Taliban Complete Interim Government, Still Without Women
The Taliban refused to bow to the demands of the United Nations and the international community to include women in their cabinet, announcing the completion of an interim government with a lineup that was entirely male and kept members of the Taliban’s old guard in the top echelon of the leadership.
Tuesday’s announcement, which focused on filling posts at the deputy-minister level, did give a few of those jobs to ethnic minorities, including Tajiks, Uzbeks and one Hazara, the new deputy minister of health. But those small numbers and the lack of women appeared likely to hamstring the government’s efforts to secure funding from donors.
The Taliban dismissed the demand for diversity and said they were due recognition by the world.
“It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government; for other countries, including European, Asian and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the government spokesman.
Mr. Mujahid also said that ethnicity did not matter to the new government, though he did note that at least two of the appointees were Tajik and the deputy defense minister is an Uzbek.
Some Taliban officials have taken pains to suggest that the group has changed since it ruled in the 1990s and refused to let women be educated. But the choice of appointees suggests that the balance of power lies largely with those whose roots are the most conservative, and who were more central to the Taliban’s military campaign than to its diplomatic efforts.
“Those who hoped for, and urged for, inclusivity will be disappointed. There are no women in the names listed,” Deborah Lyons, the U.N. Secretary General’s Representative for Afghanistan, said in a speech to the Security Council a few days after the initial government appointments were made.
Afghanistan is a plurality Pashtun country, but with large minorities of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnicities, as well as some Turkmen and a variety of smaller groups. Each has its own language, although many people also speak Dari or Pashto.
Ms. Lyons went on to remind the Security Council that the new government “contains many of the same figures who were part of the Taliban leadership from 1996 to 2001.”
“What is of immediate and practical importance to those around this table is that of the 33 names presented, many are on the United Nations sanctions list, including the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, and the foreign minister,” she continued, referring to the first 33 appointments, which included many of the most powerful positions.
Figures who are prominent on sanctions lists, or are designated as terrorists by the United States government, include the interim interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and the interim defense minister, Muhammad Yaqoub, the son of Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s founding leader.
Both those men as well as several others — among them, the head of the government, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, who was another founding member of the Taliban in 1994 — are either from the first generation of Taliban or the children of that generation. The Haqqani family’s network was not originally part of the Taliban, but became ever more central to the insurgency over years — Sirajuddin Haqqani was a deputy leader starting in 2015 — even as they have competed for business and recognition in conservative jihadist circles.
Less visible and vocal so far have been those Taliban who were more central in talking to the United States and other foreign governments. Although Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was named deputy prime minister, he has not been a strong presence in these first weeks of Taliban rule. The United States had specifically urged his inclusion in the negotiations that led to the U.S. military withdrawal, which he led on the Taliban side.
So far no government has formally recognized the Taliban, although the subject is under debate as individual countries try to determine how to do business with Afghanistan and also consider sending humanitarian aid to a country falling into deep crisis. In the 1990s, when the Taliban were last in power, only three countries recognized them: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The sanctions against individual Taliban members who are now leaders of key ministries, as well as the freezing of the country’s funds in the United States, could make it difficult for the Afghan government to receive donor money from the World Bank or Asian Development Bank and through the United Nations.
It also makes it all but impossible for any country that does business with the United States to also do business with Afghanistan without running the risk of being hit by the United States’ secondary sanctions regime, which punishes those who give money or items of value to governments or individuals on U.S. sanctions list.