In Mohammad Akhund-led Taliban govt, several key faces from Haqqani Network
NEW DELHI: The Taliban on Tuesday announced an interim setup to govern Afghanistan that will be led by a founding member, Mohammad Hassan Akhund, and has several leaders of the dreaded Haqqani Network in key positions.
A majority of the 33 members in the caretaker setup, including Akhund and his first deputy Abdul Ghani Baradar, have been sanctioned by the UN Security Council, while Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was named the interior minister, has a US bounty of $5 million on his head.
The reclusive Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada was named the supreme leader with the final say on religious, political and security affairs under a system that some have compared to the ruling setup in Iran.
Akhund, who is believed to be in his sixties, was a close associate of Taliban founder Mullah Omar and served as his political advisor. He also served as foreign minister in the previous Taliban regime and as governor of Kandahar province, the traditional stronghold of the group in southern Afghanistan.
Baradar emerged as the most public face of the Taliban because of his leading role in negotiations with the US and other countries.
Despite several assertions by Taliban leaders in recent weeks that the proposed setup would be inclusive, all the 33 members of the so-called caretaker cabinet were members of the Taliban hierarchy or the Haqqani Network. Many of them also served in similar capacities in the Taliban regime that ruled in Kabul in the 1990s.
Most of the 33 leaders are Pashtuns and the setup included two Tajiks and one Uzbek.
Akhund will have two deputies – Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi, who was a deputy education minister in the previous regime.
Maulvi Amir Khan Mutaqqi, a former education minister, was the surprise pick for foreign minister, with Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, who recently held a meeting with India’s ambassador in Qatar and has been involved in back-channel contacts with the Indian side for some years, was named the deputy foreign minister.
Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob, the eldest son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, was named the defence minister. Yaqoob is among the very few leaders in the setup who isn’t subject to UN sanctions, but there have been reports that during the Taliban’s recent campaign against the former government of President Ashraf Ghani, he was directly coordinating with Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders fighting alongside the Taliban.
Mullah Abdul Haq Wassiq, a UN-sanctioned Taliban leader who earlier served as deputy minister of security was named the intelligence chief, with Mullah Rahmatullah Najib and Mullah Taj Mir Jawad as his deputies.
Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former prisoner at Guantanamo with whom the Indian side opened channels of communication, was named information minister, with long-standing Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as his deputy.
Mujahid said the 33-member setup will serve as “acting” leaders and he didn’t rule out the possibility of changes in future.
All the UN-sanctioned Taliban leaders are subject to an assets freeze, arms embargo and travel ban. About 15 of them, including Baradar, were granted exemptions to travel restrictions to allow them to travel to Qatar and various other destinations for peace negotiations.
The UN Security Council is set to meet on September 21 to consider the further extension of these exemptions. India currently heads the UN’s 1988 Sanctions Committee that oversees sanctions on the Taliban till December. If the travel-related exemptions aren’t extended, the sanctioned leaders will effectively be unable to travel out of Afghanistan and engage with the international community.
This could complicate the Taliban’s efforts to seek international recognition for its setup, especially at a time when many Western countries have linked recognition to the group’s ability to deliver on commitments to protect human rights.