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Cementing power, Taliban names interim PM who is on a UN blacklist

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund was a deputy minister when Islamists last ruled Afghanistan

In this photo from August 26, 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif receives Afghan Foreign Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund (right) in Islamabad. The Taliban announced Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund as the leader of their new government in Afghanistan on September 7, 2021. (SAEED KHAN / AFP)
In this photo from August 26, 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif receives Afghan Foreign Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund (right) in Islamabad. The Taliban announced Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund as the leader of their new government in Afghanistan on September 7, 2021. (SAEED KHAN / AFP)

KABUL (AFP) — The Taliban announced the top members of their government on Tuesday, in a move that will cement their power over Afghanistan and set the tone of their new rule, just days after the end of a chaotic United States troop pullout.

The Islamist hardliners, who swept into Kabul on August 15 following a lightning offensive that decimated the former Afghan army, had pledged a more “inclusive” brand of rule than in their first stint in power in 1996-2001.

They have nonetheless made it clear that they will stamp out any insurgency, and on Tuesday they fired shots into the air to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered at several rallies in Kabul in a sign of defiance against a movement remembered for its brutal and oppressive rule.

On Tuesday evening, chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press conference that the new government would be an interim one, and that Taliban veteran Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund would serve as its new acting prime minister.

He had served as foreign minister under the Taliban’s old regime, and is on a United Nations blacklist.

The acting interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the FBI for suspected involvement in a 2008 terror attack in Kabul that killed six people, including an American, and other alleged offenses.

Mujahid also said that Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the deputy leader. Previously he served as the head of his movement’s political office, overseeing the signing in 2020 of the US withdrawal agreement.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addresses a press conference in Kabul, on September 7, 2021. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP)

Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Omar, was named defense minister, while the position of interior minister was given to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the feared Haqqani network who also doubled up as a Taliban deputy leader.

“The cabinet is not complete, it is just acting,” Mujahid said. “We will try to take people from other parts of the country.”

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.

Scattered protests in recent days have indicated that some Afghans are skeptical of the Taliban’s capacity to translate their promise of a more moderate rule into reality.

Afghan women shout slogans during an anti-Pakistan protest near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul on September 7, 2021. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP)

“Afghan women want their country to be free. They want their country to be rebuilt. We are tired,” protester Sarah Fahim told AFP at one rally on Tuesday, where more than 70 people, mostly women, had gathered.

Videos posted on social media of a separate rally showed more than a hundred people marching through the streets under the watchful eye of armed Taliban members.

Scattered demonstrations have also been held in smaller cities in recent days, including in Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, where women have demanded to be part of a new government.

General Mobin, a Taliban official in charge of security in the capital, told AFP that he had been called to the scene by Taliban guards who said that “women were creating a disruption.”

“These protesters are gathered based only on the conspiracy of foreign intelligence,” he claimed.

An Afghan journalist covering the demonstration told AFP that his press ID and camera were confiscated by the Taliban.

“I was kicked and told to go away,” he said.

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

Images shared online showed reporters with cuts and bruises to their hands and knees.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Taliban had reiterated a pledge to allow Afghans to freely depart Afghanistan.

Members of the Taliban Badri 313 military unit stand guard at a checkpoint as airport workers line up to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 4, 2021. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP)

The Taliban told the US that “they will let people with travel documents freely depart,” Blinken said at a news conference in Doha, where he and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Qatari opposite numbers.

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.

Tuesday’s demonstrations come after the Taliban claimed total control over Afghanistan a day earlier, claiming that they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley.

Following their lightning-fast victory in mid-August over the former Afghan government’s security forces and the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fighting the resistance forces defending the mountainous region.

In a press conference on Monday, Taliban spokesman Mujahid warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule.

“Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard. We will not allow another,” he said.

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