ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban have appointed interim heads of several ministries and agencies, including the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry as well as intelligence services, international media reported on Tuesday.
Based on the reported information, Sadr Ibrahim was appointed as the acting Interior Minister, Gul Agha is the interim Finance Minister, while Najibullah will be the interim head of intelligence. Additionally, the Taliban appointed their representatives to the posts of ministers of education, higher education and to the post of governor of Kabul.
As Foreign Policy reported earlier, citing sources close to the Taliban leadership, the Taliban intend to form a council to govern Afghanistan which will consist of 12 people, including some members of the country’s previous government. The Taliban does not want to restore the post of the president or any other single leader in the country. At the same time, the Taliban intend to offer to some members of the previous US-backed government ministerial posts in the new cabinet at their discretion. Thus, the Taliban want to create a government that would seem as inclusive as possible in order to increase its chances of gaining international recognition.
After the Biden administration had announced the end of Washington’s 20-year-long military operation in Afghanistan and the launch of its troop pullout, the Taliban embarked on an offensive against Afghan government forces. On August 15, Taliban fighters swept into Kabul without encountering any resistance, and gained full control over the Afghan capital within a few hours. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said he had stepped down to prevent any bloodshed and subsequently fled the country. Vice President Amrullah Saleh announced that, in the absence of the head of state, the constitution empowered him to become the caretaker president and urged the Afghan people to join the resistance against the Taliban radical movement. At present, Western nations are evacuating their citizens and embassy staff.
Meanwhile, US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief William Burns held a secret meeting with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul. The Monday meeting, which if confirmed will have been the highest-level encounter between the Taliban group and the Biden administration since the group’s return to power, came as efforts to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan became increasingly urgent.
Burns is one of US President Joe Biden’s most experienced diplomats; while Baradar, who headed the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, is one of the top leaders in the regime that has taken power in Kabul.
A spokesperson for the CIA would not confirm the meeting to AFP, saying that the agency “never discusses the director’s travels.” The Washington Post, which cited anonymous US sources for the meeting, did not reveal the content of the discussions between the Taliban co-founder and the CIA boss.
But it said it was likely they revolved around any delay in the deadline for the US to finish evacuations out of Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghans, terrified by the return of the Taliban, are still massed with the hope of fleeing the country.
Biden has set an August 31 deadline to finish the chaotic airlift organised by thousands of temporarily deployed US and UK troops but has left the door open to an extension if needed. But a spokesman for the Taliban warned on Monday the group would not agree to any extension, calling the issue a “red line”, with any delay viewed as “extending occupation”.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan are interested in serving as mediators in resolving the crisis in Afghanistan.
“We remain committed to the task of establishing peace and stability on Afghanistan’s territory so that it poses no threats to the region,” Lavrov said. Lavrov also said Russia opposed the idea of allowing Afghan refugees enter Central Asia, the former Soviet region that lies between Russia and Afghanistan, or having US troops there.
“If you think that any country in Central Asia or elsewhere is interested in becoming a target so that the Americans could fulfil their initiatives, I really doubt anyone needs that,” he told a briefing during a visit to Hungary.
Russia maintains close ties with Central Asia’s former Soviet republics and regards the region as part of its sphere of interest. Meanwhile, China’s envoy to the United Nations Chen Xu – whose country has been one of those rushing to fill the void left by the withdrawing coalition troops – said that the UK, US, Australian and other armies must be held accountable for their human rights violations, maintaining that they had brought “great suffering.”
On the other hand, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they had not agreed to allow the foreign troops to prolong their stay beyond the August 31.
A section of the western media reported that the CIA director had secretly visited Kabul and met with Mullah Baradar and discussed with him a possible extension in the stay of the US troops in Afghanistan. The US had set August 31 as a final deadline for withdrawal of all their forces from Afghanistan.
Senior Taliban leaders said one major reason that delayed installation of their government in Afghanistan is the presence of US troops in the country. “We had chosen people for different important positions and can install the government tomorrow but it would remain meaningless if the US forces are present in the country. We know they would not let us implement our policies to serve Afghanistan and our people,” a senior Taliban leader told The News on the telephone from Kabul.
Pleading anonymity, he said the presence of US troops would remain a permanent “headache” if not resolved peacefully. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, when reached, didn’t confirm a meeting between the CIA chief and Mullah Baradar. He however stated that the United States had been in communication with the Taliban leadership through diplomatic channels.
“They have been discussing these issues through diplomatic channels,” the spokesman argued. The Taliban spokesman told journalists in Kabul during a press conference that they had not agreed to an extension of the August 31 deadline set by the United States to withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan. When asked about their stance in case the US prolonged their stay in Afghanistan, they would have a different stance then.
Taliban said they believe the US President Biden would honour his commitment and complete evacuation from Afghanistan by the end of this month. A Taliban spokesman for their political office in Qatar to deal with foreign media, Suhail Shaheen said if the US extended their stay in Afghanistan behind August 31, it would mean to them “occupation of their country”.
He was talking to Sky News. Shaheen said they would not allow further extension to any country to keep their forces in Afghanistan behind August 31, saying it would have its consequences and will create mistrust between them and the United States.
Meanwhile, Zabihullah Mujahid accused the US of deliberately encouraging skilled people in Afghanistan to leave the country. It was the second press conference of the Taliban spokesman after they seized control of Kabul on August 15, and that too without firing a single shot.
Mujahid said they would not allow Afghans to head towards the airport and leave the country. The Afghans had already accused the Taliban of allegedly harassing those trying to go to the airport having all relevant legal travel documents to travel to other countries.
According to Taliban sources, they decided to stop the brain drain, saying all the skilled people, doctors, engineers, teachers and IT experts were trying to leave the country. Responding to widespread criticism of Taliban conducting door-to-door searches to find out officials of the previous Ashraf Ghani government, particularly security personnel and judges, Zabihullah Mujahid denied their involvement, saying they had already announced general amnesty. He said they wanted good diplomatic relations with all other countries and urged them to open their embassies in Kabul.
Regarding growing tension in Panjshir, the spokesman said they had engaged elders to peacefully resolve the issue. If not resolved through dialogue, he said the war would be the last option to seize control of Panjshir province, which the Taliban could not capture during their previous tenure. He said Panjshir would be taken without a fight.
This time the Taliban are in a stronger position, as they had captured all resources of the previous government and modern arms and ammunition while the erstwhile Northern Alliance is divided into groups.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said India should refrain “from intervening in Afghanistan”. Talking to media persons in Islamabad, he said that “India used Afghan territory against Pakistan.”
The minister said that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi briefed the cabinet on the situation in Afghanistan. He said that Pakistan is playing a “responsible” role regarding “governance in Afghanistan”. He further revealed that Pakistan is in touch with Turkey, China and other countries on the issue of Afghanistan.
Fawad Chaudhry added that Pakistan “is facilitating the evacuation” of more people from Kabul. “Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has facilitated the evacuation of 1,500 people from Kabul,” he said.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Afghanistan. “Had a detailed and useful exchange of views with my friend President Putin on recent developments in Afghanistan. We also discussed issues on the bilateral agenda, including India-Russia cooperation against COVID-19. We agreed to continue close consultations on important issues,” Modi said in a tweet.
Both the leaders discussed the unfolding situation in Afghanistan and its implications for the region and the world. They expressed the view that it was important for the two strategic partners to work together and instructed their senior officials to remain in touch.