Herat: A member of the Taliban watches as Afghan women hold placards during a protest on Thursday.—AFP
Herat: A member of the Taliban watches as Afghan women hold placards during a protest on Thursday.—AFP

KABUL: The Taliban said on Thursday they were close to forming a new government, as dozens of women held a rare protest for the right to work under a new regime that faces enormous economic hurdles and deep public mistrust.

The militants, who have pledged a softer brand of rule than during their brutal reign of 1996-2001, must now transform from insurgent group to governing power.

The announcement of a cabinet, which two Taliban sources told AFP may take place on Friday following afternoon prayers, would come just days after the chaotic pullout of US forces from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war with an astounding military victory for the group.

In one of the most symbolic moments since the takeover of Kabul on August 15, the militants on Wednesday paraded some of the military hardware they had captured during their offensive, even flying a Black Hawk helicopter over Kandahar, their movement’s spiritual heartland.

Islamist forces and fighters loyal to Ahmad Massoud clash in Panjshir

Now, all eyes are on whether the Taliban can deliver a cabinet capable of managing a war-wracked economy and honour the movement’s pledges of a more “inclusive” government.

Speculation is rife about the make-up of a new government, although a senior official said on Wednesday that women were unlikely to be included.

Senior leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai — a hardliner in the first Taliban administration — told BBC Pashto in an interview that while women could continue working, there “may not” be a place for them in the cabinet of any future government or any other top post.

In the western city of Herat, some 50 women took to the streets in a rare, defiant protest for the right to work and over the lack of female participation in the new government.

“It is our right to have education, work and security,” the demonstrators chanted in unison, said an AFP journalist who witnessed the protest.

“We are not afraid, we are united,” they added.

One of the organisers of the protest, Basira Taheri, said she wanted the Taliban to include women in the new cabinet.

“We want the Taliban to hold consultations with us,” Taheri said. “We don’t see any women in their gatherings and meetings.”

Meanwhile, Taliban forces and fighters loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, fought in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, with each side saying it had inflicted heavy casualties in recent days of combat in the last province resisting Taliban rule.

Under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, son of a former Mujahideen commander, they have been holding out in the Panjshir province, a steep valley that makes attacks from outside difficult.

Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the failure of talks as the Taliban prepared to announce a government.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s fighters had entered Panjshir and taken control of some territory.

“We started operations after negotiation with the local armed group failed,” he said. “They suffered heavy losses.”

However, a spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), a grouping of rebels, said it had full control of all passes and entrances and had driven back efforts to take Shotul district at the entrance to the valley.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2021

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