Taliban expand interim cabinet, double down on all-male team

Published September 21, 2021
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 6. — AFP/File
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 6. — AFP/File

The Taliban expanded their interim cabinet by naming deputy ministers on Tuesday but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hardline course despite the international outcry that followed their initial presentation of an all-male cabinet lineup earlier this month.

The international community has warned that it will judge the Taliban by their actions, and that recognition of a Taliban-led government would be linked to the treatment of women and minorities. In their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban had barred girls and women from schools, work and public life.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid defended the latest additions to the cabinet at a news conference on Tuesday, saying it included members of ethnic minorities, such as Hazaras, and that women might be added later.

Mujahid bristled at international conditions for recognition, saying there was no reason for withholding it. “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognise our government [and] for other countries, including European, Asian and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” he said.

The Taliban have framed their current cabinet as an interim government, suggesting that change was still possible, but they have not said if there would ever be elections.

Mujahid was also asked about the recent restrictions imposed on girls and women, including a decision not to allow girls in grades six to 12 to return to classrooms for the time being.

He suggested this was a temporary decision, and that “soon it will be announced when they can go to school”. He said plans were being made to allow for their return but did not elaborate.

Boys in grades six to 12 resumed their studies over the weekend.

Mujahid also made no reference to the now-closed women's affairs ministry, which was shut down last week and replaced with a department that earned notoriety for enforcing religious doctrine during the previous Taliban regime.

“These positions are considered important for the functioning of the emirate,” he said, announcing the final cabinet appointments, which included additions to the health ministry.

The Taliban now face the colossal task of ruling Afghanistan, an aid-dependent country whose economic troubles have only deepened since the group seized power and outside funding was frozen.

Many government employees have not been paid for months and food prices have soared.

“We have the funds but need time to get the process working,” Mujahid said.

Admiration for PM Imran's peace efforts

The Taliban spokesperson also praised Prime Minister Imran Khan's efforts for peace, stability and an inclusive Afghan government, Radio Pakistan reported.

Mujahid said the group did not see the prime minister's positive statements regarding Afghanistan as interference in its internal affairs, the report added.

It said that Mujahid acknowledged Pakistan, Qatar and China's active roles for stability in Afghanistan and welcomed other countries who were interested in playing that part.

The Taliban spokesperson also confirmed that Pakistan and some other countries had political contacts with Afghanistan.

'No presence of IS or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan'

During the presser, Mujahid also rejected accusations that Al Qaeda or the militant Islamic State group maintained a presence in Afghanistan and repeated pledges that there would be no attacks on third countries from Afghanistan from militant movements.

“We do not see anyone in Afghanistan who has anything to do with Al Qaeda,” he said, adding “we are committed to the fact that, from Afghanistan, there will not be any danger to any country.”

The IS claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan at the weekend. It also claimed a suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport last month that killed 13 US troops and scores of Afghan civilians who had crowded outside the airport gates.

Mujahid denied the movement had any genuine presence in Afghanistan though he said it “invisibly carries out some cowardly attacks”.

“The ISIS that exists in Iraq and Syria does not exist here. Still, some people who may be our own Afghans have adopted the ISIS mentality, which is a phenomenon that the people do not support,” he said.

“The security forces of the Islamic Emirate are ready and will stop them,” he said.

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