By Tim Lister and Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
The Taliban on Tuesday announced the formation of a hardline interim government for Afghanistan, filling top posts with veterans of the militant group who oversaw the 20-year fight against the US-led military coalition.
No women or members from Afghanistan’s ousted leadership were selected for acting cabinet positions or named to advisory roles, in spite of the Taliban’s promises of an inclusive government and more moderate form of Islamic rule than when it was last in power, from 1996 to 2001.
The Taliban named Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a close aide of the Taliban’s late founder Mohammad Omar, as acting prime minister and Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s co-founders, was appointed his deputy. Mohammed Yaqoob, a son of Omar, was appointed acting defense minister.
The selection conveys a vision for the future that will do little to allay concerns among foreign governments, as the Taliban seeks international recognition and desperately needed aid. Without access to funds frozen by the US and other nations as well as the International Monetary Fund, Afghanistan faces a deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation. Global leaders and lenders are still waiting to see how the Taliban will treat opposition, women, as well as religious and ethnic minorities.
In a telephone call Tuesday with Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, Iran’s foreign minister called for an Afghan government based on dialogue between all groups and emphasized the need to form an inclusive government that is reflective of the country’s diverse ethnic composition.
“We represent the whole of Afghanistan, and we talk on the level of the whole of Afghanistan and our struggle was based on the whole of Afghanistan. We are not people of one tribe or ethnicity, neither do we believe in this,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday, announcing the interim government.
Zabihullah said in a statement that the new government would protect “the country’s highest interest” and uphold Sharia law as interpreted by the Taliban. The militant group said it would name permanent leadership soon.
Former Guantanamo detainees, one of the FBI’s most wanted men
The lineup of senior positions, which includes former Guantanamo inmates, members of a US-designated terror group and subjects of an international sanctions lists, presents the first snapshot of how the Taliban’s leadership of Afghanistan will begin to take shape.
Like many in the Taliban’s incoming cabinet, interim Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund is under United Nations sanctions. A long-time Taliban member, he has been leader of the group’s Shura, or Leadership Council, for about two decades.
Some analysts had originally tipped Abdul Ghani Baradar for the top role. Baradar served in the Taliban’s political bureau in Doha, Qatar, and led the Taliban’s peace talks with the US. He recently arrived back in Afghanistan after a 20-year-exile and reportedly met with CIA chief William J. Burns.
Two senior members of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terror group aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda, will also be in the interim government. Both have been sanctioned by the UN and the US.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the network’s leader, will be the acting interior minister. Haqqani has been one of two deputy leaders of the Taliban since 2016. A member of the FBI’s “most-wanted” list, he has a $10 million bounty on his head.
Khalil Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s uncle, was appointed as acting minister for refugees. He has a $5 million bounty for his past relationship with al Qaeda. Two other members of the Haqqani clan were also named to positions in the interim government.
Four men receiving senior positions in government had previously been detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay, and were released as part of a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014: The Taliban appointed Noorullah Noori to acting minister of borders and tribal affairs, Abdul Haq Wasiq as acting intelligence director, Khairullah Khair to acting minister of information and culture and Mohammad Fazil Mazloom to deputy minister of defense.
A fifth detainee released in the 2014 trade, Mohammed Nabi Omari, was appointed as the new governor of the southeastern province of Khost last month, according to Taliban.
They were mostly mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban regime that was swept from power in 2001 and had been detained early in the war in Afghanistan.
Women omitted from new government
The announcement Tuesday came a day after the Taliban claimed control of the last holdout Afghan province and amid the biggest street protests since the militant group seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, taking over the capital Kabul and storming the presidential palace without firing a single shot.
Among the hundreds of protesters were women demanding equal rights under Taliban rule and full participation in political life. The demonstrations were broken up by the Taliban, with reports that some protesters were violently beaten and others detained.
Taliban leaders have insisted publicly that women will play a prominent role in society in Afghanistan and have access to education. But they have not been involved in talks over forming a government. In recent weeks, the Taliban has signaled women should stay at home, and, in some instances, militants have ordered women to leave their workplaces.
There was no mention of a ministry for women in Tuesday’s announcement, and Zabihullah would only say that the Taliban would be dealing with that issue.
The US State Department is currently “assessing” the announcement of an interim government, according to a spokesperson. “We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women,” they said Tuesday.
“We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals,” the spokesperson also said.
“Following today’s news of the exclusion of women in the new Government announced by the Taliban, I join with many around the world in expressing my disappointment and dismay at a development that calls into question the recent commitments to protect and respect the rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls,” said Pramila Patten, the acting head of UN Women, urging the Taliban to comply with its obligations under constitutional provisions and international treaties to guarantee equality to all citizens.
“I further note with serious concern the reported use of force by authorities in Kabul against peaceful protestors, mostly women, who were demanding the equal enjoyment of their rights. These actions reinforce and validate concerns about restrictions being placed in practice on women’s human rights, including their right to participate in public and political life,” she said.
In response to questions about the Taliban’s crackdown on protesters, Zabihullah said that illegal demonstrations would not be allowed.
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CNN’s Jack Guy and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.