Diplomacy

Concerns mount after Taliban announce 'pariah' government

By Salaam Times and AFP

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Taliban fighters patrol in a vehicle along a street in Kabul September 2. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

DOHA -- The United States and European Union (EU) have expressed concerned about members of the Taliban government named Tuesday (September 7).

"We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women," a US State Department spokesperson said as Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks on Afghanistan in Qatar.

"We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals."

Questionable track record

The Taliban's acting prime minister is Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on a United Nations (UN) sanctions list and served in the Islamists' brutal 1996-2001 regime.

His deputy will be Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban who was released by Pakistan in 2018 under US pressure to take part in negotiations on the withdrawal of US troops.

The Taliban's interior minister will be Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network, one of the Taliban's most feared factions.

The Haqqani Network is blamed for some of the deadliest and most shocking attacks in Afghanistan during the past two decades.

The Haqqanis have a reputation for frequently using suicide bombers -- including drivers of cars and trucks packed with huge amounts of explosives -- and have demonstrated the ability to carry out complex, high-casualty assaults on major targets including military installations and embassies.

The Haqqani Network has been designated a foreign terrorist group by the United States and is under UN sanctions. The US government has offered millions of dollars for information leading to the arrest of Sirajuddin Haqqani.

There is a growing body of evidence that the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and the Haqqani Network jointly plan and execute terror acts in Afghanistan.

In February, Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced the arrest of a terror cell comprised of members of both groups.

That connection is just one of the concerns presented by the Taliban's list.

"We understand that the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker cabinet," the State Department spokesperson said. "However, we will judge the Taliban by its actions, not words."

"We have made clear our expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government," the spokesperson said.

The EU said the Taliban's "caretaker" government failed to honour vows from the new rulers to include different groups.

"Upon initial analysis of the names announced, it does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan we hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks," an EU spokesperson said Wednesday.

The EU's 27 nations have set out five conditions for increasing their engagement with the Taliban -- including the formation of an "inclusive and representative" transitional government.

The spokesperson for the bloc said that "such inclusivity and representation is expected in the composition of a future transitional government, and as a result of negotiations".

'Nationwide resistance'

Afghanistan's last resistance group denounced the Taliban's new interim government as "illegitimate" and destined for "pariah" status.

Led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of legendary resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud -- who was assassinated in 2001 by al-Qaeda two days before the September 11 attacks -- the National Resistance Front (NRF) remains defiant despite losing control of the Panjshir Valley, the group's spokesman told AFP Wednesday.

"The narrative of a modern Taliban is over... there is no Taliban in favour of an inclusive government," said Ali Maisam Nazary.

"This is going to become a pariah government, an illegitimate government... just look at the amount of terrorists in this cabinet," Nazary said. "And we expect they are going to reform?"

The new government does not represent Afghanistan's diverse ethnic mosaic, he said.

The Taliban "have deepened" social divides by excluding representatives from Afghanistan's many ethnicities -- including its sizeable Shia and Hazara communities -- and launching an attack on the Panjshir Valley, Nazary said.

"Afghanistan's ethnic groups are against them."

In the 20 years the Taliban spent as insurgents, Afghan society transformed into a much younger population with a taste for greater freedom, Nazary added.

As a result, the Taliban will struggle to force Afghans into accepting their restrictive interpretation of sharia law.

"Look at the images from Kabul... Women and men courageously going in the streets, unarmed, and telling the [Taliban] 'shoot us we don't care we want freedom and justice'," Nazary said.

"You have a population that hates them. How is the Taliban going to rule a country like this?"

"The Taliban might control more geography, but they lack the legitimacy that the [NRF] has," he said.

"There's a nationwide resistance that is forming."

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