The Taliban’s supreme leader yesterday told the newly appointed government to uphold Shariah law, in his first message since the movement swept to power. “I assure all the countrymen that the figures will work hard towards upholding Islamic rules and Shariah law in the country,” Hibatullah Akhundzada, who has never been seen in public, said in a statement released in English.
Akhundzada told Afghans that the new leadership would ensure “lasting peace, prosperity and development”, adding that “people should not try to leave the country”. “The Islamic Emirate has no problem with anyone,” he said. “All will take part in strengthening the system and Afghanistan and in this way, we will rebuild our war-torn country.”
Akhundzada’s public profile has largely been limited to the release of messages during Islamic holidays, but the group has shed some light on his whereabouts following its takeover of Afghanistan.
“He is present in Kandahar,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said after they seized power. Another spokesman had said Akhundzada was due to make a public appearance “soon”.
The Taliban announced their government yesterday, with a veteran of the movement in the top role, weeks after they swept to power.
Mullah Mohamed Hassan Akhund – a senior minister during the Taliban’s reign in the 1990s – was appointed acting prime minister, a spokesman said at a press conference in Kabul. The Taliban had promised an inclusive government that would reflect the ethnic makeup of the country, but all the top positions were handed to key leaders from the movement and the Haqqani network. “We will try to take people from other parts of the country,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, adding that it was an interim government. Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Omar, was named defence minister, while the position of interior minister was given to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network. Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar who oversaw the signing of the US withdrawal agreement will be a deputy to Hassan.
“It’s not at all inclusive, and that’s no surprise whatsoever,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “The Taliban had never indicated that any of its cabinet ministers would include anyone other than themselves.”
The Taliban now face the colossal task of ruling Afghanistan, which is wracked with economic woes and security challenges – including from the Islamic State group’s local chapter. A growing number of protests have emerged across the country over the past week. Hundreds gathered at several rallies in Kabul yesterday – a show of defiance unthinkable under the last regime.
In Herat, hundreds of demonstrators marched, unfurling banners and waving the Afghan flag – a black, red and green vertical tricolour with the national emblem overlaid in white – with some chanting “freedom”. Demonstrations have also been held in smaller cities in recent days, where women have demanded to be part of a new government.
The Kabul-based Afghan Independent Journalists Association said 14 journalists – Afghan and foreign – were detained briefly during the protests in Kabul before being released. At the press conference on Tuesday night, the Taliban spokesman warned the public against taking to the streets. “Until all the government offices have opened, and the laws for protests have been explained, no one should protest,” Mujahid said.
Washington said it was in “no rush” to recognise the new government. “It’s really going to be dependent on what steps the Taliban takes,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said. “The world will be watching, the United States included.”
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had reiterated a pledge to allow Afghans to freely depart Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure amid reports that several hundred people, including Americans, have been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addresses a press conference in Kabul yesterday.
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