Taliban co-founder Baradar to lead new Afghanistan govt

(Reuters) -Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar will lead a new Afghan government set to be announced shortly, sources in the group said on Friday, as its fighters battled forces loyal to the vanquished republic in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul.

The new government’s most immediate priority, however, should be to stave off the collapse of an economy grappling with drought and the ravages of a conflict that killed an estimated 240,000 Afghans.

Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office, will be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, in senior positions in the government, three sources said.

“All the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in final stages to announce the new government,” one Taliban official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.

Haibatullah Akhunzada, the Taliban’s supreme religious leader, will focus on religious matters and governance within the framework of Islam, another Taliban source said.

The Taliban, which seized Kabul on Aug. 15 after sweeping across most of the country, have faced resistance in the Panjshir Valley, where there have been reports of heavy fighting here and casualties.

Several thousand fighters of regional militias and remnants of the government s armed forces have massed in the rugged valley under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud here, the son of former Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the failure.

While the Taliban have spoken of their desire to form a consensus government, a source close to the militant movement said the interim government now being formed would consist solely of Taliban members.

It would comprise 25 ministries, with a consultative council, or shura, of 12 Muslim scholars, the source added.

Also being planned within six to eight months is a loya jirga, or grand assembly, bringing together elders and representatives across Afghan society to discuss a constitution and the structure of the future government, the source said.

All the sources expected the interim government’s cabinet to be finalised soon but differed over exactly when, with some saying it would be settled later on Friday while others felt it would take until the middle of next week.


HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE


The government’s legitimacy in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial. Humanitarian groups have warned of impending catastrophe and the economy, reliant for years on millions of dollars of foreign aid, is near collapse.

Well before the Taliban took power, many Afghans were struggling to feed their families amid severe drought and millions could now face starvation, aid agencies say.

"Since August 15, we have seen the crisis accelerate and magnify, with the imminent economic collapse that is coming this country s way," Mary-Ellen McGroarty here, the director of the World Food Programme in Afghanistan, told Reuters from Kabul.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has no plans to release billions in Afghan gold, investments and foreign currency reserves parked in the United States that it froze after the Taliban’s takeover.

In a positive development, a senior executive of Western Union Co said the remittance firm was resuming money-transfer services here to Afghanistan in line with a U.S. push to keep up humanitarian work.


RECOGNITION


The Taliban enforced a sharia, or Islamic law, when it ruled from 1996 to 2001.

But this time around, the movement has tried to present a more moderate face to the world, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.

The United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government, and a resulting flow of economic aid, depended on action.

The Taliban have promised safe passage for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the huge airlift that ended when U.S. troops withdrew ahead of an Aug 31 deadline. But, with Kabul airport still closed, many were seeking to flee here over land.

Thousands of Afghans also wait in "transit hubs" in third countries.