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U.S. Calls Taliban-Led Government 'Caretaker,' Says Legitimacy 'Will Have To Be Earned'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at Ramstein Air Base on September 8.

The United States has described the Taliban-led government in Kabul as "a caretaker cabinet" as Washington and its partners increase pressure on the hard-line group one day after it announced an all-male ruling structure for Afghanistan dominated by veteran militants vowing a return to strict Shari'a law.

"This is a caretaker cabinet," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on September 8. "No one in this administration, not the president nor anyone on the national security team, would suggest that the Taliban are respected and valued members of the global community. They have not earned that in any way, and we've never assessed that."

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after a mostly online meeting with Germany and around 20 other countries that the new Afghan government will be judged on its actions and legitimacy "will have to be earned."

Blinken met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after arriving at a U.S. airbase in Ramstein, Germany, that is being used as a processing hub for thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan before the broader, virtual meeting.

The Taliban controls Kabul and nearly all of Afghanistan following months of military victories as U.S.-led international troops withdrew before the UN-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled on August 15.

"The Taliban seek international legitimacy," Blinken said. "Any legitimacy -- any support -- will have to be earned."

Blinken also expressed Washington's concerns about some individuals in the "interim" government announced by the Taliban on September 7, although he did not specify.

The Taliban's government will be led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on a UN blacklist, and another figure in the interim cabinet, Sirajuddin Haqqani, runs a U.S.-designated terrorist group and is wanted by the FBI.

Blinken said his discussions with Haas and other partner countries focused on ways to hold the Taliban to its commitments.

The Taliban publicly committed to an "inclusive" government, but nearly all of the acting ministers it named are longtime Taliban leaders, many with close connections to the group's brutal reign in 1996-2001, when human rights and women's rights were virtually ignored and henchmen doled out strict punishment in line with an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

Blinken also said that U.S. officials were doing everything in their power to get flights departing again from Afghanistan but that the Taliban was currently not permitting charter flights to take off.

"We've made clear to all parties, we've made clear to the Taliban that these charters need to be able to depart," Blinken said.

Maas said the announcement from Kabul of a Taliban-only interim government "has not made us optimistic" and was "not the signal for more international cooperation and stability in the country."

He warned of a looming "major humanitarian crisis" in Afghanistan that needs to be prevented.

Maas said regional security was also at stake. He also said there were still German nationals in Afghanistan that Berlin wants to get out of the country.

Russia, which kept open channels to the Taliban that long irritated the internationally backed government in Kabul, signaled support for the new Afghan leadership.

The speaker of the upper house of Russia's parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, said on September 8 that Moscow would be represented at the ambassadorial level at the incoming government's inauguration proceedings, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

Pakistan on September 8 hosted a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from countries neighboring Afghanistan -- China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- to discuss the situation there and ways to "ensure regional stability and prosperity."

In Afghanistan, there were fresh protests in several areas across the country on September 8 with many wary of a repeat of the group's previous rule.

Hundreds of people, including many women, took to the streets of Kabul, the remote northeastern province of Badakhshan, and the the northern Parwan Province, calling for their rights be preserved and chanting anti-Pakistan slogans -- as many believe the neighboring country supports the Taliban, which Islamabad denies.

Some demonstrators complained that Taliban militants used violence to disperse the crowds, including by firing shots in the air.

Despite Gunfire And Lashings, Afghan Women's Protests Grow
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The Etilaatroz newspaper reported that Taliban militants "severely beat" two of its journalists who were detained while covering a protest in Kabul's Dasht-e Barchi area.

It posted photos on social media apparently showing the backs of the two men with larges signs of whipping and bruises.

"It does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan we hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks," said Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU's foreign-affairs service.

"Such inclusivity and representation is expected in the composition of a future transitional government, and as result of negotiations," he added in a statement.

Meanwhile, at the virtual meeting attended by his regional colleagues, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi urged Afghanistan's neighbors, the United Nations, and its agencies to help prevent a humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

Since Kabul's takeover by the Taliban, "much dreaded bloodshed has not occurred" and the prospect of a protracted conflict and civil war seems to have been averted, Qureshi said.

However, the complex situation in the country "requires discarding old lenses, developing new insights, and proceeding with a realistic and pragmatic approach," he added.

Afghanistan faced drought, displacement, and a humanitarian crisis even before the Taliban toppled the Western-backed government in Kabul in August as U.S.-led international forces prepared to withdraw.

Now the new rulers in Kabul are also grappling with a hollowed-out bureaucracy and worsening economic crisis. Most of Afghanistan's central-bank reserves and international aid was frozen after the Taliban's takeover of the country.

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London would have wanted to see a "diverse" leadership team in Afghanistan, and "will continue to judge the Taliban on their actions," a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan asked the international community not to recognize the "illegal" interim cabinet. The National Resistance Front (NRFA) said it considered the announcement of the caretaker government "a clear sign of the group's enmity with the Afghan people."

The Taliban claims it has defeated NRFA fighters in Panjshir, a rugged mountain valley located about 100 kilometers northeast of Kabul that has a history of holding out against the militants, but the movement's leaders say the battle continues.

Of the Taliban's 33 cabinet positions, nearly all were filled by ethnic Pashtuns, who make up an estimated 40 percent of the population.

The Taliban also announced the reinstatement of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which under the group's previous rule was responsible for arresting and punishing people for failing to implement the movement's restrictive interpretation of Islamic law.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, the BBC, and TASS
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