The militant Islamist Taliban have announced part of their interim government in Afghanistan. The acting chairman of the ministers will therefore be the little-known mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund. This function corresponds to that of a prime minister. The Taliban spokesman Sabiullah Mujahid announced on Tuesday at a press conference in Kabul. Akhund is a founding member of the Taliban, most recently on its leadership council, the Rahbari Shura. He is considered a close confidante of the Taliban leader Haibatullah Achundsada.
Akhund, who comes from Kandahar, held important posts during the first Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and is considered to be moderate. Observers consider him a compromise candidate. Spokesman Mujahid said it had been agreed to appoint and announce a transitional cabinet “in order to be able to carry out the necessary government work.” The spokesman said nothing about how long this transition should take.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the previous Deputy Chief of the Taliban, who signed the 2020 agreement with the United States on behalf of the Taliban, including an end to the US-led military operation in Afghanistan, was appointed one of two deputies of Akhund. He had also traveled to Beijing a few weeks ago and held talks there with China’s foreign minister. Baradar, around 53 years old, was a companion and close friend of Mullah Omar, who started the radical Islamic movement and headed the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Baradar was released from Pakistani captivity in autumn 2018 at the urging of the US government to lead peace negotiations with the US in Doha, Qatar. The second deputy is Maulawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, who most recently worked in the Taliban’s political office in Doha.
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Amir Chan Muttaki is scheduled for the post of Foreign Minister. Sarajuddin Hakkani, founder of the network of the same name, which operates from Pakistan, has been appointed as incumbent interior minister. The US classifies it as a terrorist group, Hakkani is wanted as a terrorist by the American FBI. The Hakkani family also holds a number of other government posts, including the Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry of Telecommunications, and the Ministry of Refugees. One of the previous Taliban deputy chiefs, Mullah Mohammed Jakub, son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, is to become defense minister. The Taliban occupied 33 posts. The appointment of the remaining leading positions in ministries and institutions will be announced gradually after “long deliberation,” said Mujahid.
Akhund’s appointment shows “how little we in the West know about the Taliban and can predict their decisions,” says Afghanistan expert Thomas Ruttig from the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. Most observers assumed that Mullah Baradar would become premier.
The Taliban had regained power in Afghanistan in mid-August. The previous President Ashraf Ghani had fled shortly before. Since they came to power, the Islamists have sought a more moderate external image than they did during their reign of terror between 1996 and 2001. However, concerns remain that the militant group could base their rule on oppression and draconian punishments.