Former Gitmo Inmates and Wanted Terrorists: Meet the New Taliban Government

There are no women or ethnic minorities in the cabinet, while most of the new faces are sons of leaders from the previous Taliban regime.

Sep 8 2021, 11:21am

It’s been three weeks since the Taliban’s dramatic takeover of Afghanistan’s capital, and the hard-line Islamist group has finally announced its list of ministers for the new acting government. 

As soon as Kabul fell, the Taliban tried to recast their old image—defined by violence and oppression—with a more moderate and inclusive one. Despite this, there were no women or ethnic minorities in the new cabinet introduced on Tuesday. 

The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made the announcement.  

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Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban “emir” or supreme leader since 2016, also gave details in a statement. “The Islamic Emirate will take serious and effective steps towards protecting human rights, the rights of minorities as well as the rights of the underprivileged groups within the framework of the demands of the sacred religion of Islam,” Akhundzada said. 

The acting government announced 33 positions that are occupied by an almost completely homogenous group—32 Pashtun Sunni Muslim Taliban men and one Tajik Sunni Muslim man. 

While Pashtuns and Tajiks comprise the largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan, more than 10 other distinct communities make up 40 percent of the country’s 38 million population.

Last week, a Taliban spokesperson told The Guardian that women and ethnic minorities would have a place in the government, but that the senior positions will be filled “on merit.” 

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In a VICE News video shot earlier this year, a Taliban leader laughed at the thought of women in the government. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is reported to have been abolished altogether. 

Akhundzada also said that the cabinet of the still unrecognised “Islamic Emirate” will start functioning “at the earliest.”

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The new cabinet marks a comeback for some of the most notorious Taliban leaders, who held similar roles when the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Some members are on the UN’s blacklist, while the so-called new blood are mostly sons of the group’s old guard. 

In reaction to the announcement, Afghans on Twitter were livid. Protests continued against the lack of women in government, while others said that the new cabinet is anything but inclusive

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In a statement, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan—the last remaining resistance to the Taliban—called the cabinet “illegal” and against the Afghan people. A legitimate government, they added, can only be built through the “will and vote of the people in a general election”.

Here’s all you need to know about the new Taliban cabinet’s key members: 

Interim Head of State: Mullah Hassan Akhund

Akhund, in his 60s, is the most senior Taliban leader and one of the movement’s founders. During the first Taliban rule, he served as the foreign minister and later on as deputy prime minister. He ordered the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in 2001. 

Many political analysts define Akhund as a hardliner, and like many senior Taliban leaders, he is on the UN “terror” list. Some experts describe his appointment as a “compromise” to quell in-fighting between the group’s moderate and hard-line members. 

Acting Minister of Interior: Serajuddin Haqqani

Serajuddin Haqqani, 48, is the leader of the Haqqani Network, a militant organisation allied with both the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. During the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the State Department described the Haqqani Network as the most lethal insurgent group targeting coalition forces. The group had conducted high-profile attacks on western allies in Afghanistan in the past, and was in charge of Kabul security during the airport bombings on August 26. The U.S. considers Serajuddin a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” with a $10 million bounty on his head. 

He is the son of the anti-Soviet warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and the nephew of Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, currently the subject of a $5 million bounty for his links to al Qaeda operations. 

Acting Minister of Defense: Mullah Yaqoob

Mullah Yaqoob is the son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar. He came into prominence in 2015 when he called for unity within the group after his father’s death. Twenty-something Yaqoob’s appointment as the Taliban’s military chief was followed by the landmark deal that resulted in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan on August 31. Political analysts view him as a moderate, while one intelligence official called him “a shrewd young man who is somewhat entitled and self-centred.”

Yaqoob was educated in several hard-line seminaries in Pakistan, where his family lived after the U.S. occupied Afghanistan. Some intelligence reports say he was trained in guerilla warfare by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Acting Minister for Information and Culture: Mullah Khairullah Khaikhwa

Mullah Khairullah Khaikhwa, another Taliban’s founder, was one of the five Guantanamo Bay detainees—the “Taliban Five”—who were arrested in Pakistan after 9/11 as a designated “terrorist.” The Pentagon accused him of links with Osama bin Laden. He spent 12 years in Guantanamo Bay prison. In 2014, during Barack Obama’s presidency, the Taliban Five were exchanged for an American service member held by the Taliban as a prisoner of war. The new Taliban cabinet includes four of the Taliban Five

Earlier this year, Khaikhwa, now in his 50s, joined the Taliban delegation that negotiated the final terms of the U.S. withdrawal with U.S. President Joe Biden. Khaikhwa served as the interior minister during the first Taliban rule. 

Army Chief of Staff: Qari Fasihuddin

In 2019, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence announced the death of the “most dangerous and powerful shadow governor of Taliban,” Qari Fasihuddin. According to the official report, Fasihuddin was killed in an airstrike along with his bodyguard. Fasihuddin has since turned up alive and well, and is in fact set to become the Taliban’s army chief of staff. 

Fasihuddin is a Tajik fighter previously known to be the shadow governor of Badakshan province in Afghanistan, which shares borders with Tajikistan and China. One news report described him as a “charismatic” leader and the first Tajik to make it to the Taliban’s Pashtun-majority military ranks. 

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.

Tagged:

Taliban, south asia, Haqqani Network, worldnews

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