Its makeup is overwhelmingly drawn from Pashtun tribes

“We’re working to establish an inclusive government that represents all the people of Afghanistan,” promised Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar when he recently arrived in Kabul to start talks aimed at forming a leadership to move the movement from guns to government.

“We would like to live peacefully,” vowed Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid at the first press conference in the capital after the Taliban suddenly swept into power on 15 August. “We don’t want any internal enemies and any external enemies.”

Judge them by their actions, not their words, has become the mantra of a fast-expanding league of Taliban watchers including Afghans, foreign governments, humanitarian chiefs and political pundits the world over.

But Afghans are watching most closely of all. They have to.

On a day when brave protesters with bold banners spilled into the streets of Kabul and other cities – Afghan women leading the charge to demand their rights, their representation, their roles in society – the new Taliban government was unveiled.
Was this more evidence of the media-savvy Taliban? It temporarily knocked news of Taliban firing guns in the air, wielding rifle butts and sticks to disperse protesters, out of the world’s headlines.

But it was a modest ceremony, in the mundane setting of a press conference, for such a momentous, much-anticipated message. It electrified social media, and delivered a gut punch to those who had held fast to Taliban promises.

Far from being inclusive, it is exclusively Taliban. The old organigram of the Taliban movement, with its commissions, deputies, and the all-powerful Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, has been transplanted into a cabinet with the same political architecture of governments everywhere.

Its makeup is overwhelmingly drawn from Pashtun tribes, with only one Tajik and one Uzbek, both Talibs. There’s not a single woman, not even in deputy minister positions.

The reviled Ministry of Vice and Virtue is back; the Women’s Affairs Ministry is out.

It’s a government of the old guard, and the new generation of mullahs and military commanders: men in charge when the Taliban ruled in the 1990s who return, beards much lighter and longer; former Guantanamo Bay prisoners; current members of US and UN black lists; battle-hardened fighters who pressed forward on every front in recent months; self-styled peacemakers who sat around negotiating tables, and shuttled around regional capitals with promises of a new Taliban 2.0.

Taliban soldiers stand in front of protesters during the anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul
image captionTaliban fighters stand in front of protesters during an anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul
Some names stick out – some so far they can seem provocative.

The caretaker head of cabinet is the white-bearded Mullah Hasan Akhund, a founding member of the Taliban who’s on the UN’s sanctions list.

The caretaker Minister of the Interior is Sirajuddin Haqqani. His face has rarely been seen except in a photograph, partially obscured by a caramel-coloured shawl, in a FBI wanted poster announcing a big bounty of $5m that’s also on his head. His more recent claim to fame was an op-ed in the New York Times in 2020 calling for peace which failed to mention that the Haqqani Network named after his family is held responsible for some of the worst attacks on Afghan civilians. The Haqqanis insist there’s no such network; they say they’re part of the Taliban now.
At the press conference in Kabul, as a raucous chorus of questions rose from journalists in the room, it was said more posts might be announced in time. “We haven’t announced all the ministries and deputies yet so it’s possible this list could be extended,” Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the cultural commission, told my colleague Secunder Kermani.

This may be the opening political salvo to reward and reassure their rank and file fighters, many of whom have been streaming into Kabul, to welcome the return of a “pure Islamic system”.

It also appears as a carefully constructed compromise. Mullah Akhund suddenly emerged at the top, fixing in place rival political and military heavyweights including Mullah Baradar whom many predicted would take a leading role, instead of a deputy position.


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