Taliban unveil interim hard-line government as they move to rule Afghanistan again

Twenty years after being driven out by American forces, the Taliban presented a transitional government on Tuesday, dominated by the old guard of the militant group.

As the group consolidated its hold in the country after the US withdrawal, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced at a press conference that Hassan Akhund had been appointed acting prime minister. Akhund led the Taliban government in Kabul during the last few years of its previous rule, The Associated Press reported.

One of the founding members of the Taliban and its political leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been appointed deputy prime minister.

Baradar was arrested in a joint US-Pakistani operation more than a decade ago before being released in 2018. He was chief negotiator for the group in peace talks with the US in Qatar and recently held a secret meeting with CIA chief William Burns.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani network, which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States, has been appointed acting interior minister. Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed clergyman who founded the Taliban and died in 2013, was appointed acting defense minister.

The timing of the announcement was remarkable, almost 20 years to the day after September 11th, which sparked the American invasion after the Taliban government refused to extradite the architect of the attack, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Mujahid said the interim government’s statement is not final as it concerns incumbent positions. The rest of the government offices will be announced at a later date, he said without further details.

No non-Taliban numbers were released immediately – an indication that the militants had not yielded to national and international pressure to create an inclusive regime.

Consolidation of control

The group has stepped up its grip on Afghanistan, declaring this week that it controls Panjshir Province, the last stand of anti-Taliban forces in the country following their raid on Afghanistan last month. Their claims have been refuted by the resistance forces, who said they were still fighting the militants in the area.

Ahmad Massoud, the son of a legendary anti-Taliban fighter, posted a defiant audio message on social media calling for a national “uprising” against the Taliban.

NBC News was unable to confirm any of the claims.

Men suspected of being Taliban fighters outside the provincial governor’s office in Panjshir, Afghanistan on Monday. Reuters

Earlier, Taliban gunmen shot in the air in the Afghan capital of Kabul to disperse protesters, witnesses told Reuters when the video showed dozens of people rushing to escape gunfire. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Hundreds of men and women demonstrated against the Taliban with slogans like “Long live the resistance”, the news agency reported. Videos posted on social media also appeared to show men and women taking to the streets in Kabul.

The Associated Press also reported that the Taliban fired their weapons into the air and arrested several journalists covering the demonstration.

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The Taliban may form a government, but the US is in no hurry to establish official ties.

When asked whether the US would recognize the Taliban, President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House late Monday, “There is still a long way to go.”

Taliban unveil interim hard-line government as they move to rule Afghanistan again 1

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday there were around 100 US citizens left in Afghanistan who wanted to leave after the last US plane took off last week to end America’s 20-year presence in the country. Blinked added that the State Department is working with the Taliban to enable charter flights to get people out.

The US rivals Russia, China and Iran have established relationships with the Taliban leaders, among others, and are expected to forge links with the new Afghan government.

Prior to finalizing its withdrawal, the US said it had evacuated approximately 124,000 US citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but thousands were left behind.

At a press conference in Qatar – where many of the evacuees went – Blinken said that the Taliban had reassured that US and Afghan citizens with valid papers could leave the country freely.

“They said they were going to let people out with travel documents,” he said. “We’ll hold onto it.”

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