The Taliban-led government has expanded its interim cabinet, releasing a list of deputy ministers solely comprising men despite increasing international criticism that the hard-line Islamist group's actions were failing to live up to its early pledges of inclusion for women.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid presented the list of deputy ministers and agency heads on September 21, as three international human rights groups issued a report documenting a “litany of abuses” since the Taliban seized power in mid-August, including targeted killings of civilians, the repression of the rights of women and girls, and the intimidation of human rights defenders.
"In just over five weeks since assuming control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have clearly demonstrated that they are not serious about protecting or respecting human rights. We have already seen a wave of violations, from reprisal attacks and restrictions on women, to crackdowns on protests, the media and civil society," Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South Asia, said in a statement.
Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Mujahid said that two veteran battlefield commanders were appointed as deputy defense and interior ministers, adding to the roster of hard-liners in the main group of ministers.
The newly nominated Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Sadr Ibrahim were identified in UN reports as being among battlefield commanders who were pressing the Taliban leadership to step up the war against the Western-backed government in Kabul.
Mujahid defended the latest nominations, saying they increase ethnic representation in the cabinet. Tajik businessman Haji Nooruddin Azizi was appointed acting trade minister, while his deputy Haji Mohammad Azim Sultanzada is an ethnic Uzbek businessman. Mohammad Hassan Ghiasi, deputy minister for public health, is a member of the mainly Shi'ite Hazara ethnic minority.
The spokesman said that women might be added at some time in the future, but that did little to allay growing fears that the government installed by the Taliban after it gained control of most of the war-torn country and ousted the Western-backed government on August 15 will return to the repressive rule it employed during when in power from 1996 to 2001.
The Taliban has sought to counter that image with promises of moderate policies and respect for rights, but the formation of an all-male government led by hard-line veterans composed of men who are mostly from the Pashtun ethnic group failed to back up the pledge.
The international community has warned it would judge the group by its actions, and that recognition of a Taliban-led government would be linked to issues including the treatment of women and minorities.
According to Mujahid, there is no reason for withholding recognition.
“It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government [and] for other countries, including European, Asian, and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” he said.
The cabinet list comes after the government excluded girls from returning to secondary school last week.
Mujahid suggested this was a temporary decision, saying: "We are finalizing things.”
“Soon it will be announced when they can go to school,” the spokesman said.
Last month, the Taliban-led government announced that female university students could continue their studies but only in gender-segregated classes and if they wore a niqab -- an Islamic veil that covers the face -- and abaya -- a loose-fitting and all-covering robe.
In the Taliban’s previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.
In their report published on September 21, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) document how women’s rights are being repressed under the Taliban, including targeted killings of civilians, the repression of the rights of women and girls, and the intimidation of human rights defenders.
"Women who were in government prior to the Taliban’s takeover have by and large fled the country; however, there have already been several instances of reprisals against their employees, colleagues, and family members who have stayed in Afghanistan," the report says.
It added that female judges and prosecutors have also come "under threat" from the Taliban, as well as from men who had been imprisoned on charges of murder or domestic violence and subsequently freed by the militants.
As a result of the climate of fear, many women are now dressed in burqas covering their whole bodies and leave their homes only a male guardian. Most have stopped other activities to avoid violence and reprisals.
"Why are boys allowed to study, when there is no such right for girls?" Rawanda Abraar, an Afghan student from Kabul, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi during a program on female leadership on September 20.
"I have studied hard for the past 11 years. I dreamed of studying journalism at university and being a voice for my people. All my dreams were destroyed. We can't even leave our homes freely. I want to finish my education. We don’t deserve to be buried alive in our own homes," she added.
The Taliban has also engaged in “large-scale door-to-door searches, forcing human rights defenders into hiding,” while others were beaten up by militants, the human rights groups said.
Other abuses included a “crackdown” on freedom of expression, with many protests being violently repressed by the Taliban, and “reprisals” on former government workers.
The report calls on the UN Human Rights Council to "take decisive action to establish a robust independent investigative mechanism to monitor and report on human rights abuses committed in violation of international human rights law, and to contribute to accountability for crimes under international law."
"Human rights defenders, journalists, and others who are targeted for their work must be evacuated and given safe passage if they wish to leave Afghanistan; and women and girls, and ethnic and religious minorities who are targeted because of their gender, ethnic, and religious identity, must be guaranteed protection," it says.
Afghanistan’s unsettled future under its new rulers is among the issues featuring prominently at the United Nations General Assembly which started on September 21 in New York.
The ruling emir of Qatar, whose nation has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, urged world leaders against turning their backs on the Taliban.
Speaking from the UN General Assembly podium, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed "the necessity of continuing dialogue with [the] Taliban because [a] boycott only leads to polarization and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results.”
The Qatari ruler said the international community must continue to back Afghanistan and “to separate humanitarian aid from political differences.”
Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, relies on billions of dollars in foreign aid each year, though that could change with the U.S.-backed government out of power and the Taliban now in charge.
The leader of another neighbor, Uzbekistan, said the Central Asian country has resumed the supply of oil and electricity to Afghanistan.
“It is impossible to isolate Afghanistan and leave it within the range of its problems,” Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev told the UN General Assembly, calling for a permanent UN Committee on Afghanistan.