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Taliban name new Afghan government

07 Sep, 2021
The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not return to the brutality of their last reign. Getty Images from Guardian
The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not return to the brutality of their last reign. Getty Images from Guardian

The Taliban named Mullah Hasan Akhund, an associate of the movement's late founder Mullah Omar, as the head of Afghanistan's new government on Tuesday, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the movement's political office, as deputy.

Sarajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani network, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, will be the new interior minister, the Taliban's main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, has been named as defence minister. All the appointments are in an acting capacity, Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.

It was not clear what role in the government would be played by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban supreme leader. He has not been seen or heard in public since the collapse of the Western-backed government and the seizure of Kabul by the Islamist militant movement last month.

Akhund, the new head of government, has been close to Akhunzada for 20 years.

The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not return to the brutality of their last reign two decades ago, marked by brutal punishments and the barring of women and girls from public life.

The appointment of a group of established figures from different elements of the Taliban gave no indication of any concession towards protests that broke out in Kabul earlier in the day, when Taliban gunmen fired in the air to scatter them.

Hundreds of men and women shouting slogans such as "Long live the resistance" and "Death to Pakistan" marched in the streets to protest against the Taliban takeover. Neighbouring Pakistan has deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of assisting its return to power - charges Islamabad denies.

The Taliban's rapid advance across Afghanistan as U.S. forces pulled out last month triggered a scramble to leave by people fearing reprisals.

U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans, but tens of thousands were left behind.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was in contact with about 100 Americans who were still in Afghanistan.

About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for days awaiting clearance for charter flights to leave, an organiser told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.

Who are the key figures in the gov't?

MOHAMMAD HASAN AKHUND, ACTING PRIME MINISTER

Akhund is the longtime head of Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura, or leadership council. He was first the foreign minister and then deputy prime minister during the Taliban's last rule from 1996-2001.

Like many in the Taliban leadership, Akhund derives much of his prestige from his proximity to the movement's reclusive first leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

He hails from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.

A U.N. sanctions report described him as a "close associate and political adviser" to Omar.

Akhund is highly respected within the movement, especially by its supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, a Taliban source said.

Some observers see Akhund, believed to be in his mid-60s and possibly older, as more of a political than a religious figure, with his control over the leadership council also giving him a say in military affairs.

ABDUL GHANI BARADAR, ACTING DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Baradar was once a close friend of Mullah Omar, who gave him his nom de guerre, "Baradar" or "brother".

He served as deputy defence minister when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan.

Following the fall of the Taliban government, Baradar served as a senior military commander responsible for attacks on coalition forces, a U.N. sanctions notice said.

He was arrested and imprisoned in Pakistan in 2010. After his release in 2018, he headed the Taliban's political office in Doha, becoming one of the most prominent figures in peace talks with the United States.

AMIR KHAN MUTTAQI, ACTING FOREIGN MINISTER

Originally from Paktia, Muttaqi calls himself a resident of Helmand.

Muttaqi served as minister of culture and information during the previous Taliban government, as well as minister of education. Muttaqi was later sent to Qatar and was appointed a member of the peace commission and negotiation team that held talks with the United States.

Neither militant commander nor religious leader, according to Taliban sources, Muttaqi is the chair of the Invitation and Guidance Commission, which during the insurgency had led efforts to get government officials and other key figures to defect.

In statements and speeches while fighting raged for control of the country, he projected a moderate voice, calling on forces holed up in provincial capitals to talk to the group to avoid fighting in urban areas.

In the weeks after the fall of Kabul, Muttaqi played a similar role with the lone holdout province of Panjshir, calling for a peaceful settlement to hostilities.

MULLAH YAQOOB, ACTING DEFENCE MINISTER

Son of the Taliban's founder Mullah Omar, Yaqoob had originally sought to succeed his father in 2015. He stormed out of the council meeting that appointed his father's successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, but was eventually reconciled.

Still in his early 30s and without the long combat experience of the Taliban's main battlefield commanders, he commands the loyalty of a section of the movement in Kandahar because of the prestige of his father's name.

He was named as overall head of the Taliban military commission last year, overseeing all military operations in Afghanistan and was one of three deputy leaders, along with Baradar and Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Although considered a relative moderate by some Western analysts, Taliban commanders said he was among the leaders pressing the military campaign against the cities to be stepped up in the weeks before the fall of Kabul.

SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI, ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER

Head of the influential Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani succeeded as its leader following the death of his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, in 2018.

Initially backed by the United States as one of the most effective anti-Soviet militia in the 1980s, the semi-autonomous group was blamed for some of the deadliest attacks on coalition forces.

The network, whose exact status within the Taliban structure is debated, has been named a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States although the Taliban itself has not.

The United Nations Sanctions Committee also has also said the group, based in the lawless frontier areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, has close involvement in drugs production and trade.

Haqqani is one of the FBI's most wanted men, due to his involvement in suicide attacks and ties with Al Qaeda. The U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to his arrest.

ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, ACTING DEPUTY INFORMATION MINISTER

The long-time spokesman for the Taliban, Mujahid has for more than a decade been the key conduit for information on the group's activities, regularly posting details of suicide attacks through his Twitter account.

No photo of him existed until he gave his first press conference following the fall of Kabul last month, and for years American military intelligence believed Mujahid was a persona for several individuals running the group's media operations.