans.
The Taliban spokesperson made no mention of Taliban Supreme Commander Haibatullah Akhundzada, who hasn't been seen in public since becoming the group's leader in 2016. Addressing the media, Mujahid further said, “We have named ministers only for ministries that are needed right now. In due course, we will announce names for the other ministries. We have a clear view and policy.
"Possibly reacting to protests in Kabul and elsewhere, he said: ‘‘We have right now come out of turmoil. The situation is not ideal for demonstrations. These demonstrations violate the security of the country. I urge protesters not to carry out demonstrations during these days."
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