Three weeks after capturing Afghanistan, the Taliban have a government in Kabul, and are officially in charge of running the country, which will henceforth be known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Contrary to the expectation that the delay in government formation could be a sign of efforts to set up an “inclusive” dispensation, there are no women, no Hazara — the presence of an Uzbek and two Tajiks is the only nod to minorities — in this set-up, which a spokesman described as “caretaker” until the new rulers bring in their own Constitution. For now, though, the list of 33 persons who will hold high office in the new Kabul government as Cabinet ministers and in other positions, appears to reflect internal pulls and pressures, and wrangles between factions of the Taliban, and no less, the influence of at least one external actor, Pakistan. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had once attempted to bypass the Pakistan Army to speak to then Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has been pushed down the hierarchy to number 2, and will be one of two deputies to Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a hardliner who supervised the blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
The role of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency in the formation of the government was no secret, given the open presence of its head, Lt General Faiz Hameed, in Kabul. The selection of four members of the Haqqani Network, a distinct group within the Taliban, which has had cosy relations with the Pakistani security establishment for nearly four decades, speaks to its influence with the new dispensation. At least two of the four, the new Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, and his uncle Khalil Haqqani, are globally designated terrorists, as is Prime Minister Akhund. Clearly, the Taliban are confident enough to believe that international legitimacy will follow, irrespective of who they include or leave out. Indeed, this may be the Taliban’s way of putting pressure on the world to recognise its victory, lift the sanctions against individuals, and the group.
Now the ball is in the court of the rest of the world. The challenge before the international community, including Delhi, is to come to a decision on recognising the new Taliban regime and engaging it. There may be no unanimity on this. Who the members of government are in another country should not normally matter in international diplomacy. Yet if the Afghan interior minister is someone named by the world’s intelligence agencies for blowing up the Indian Embassy in Kabul, and a hostile neighbour is pulling the levers of the Kabul government, it gets decidedly tricky. The presence of the Russian National Security Adviser and the head of the CIA in Delhi on Wednesday are indications that India may not be the only one with concerns, or staring at a difficult challenge.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 9, 2021 under the title ‘Old ghosts return’.