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Taliban’s 'Mullahcratic' Government: Militants Fail To Form Inclusive Administration

Taliban militants gather by a picture of their leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, in Kabul, who was named supreme leader of the Taliban-led government.

The Taliban had stressed that it would form an “inclusive Islamic government” and would not “monopolize power” following its rapid takeover of Afghanistan last month.

But the new, theocratic government unveiled on September 7 is made up exclusively of veterans and loyalists of the Taliban, a militant Islamist group that is predominately Pashtun, the ethnic group that makes up about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million people.

“This is an ethnically homogeneous, 'mullahcratic' government,” said Ali Adili, a researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul.

Of the 33 cabinet ministers named on September 7, 30 are Pashtun, two are ethnic Tajiks, and one is Uzbek. The government does not include any members of the Shi’ite Hazara minority, which has suffered deadly attacks at the hands of the Taliban in the past.

It also includes no women.

Seventeen of the cabinet ministers are on the United Nations sanctions list for their ties to terrorism.

There are no figures from the toppled, internationally recognized government in Kabul.

Also shunned were the powerful Islamist military-political parties -- collectively known as the mujahedin -- which fought the Taliban in the 1990s and have dominated politics since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban.

Experts say the makeup of the new, exclusively Taliban government could be an attempt to address infighting and rivalries that have intensified since the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15.

The Taliban administration as it is currently composed has not been recognized by any country as of September 8. Observers say the militants are unlikely to receive international recognition, a blow that would deny them access to billions of dollars in frozen assets and foreign aid.

“The international community said they want the Taliban to form an inclusive government,” said Haroun Rahimi, an assistant professor of law at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. “It’s hard to see how this could satisfy anyone’s definition of inclusivity.”

New Government, Old Faces

The Taliban named its new government the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of its brutal regime that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

The new government is led by Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is the supreme leader or "Amir ul-Momineen," the leader of the faithful. He will have the ultimate say in the country under a system reminiscent of the clerically led establishment that has ruled neighboring Iran since 1979.

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund -- a UN-sanctioned founding member of the group in the early 1990s -- has been named head of government and will oversee day-to-day affairs. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and the group’s most public face, will be Akhund's first deputy.

Other key positions have been filled by two powerful military leaders: Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of the late Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, was named defense minister. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the U.S.-designated Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction, will serve as interior minister.

The militants also abolished the Women’s Affairs Ministry and reestablished the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. In the 1990s, that ministry was responsible for enforcing the Taliban's morality laws, including its strict dress code and gender segregation in society. The ministry’s dreaded police were notorious for publicly punishing offenders in violent ways.

The Taliban insisted the ministers were appointed in an “acting” capacity and the makeup of the “interim” government could change.

But observers say that is unlikely.

“The Taliban’s new government tells us that they only consider themselves entitled to running an Islamic government,” said Adili. “I believe they were unwilling to accommodate non-Pashtun communities in their government. The only non-Pashtuns are Talibs that have been part of their movement for years.”

‘Prevent Divisions’

The militants had repeatedly delayed the announcement of their new government before September 7.

Experts say the Taliban was awaiting the final withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by August 31. Another reason was the anti-Taliban resistance in Panjshir Valley, the last pocket of resistance to the Taliban which the militants said they captured on September 6, a claim that has been denied by the opposition.

But observers say the most likely explanation of the delay is Taliban infighting.

The militant group has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite succession crises, competition from the global appeal of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group, and a deadly war against foreign and Afghan forces for nearly two decades.

But longtime divisions and rivalries within the Taliban have become more visible since it regained power.

The Taliban is divided between two main factions: the Haqqani network, the most militarily powerful faction of the Taliban. Its power base is in southeastern Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region. The network commanded military operations in 21 eastern and northern Afghan provinces. Many members of the network are from the Ghilzai tribe of Pashtuns.

The other faction is dominated by the Durrani tribe based in and around the southern province of Kandahar, from where many members of the Taliban’s leadership council hail, including Mullah Haibatullah, Mullah Hassan Akhund, and Mullah Yaqoob.

“The announced composition of the government can serve no purpose other than make senior Talibs content,” said Rahimi. “That makes me believe they had to do it to prevent further divisions."

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is acting editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.