Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will lead a new Afghan government set to be announced soon, sources in the group said yesterday, as its fighters battled forces loyal to the vanquished republic in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul.
But the new government’s most immediate priority would be to avert the collapse of an economy grappling with drought and the ravages of a 20-year conflict that killed around 240,000 Afghans before US forces completed a tumultuous pullout last Monday.
At stake is whether the Taliban can govern a country facing economic meltdown, a humanitarian disaster and threats to security and stability from rival jihadist groups, including a local offshoot of Islamic State.
Mr Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office, will be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob – the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar – and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai in senior positions in the government, sources said.
“All the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in the final stages to announce the new government,” said a Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme religious leader, will focus on religious matters and governance within the framework of Islam, another Taliban source said.
The Taliban, which seized Kabul on August 15 after sweeping across most of the country, has faced resistance in the Panjshir Valley, where there have been reports of heavy fighting and casualties. Several thousand fighters of regional militias and remnants of the government’s armed forces have massed in the rugged valley.
Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down. While the Taliban has spoken of its desire to form a consensus government, a source close to the Islamist militant movement said the interim government now being formed would consist solely of Taliban members.
It would comprise 25 ministries, with a consultative council, or shura, of 12 Muslim scholars, the source added.
Also being planned within six to eight months is a loya jirga, or grand assembly, bringing together elders and representatives across Afghan society to discuss a constitution and the structure of the future government.
All the sources expected the interim government’s cabinet to be finalised soon but differed over exactly when, with some saying it would be settled yesterday while others felt it would take until the middle of next week.
The government’s legitimacy in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial. Humanitarian groups have warned of impending catastrophe and the economy, reliant for years on billions of dollars of foreign aid, is near collapse.
The Taliban enforced a radical form of sharia, or Islamic law, in particular oppressing women, when it ruled from 1996 to 2001.
This time around, the movement has tried to present a more conciliatory face to the world, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
The US, EU and others have cast doubt on such assurances, and many Afghans, especially women and those with education or links to the former government or Western coalition forces, now fear for their lives.
They include Afghanistan’s 250 women judges, with men they once jailed now freed by the Taliban to hunt them down.
While some women judges were able to flee in recent weeks, most were left behind and are still trying to get out.
Members of Afghanistan’s renowned all-female orchestra fled, smashing instruments and burning documents to avoid retribution by the Taliban, which banned music during its previous rule.