World wary of new Taliban government

·3-min read

Foreign countries have greeted the make-up of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to top positions, including several with a US bounty on their heads.

As the newly appointed ministers and their deputies set to work after they were named late on Tuesday, acting Premier Mohammad Hasan Akhund urged former officials who fled Afghanistan to return, saying their safety would be guaranteed.

"We have suffered heavy losses for this historic moment and the era of bloodshed in Afghanistan is over," he told Al Jazeera.

Tens of thousands of people left after the Taliban seized power in mid-August following a lightning military campaign, many fearing reprisals because of their association with the Western-backed government.

In Kabul, dozens of women took to the streets again to demand representation in the new administration and for their rights to be protected.

More broadly, people urged the leadership to revive the Afghan economy, which faces steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of international aid being slashed.

The US underscored its wariness. "This is a caretaker cabinet," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, and the Biden administration would not suggest the Taliban "are respected and valued members of the global community".

The Islamist militants swept to power in a victory hastened by the withdrawal of US military support to Afghan government forces.

The Taliban's new government is widely seen as a signal they are not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world.

The group has promised to respect people's rights, but it has been criticised for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in the chaotic evacuation from Kabul airport.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was assessing the cabinet, but noted it consisted only of Taliban members or their close associates, and no women.

The European Union voiced its disapproval, but said it was ready to continue humanitarian assistance. Longer-term aid would depend on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.

Saudi Arabia hoped the new government would help Afghanistan achieve "security and stability, rejecting violence and extremism".

The acting cabinet includes former detainees of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the US on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $US10 million ($A14 million).

His uncle, with a bounty of $US5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from work and girls from school. The group carried out public executions and its religious police enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Taliban leaders have vowed to respect people's rights, in accordance with sharia, but women who have won greater freedoms in the past two decades are worried about losing them.

Alison Davidian, deputy head of UN Women in Afghanistan, said some women were being prevented from leaving home without a male relative or were forced to stop work. The activity "has generated incredible fear. And this fear is palpable across the country".

In Kabul, a group of women bearing signs reading: "A cabinet without women is a failure", held another protest in the Pul-e Surkh area of the city.

Larger demonstrations on Tuesday were broken up when Taliban gunmen fired warning shots into the air.

Ousted President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul as Taliban forces reached its outskirts, apologised on Wednesday for the abrupt fall of his government, but again denied he had taken millions of dollars with him.

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