World wary of Taliban government, Afghans urge action on rights and economy

by Reuters
Wednesday, 8 September 2021 18:29 GMT

An Afghan man waves the flag of the former Afghan government during the anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 7, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

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Afghans urge leaders to revive the economy, which faces steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of international aid being slashed as countries distance themselves from the Taliban

(Adds Blinken, Ghani, new prime minister, women's cricket)

* New Taliban government gets to work on Wednesday

* Veteran hardliners dominate the cabinet, disappointing donors

* Afghans urge leaders to address economic crisis, rights

* Women protest again in Kabul after big rally on Tuesday

Sept 8 (Reuters) - Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay on Wednesday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to top positions, including several with a U.S. bounty on their head.

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 of them professionals 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 as countries distance themselves from the Taliban.

The Islamist militant movement swept to power in a victory hastened by the withdrawal of U.S. military support to Afghan government forces.

On Tuesday it finally announced a new government, and the appointment of hardline veterans has been widely seen as a signal that the Taliban were not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world.

The group has promised to respect people's rights and not seek vendettas, but it has been criticised for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in a chaotic evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul airport.

"We're assessing the announcement, but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Washington was "concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals," added Blinken, who was visiting a U.S. air base in Germany that has been a transit point for evacuees from Afghanistan.

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

The new acting cabinet includes former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $10 million.

His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

The Taliban's victory has presented the rest of the world with a dilemma https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-new-afghan-government-receives-muted-reception-china-japan-2021-09-08.

They want to keep aid flowing and to help those with the appropriate paperwork who want to leave, but they may have to engage with a movement that, until a few weeks ago, was an insurgency blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.

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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, including those of women, in accordance with sharia, but those who have won greater freedoms over the last two decades are worried about losing them.

In an interview with Australia's SBS News, a senior Taliban official said women would not be allowed to play cricket - a popular sport in Afghanistan - and possibly any other because it was "not necessary" and their bodies might be exposed.

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 https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-protests-persist-posing-problem-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07 into the air.

"The cabinet was announced and there were no women in the cabinet. And some journalists who came to cover the protest were all arrested and taken to the police station," said a woman in a video shared on social media.

Zaki Daryabi, head of the daily newspaper Etilaatroz, said some of his reporters had been beaten while covering Tuesday's protests.

A statement from the new Taliban interior ministry said that in order to avoid disturbances and security problems, anyone holding a demonstration should apply for clearance 24 hours beforehand.

For many Afghans, more pressing than the composition of the cabinet was the economic fallout of the chaos triggered by the Taliban's conquest.

Shukrullah Khan, manager of a restaurant at Qargha Lake, a popular local resort near Kabul, said business had slumped to next to nothing.

"The business and bazaars compared to the previous government, has been decreased by 98%," he said.

"The banks are closed, there's no jobs, people no longer spend money. Where does the money come from so that people can have fun here?"

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

"Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens," he said in a statement.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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