Taliban fighters outside Kabul University on Saturday, 11 September.
(Photo: PTI / AP / Bernat Armangue)
The Taliban recently announced its interim ‘Islamic Emirate’ government with 33 new members. But it may unravel sooner than later. The Pakistan-Taliban duo may have bitten off more than it can chew by putting in charge those it did. And it remains something of a puzzle that the militant group, which is still officially designated as a terrorist entity by many countries, and which so badly is seeking legitimacy, should announce a Cabinet full of men who are still designated as terrorists and carry bounties on their heads.
Ever since the Doha agreements were signed between the US and the Taliban, countries, which include some of the Taliban’s more emphatic supporters, have been calling for a broad-based, inclusive government. These calls accelerated after the Taliban began taking over province after province in Afghanistan this year. The joint statement adopted in Moscow in March by the “extended troika” — Russia, China, Pakistan and the US — explicitly rejected the creation of an “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan. The impasse in the intra-Afghan talks and the mounting violence by the Taliban was also blamed on then-President Ashraf Ghani.
Even so, the Taliban government announced recently seems to have been put together without any application of the mind. It is formed entirely of men. And almost all, save one, are Pashtun in ethnicity, all drawn from the rank and file of the hardliners and the old guard within the Taliban and its close affiliate, the Haqqani network. The Cabinet is entirely Sunni, with no Shia representation.
Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the Acting Prime Minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is on the UN blacklist and infamous for ordering the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI’s list and carries a reward of $10 million, is the new Interior Minister. His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the Minister for Refugees and Repatriation. Mohammad Yaqoob, the oldest son of the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Omar, is the Defence Minister. The Education Minister, Sheikh Maulvi Noorullah Munir, has been caught on camera as saying, “No PhD degree, master’s degree is valuable today. You see that the Mullahs and Taliban that are in the power, have no PhD, MA or even a high school degree, but are the greatest of all.”
But this is also Pakistan’s hour of glory. Its spy chief, Faiz Hameed, is credited with getting the government formation under way. Its Foreign Minister struts around foreign capitals and hosts virtual conferences of top diplomats of regional countries. Its Prime Minister received calls from world leaders to discuss the “situation in Afghanistan”. Pakistan has emerged as a central and indispensable factor to peace and politics in Afghanistan. The US has to negotiate with it, and its iron friends are about to step into the vacuum the former has left behind. So, the new government may, of course, well have been cock-a-snook at both the US and India.
Baradar long had differences with Pakistan and had spent years in Pakistan’s prisons. Stanekzai has held the first official meeting with India when he met with the Indian ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, in Doha in August. The government said the meeting was on the request of Stanekzai. Are their demotions coincidental?
Yet, this brazen, in-your-face government may not achieve what it had hoped for.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently, “We’re assessing the announcement but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women.”
The European Union (EU) voiced its disapproval at the appointments, with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying, “The announcement of a transitional government without the participation of other groups … are not signals that give cause for optimism.”
One of the Taliban’s main backers, Russia, has said that the new government announced in Kabul is not an inclusive one. It also turned down the invitation for the inauguration ceremony of the Taliban Cabinet, which, however, was cancelled eventually. The announcement followed the visit of the top Russian security official, Nikolai Patrushev, to Delhi, where he met with his counterpart, Ajit Doval.
Iran, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbour, has also rejected, albeit indirectly, the new government. In a virtual meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s six neighbouring countries, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian emphasised the development of an “inclusive government reflecting diversity and will of Afghan people”.
“Emphasized on security, stability & development by formation of an inclusive gov reflecting diversity & will of Afghan ppl; dialogue instead of violence; rejection of foreign intervention, ” he wrote on Twitter.
Iran’s security chief, Ali Shamkhani, had expressed concern over “ignoring the need for inclusive government, foreign intervention, and the use of military”. Iran also condemned the “third-party involvement” — aimed at Pakistan — in Panjshir, which is a pocket of continuing resistance to the Taliban by the National Resistance Front (NRF) headed by Ahmed Massoud and former Afghan Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who had declared himself “caretaker President” of Afghanistan.
Neighbouring Tajikistan has outright rejected the government, continuing its support to the National Resistance Front (NRF) based in Panjshir.
Turkey, another close ally of both Pakistan and Qatar, and whose President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said that Turkey has no ideological differences with the Taliban, also seemed hesitant. Its Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said an “inclusive government” is required in Kabul so that Afghanistan does not drift into civil war once again.
“If there is only the Taliban in government, people from other ethnic groups are indispensable. Women need to be included,” saidÇavuşoğlu.
The Cabinet composition has sparked off protests in Kabul as well as other cities of Afghanistan. No matter how sporadic and unorganised they may be, they are unprecedented. And many Afghan embassies abroad, including in Delhi, have rejected the Taliban government.
While much of the world is in a wait-and-watch mode, the Taliban has been bashful enough to cancel plans of the formal inauguration ceremony, which were earlier — again, brazenly — slated for 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks in New York, which set in motion the war on terror and overthrew the earlier Taliban regime in Kabul. When asked why there were no women in the Cabinet, Taliban representatives are reported to have responded that the list is still not complete. Alongside, if scenes like whipping of protesting women on the streets of Kabul continue to circulate, then that much-needed recognition and legitimacy may continue to be elusive, and even alienate those willing to embrace the Taliban. While countries may continue to send humanitarian aid, it would neither last forever nor be sufficient for running a country.
So, whether it was to test the waters or pure and simple sadism, the choice of the current Cabinet, at least for now, seems to be putting the Taliban, and by extension, Pakistan, on the backfoot.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a widely published journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)