The Taliban, further widening the gap between its rhetoric and actions, announced a Taliban-exclusive “caretaker” government on September 7. No woman from any ethnic group or political fraction has been given a post in the new administration. The formation is also ethnocentric, with Pashtuns making up more than 90 percent of the cabinet. The announced setup has left the Hazara minority – Afghanistan’s third largest ethnic group – without any role in government. This setup will severely hinder the Taliban’s prospects of international recognition and it seems the movement is indifferent towards that outcome.
The anxiety Afghan citizens have about the future has led to protests across Kabul. The Taliban used the absence of a formal government as an excuse to be evasive when asked about difficult issues such as the national flag, extrajudicial killings and women’s rights. Though a smart strategy meant to buy the movement more time with the international community, it further deteriorated the little trust the urban population had in its ability to address the pressing problems facing the country. With the announcement of a caretaker government, however, the Taliban does not even have that excuse to hide behind, anymore.
The Taliban would likely argue that the extraordinary situation in Afghanistan demands such a transitional setup, and a more permanent, and perhaps inclusive, government could be announced once everything settles down. However, there is little reason to believe that a different metric would be used in deciding who would get the most important posts in a more permanent setup.
The Taliban’s apparent disregard for the international community’s demand for the inclusion of ethnic and political opposition, as well as women, in Afghanistan’s government is alarming for several reasons.
The Taliban risks straining its ties with Iran by refusing to include members of the mostly Shia Hazara minority in its administration. The Hazara community had been persecuted by the Taliban during its previous reign, and including it in the new government would have been an opportunity for the movement to make amends. Moreover, it would have helped demonstrate that it really has changed and is now more tolerant towards the Shia.
After the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, its ideological opponents, fearing for their safety, fled the country. Yet, the Taliban chose to exclude from its caretaker government even the remaining parties which are all more or less ideologically aligned with it. This was in contradiction with its earlier statements about not wanting to monopolise power, and caused the international community to become even more sceptical about its intentions. It also showed that former President Hamid Karzai and Dr Abdullah Abdullah’s efforts to give the Taliban a veneer of legitimacy by triggering a democratic transition have been in vain.
The Taliban also appears to have missed an opportunity by refusing to introduce a female member to its new cabinet. The Taliban would have won significant favour with the Afghan public as well as the international community if it had announced a woman, even a Taliban member, to head the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. It would have also helped with containing the women’s rights demonstrations gaining momentum in the country.
It seems, despite its rhetoric of inclusivity, the Taliban never intended to include anyone from outside its movement in its administration. Despite this, it still took it two weeks to reach a consensus over who would be in the government – and this is also a bad omen. This confirms the initial rumours of strife within the movement over who would occupy key positions. This conflict may resurface in the future, in the shape of a contest for power and relevance, and hinder the functioning of a Taliban government.
Afghans and the international community have long been fearing that the Taliban would assign its members to governmental posts based on their individual contributions to the movement’s military campaign. With the announcement of the caretaker government, these fears have been realised. The apparent absence of a merit-based system for appointments shows the Taliban’s inability to comprehend the complexity of governance. A system that divides government positions as spoils of war among Taliban members is unlikely to be sustainable or successful.
The only silver lining in the Taliban’s announcement of a new caretaker government is that the political vacuum in Afghanistan seems to have been filled, no matter how imperfectly. The paralysis of government organs was directly affecting the security situation in the country as well as the day-to-day lives of common Afghans. Now, to maximise the gains made through the formation of a new government, the Taliban needs to reinstate former members of the Afghan police force in Kabul to their posts. Their training and understanding of protocols would enable them to handle the demonstrations in the country efficiently. The Taliban fighters currently maintaining security in the city have a battle-hardened nature which leads to a heavy-handed approach in managing demonstrations.