Taliban announce hardline govt as protests grow

James Edgar - Agence France-Presse
Taliban announce hardline govt as protests grow
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addresses a press conference in Kabul on September 7, 2021. The Taliban on September 7 announced UN-sanctioned Taliban veteran Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund as the leader of their new government, while giving key positions to some of the movement's top officials.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced their government on Tuesday, with a UN-blacklisted veteran of the hardline movement in the top role, weeks after they swept to power and toppled the US-backed president.

But as the Taliban transitions from militant force to governing power of Afghanistan, security officials grappled with a growing number of protests against its rule, with two people shot dead in the western city of Herat.

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund — a senior minister during the Taliban's brutal and repressive reign in the 1990s — was appointed acting prime minister, a spokesman said at a press conference in Kabul.

The Taliban had promised an inclusive government that would reflect the ethnic makeup of the country, but all the top positions were handed to key leaders from the movement and the Haqqani network — the most violent branch of the Taliban known for devastating attacks.

None of the government appointees were women.

"We will try to take people from other parts of the country," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, adding that it was an interim government. 

Shortly after the new lineup was revealed, Hibatullah Akhundzada, the secretive supreme leader of the Taliban who has never been seen in public, released a statement saying that the new government would "work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and sharia law".

"The new Taliban, same as the old Taliban," tweeted Bill Roggio, managing editor of the US-based Long War Journal.

Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Omar, was named defence minister, while the position of interior minister was given to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network.

Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, who oversaw the signing of the US withdrawal agreement, will be a deputy to Hassan.

"It's not at all inclusive, and that's no surprise whatsoever," said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

"The Taliban had never indicated that any of its cabinet ministers would include anyone other than themselves."

'No rush' to recognize Taliban

Following their 20-year insurgency, the Taliban now face the colossal task of ruling Afghanistan, which is wracked with economic woes and security challenges — including from the Islamic State group's local chapter. 

A growing number of protests have emerged across the country over the past week, with many Afghans fearful of a repeat of the Taliban’s previous brutal and oppressive reign.

Hundreds gathered at several rallies in Kabul on Tuesday — a show of defiance unthinkable under the last regime — where Taliban guards fired shots to disperse the crowds.

In Herat, hundreds of demonstrators marched, unfurling banners and waving the Afghan flag — a black, red and green vertical tricolour with the national emblem overlaid in white — with some chanting "freedom".

Later, two bodies were brought to the city's central hospital from the site of the protest, a doctor in Herat told AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"They all have bullet wounds," he said. 

Demonstrations have also been held in smaller cities in recent days, where women have demanded to be part of a new government. 

The Kabul-based Afghan Independent Journalists Association said 14 journalists — Afghan and foreign — were detained briefly during the protests in Kabul before being released.

The Taliban spokesman late Tuesday warned the public against taking to the streets.

"Until all the government offices have opened, and the laws for protests have been explained, no one should protest," Mujahid said. 

The group — which executed people in stadiums and chopped the hands of thieves in the 1990s — has previously said it would not stand for any resistance against its rule. 

Washington, which has said it is in "no rush" to recognise the new government, expressed concern Tuesday about members of the government but said it would judge it by its actions.

"We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women. We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals," a State Department spokesperson said.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to Qatar, said that the Taliban were honouring promises to allow Afghans to freely depart Afghanistan so long as they had travel documents.

US President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure amid reports that several hundred people, including Americans, have been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan.

No women in government

At the United Nations, Pramila Patten — head of UN Women, a group that promotes global gender equality — said the absence of women in the interim Afghan government "calls into question the recent commitments to protect and respect the rights of Afghanistan's women and girls."

By excluding women, "the Taliban leadership has sent the wrong signal about their stated goal of building an inclusive, strong and prosperous society."

She described respect for women's rights as "a litmus test against which any authority must be judged," and called on the Taliban to "fully comply with its legally binding obligations" under international treaties and the constitution that guarantee "the full participation of women in political and decision-making processes."

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 25, 2023 - 4:54pm

Get the latest news as Taliban gains control of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera/AFP

June 25, 2023 - 4:54pm

Afghanistan's supreme leader said Sunday the country's women were being saved from "traditional oppressions" by the adoption of Islamic governance and their status as "free and dignified human beings" restored.

In a statement marking this week's Eid al-Adha holiday, Hibatullah Akhundzada -- who rarely appears in public and rules by decree from the Taliban's birthplace in Kandahar -- said steps had been taken to provide women with a "comfortable and prosperous life according to Islamic Sharia".

The United Nations expressed "deep concern" last week that women were being deprived of their rights under Afghanistan's Taliban government and warned of systematic gender apartheid.

Since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban authorities have stopped girls and women from attending high school or university, banned them from parks, gyms and public baths, and ordered them to cover up when leaving home.

They have also barred them from working for the UN or NGOs, while most female government employees have been dismissed from their jobs or are being paid to stay at home.

However, Akhundzada said "necessary steps have been taken for the betterment of women as half of the society".

"All institutions have been obliged to help women in securing marriage, inheritance and other rights," his statement read. — AFP

April 30, 2023 - 12:25pm

UN chief Antonio Guterres will gather international envoys at a secret location in Doha on Monday in an increasingly desperate bid to find ways to influence Afghanistan's Taliban rulers. — AFP

April 28, 2023 - 10:49am

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution Thursday calling on Taliban authorities to "swiftly reverse" all restrictive measures against women, condemning in particular its ban on Afghan women working for the United Nations.

The resolution, unanimously adopted by all 15 Council members, said the ban announced in early April "undermines human rights and humanitarian principles."

More broadly, the Council called on the Taliban government to "swiftly reverse the policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

It cited access to education, employment, freedom of movement, and "women's full, equal and meaningful participation in public life."

The Council also urged "all States and organizations to use their influence" to "promote an urgent reversal of these policies and practices." — AFP

April 18, 2023 - 12:04pm

G7 foreign ministers on Tuesday demanded the "immediate reversal" of a ban on women in Afghanistan working for non-governmental organisations and the United Nations.

"We call for the immediate reversal of unacceptable decisions restricting human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the latest bans prohibiting Afghan women from working for NGOs and the UN," the top diplomats said in a statement after two days of talks in Japan.

The group also slammed the Taliban authorities' "systematic abuses of human rights of women and girls and discrimination against the members of religious and ethnic minorities".

Taliban authorities triggered international outrage this month after extending a December ban on Afghan women working for non-governmental organisations to include the UN.

They have rejected criticism over the move, saying it is an internal issue that should be "respected by all sides." — AFP

April 11, 2023 - 6:58pm

The United Nations is being forced to make an "appalling choice" over whether to continue operations in Afghanistan while the Taliban government bans women from working for the organisation, the world body says.

Under their austere interpretation of Islam, Taliban authorities have imposed a slew of restrictions on Afghan women since seizing power in 2021, including banning them from higher education and many government jobs.

In December, they banned Afghan women from working for domestic and foreign non-governmental organisations, and on April 4 extended that to UN offices across the country.

In a statement Tuesday, the UN mission in Afghanistan said the ban was  "unlawful under international law, including the UN Charter, and for that reason the United Nations cannot comply".

"Through this ban, the Taliban de facto authorities seek to force the United Nations into having to make an appalling choice between staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people and standing by the norms and principles we are duty-bound to uphold," it said. — AFP

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