'Intra-Taliban inclusivity': Afghanistan's caretaker govt

'Intra-Taliban inclusivity': The makeup of Afghanistan’s caretaker government
5 min read
08 September, 2021
The Taliban have unveiled their 33-member caretaker government which appears exclusively to be made up of members of the group. The New Arab looks into most senior cabinet figures and explores what this means for the ruling militants and Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announced the caretaker government on Tuesday [Getty - file photo]

Afghanistan is set to be known by its official name under the previous era of Taliban rule - the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a representative of the militant group said on Tuesday.

It came as the government's 33-member strong acting cabinet was unveiled, with all but three of its ministers from the Pashtun ethnic group, and a large proportion carrying the title of "Mullah" - or Sunni religious leader. 

Not a single woman was appointed, and the role of minister of women’s affairs appears to have been altogether abolished.

Meanwhile, the ministry of the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice - designed to enforce adherence to hardline Islamic regulations during the group's original era of rule in the 1990s - has been brought back.

The New Arab explores the key figures handed senior portfolios and offers insights into what this means for the Taliban and the future of Afghanistan.

Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund (acting Prime Minister)

The current leader of the new government, Akhund was a foreign minister and then deputy prime minister during the Taliban's original rule. Akhund's influence is greater in the religious sphere, rather than the military. Serving as the longtime head of the Taliban's leadership council, he is under a UN security council sanctions list. He is believed to have been close to Mullah Omar, the group's founder, and is highly respected within the movement, including by Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Abdul Ghani Baradar (acting Deputy Prime Minister)

Baradar, the co-founder of the Taliban, has been named as deputy prime minister. He is seen as potentially one of the more friendly figures to the US, operating as chief Taliban negotiator in the Doha agreement that paved the way for the NATO withdrawal. He joined the peace process after serving an eight-year prison sentence that began with his capture in a joint US-Pakistani operation in Karachi.

Mullah Yaqub (acting Defence Minister)               

The son of Mullah Omar, 30-year-old Mullah Mohammed Yaqoob has been named defence minister - an unsurprising appointment given his role as the leader of the group's military operations. In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover of the country, Mullah Yaqub had been vocal in calling for fighters to uphold an amnesty declared against military and civilians personnel linked to the now-deposed government.

Sirajuddin Haqqani (acting Interior Minister)

Head of the Taliban's hardline Haqqani network and carrying an FBI-issued bounty of up to $10 million on his head, Sirajuddin Haqqani will lead the interior ministry. The Haqqani network - recognised as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US - is responsible for some of the deadliest suicide attacks during the Taliban's 20-year insurgency, including high-profile attacks in Kabul. 

Amir Khan Muttaqi (acting Foreign Minister)

Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi has been named acting foreign minister. Muttaqi, who was a Taliban negotiator in Doha, served as the minister of culture and information during the previous Taliban government. Muttaqi is known to have spearheaded the group's efforts to secure surrenders and defections of government officials, and recently tried to broker a peaceful settlement to the fighting in Panjshir.

Not named:

Mullah Haibatulllah Akhundzada

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the movement since 2016, was conspicuously absent from Tuesday's announcement. But the shadowy figure who had worked as the head of the Taliban’s Sharia courts in the 1990s and is now thought to be based in Kandahar released a rare statement in English saying the government would "work hard upholding Islamic rules and sharia law".

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Analysis

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, who announced the appointments and is himself set to serve as deputy minister of media affairs, spoke with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed Afghanistan correspondent Sibghat Saber. Mujahid denied that ministerial roles were assigned based on ethnicity and that the decision was based on recognising those who had contributed the most to the fight against the "occupation".

He has insisted that the government is an interim one and some still undeclared minor portfolios could be distributed in a way that diversifies the government.

But with roles divided along Taliban factional lines and coming after reported in-fighting, SOAS doctoral researcher and Afghanistan expert Kaweh Kerami said the interim lineup represented nothing other than "intra-Taliban inclusivity".

"The composition of the Taliban caretaker cabinet exposes their maximalist approach to the distribution of the state's power and resources," Kaweh told The New Arab.

He said that the Taliban were distributing the "spoils" of their insurgency to their "military and political wings" but that this would have consequences for the group.

"The international call for forming an inclusive government has been categorically overlooked, and inclusivity has been reduced to within-group inclusion. This will likely have implications have for foreign aid, which seems critical to their rule," Kaweh said.

Dr Dawood Azami, an award-winning journalist and academic, concurred with Kaweh's assessment, telling The New Arab that the structure and makeup of the current Taliban government would have "huge implications for the flow of international aid as well as regional and international trade".

Afghanistan's banking system is mired in chaos and foreign reserves are out of bounds. International donors have also cut funds, with the health minister of the deposed government still in his post under the Taliban warning that the freezing of funds could lead to the collapse of the country's already fragile health system, The Economist has reported.

While the Taliban have secured symbolic control over all of Afghanistan with the capture of the provincial capital of Panjshir, the last pocket of anti-Taliban resistance, one of the biggest challenges facing the grouping is the burgeoning civilian resistance movement.

Prominent in major cities, such as Kabul and Herat, as well as smaller cities, women-led demonstrations have been met with brutal force in recent days, with two women reportedly shot dead in Herat on Tuesday.

Though the Taliban say this government setup is temporary, Kaweh said a cabinet reshuffle would be a more expected outcome than the marginalisation of any key figures via a complete overhaul of government.

But he stressed that in any case, the announcement would favour their adversary - the Panjshir-based National Resistance Front (NRF) - who is "posturing itself as a better alternative, ready to form a government that is acceptable both for Afghans and the world".