Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers were prepared to announce their new government on Thursday, as the economy teetered on the brink of collapse more than two weeks after the Islamist militants conquered Kabul and brought a tumultuous end to a 20-year conflict.
On social media, Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi stated that a ceremony was being planned in the presidential palace in Kabul, while Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that he could not provide a precise date but that it will happen within a few days.
The legitimacy of the new government in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for the economy as the country battles drought and the ravages of a conflict that took the lives of an estimated 240,000 Afghans.
The Taliban have promised to allow safe passage out of the country for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the massive airlift which ended with the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops on Monday. But with Kabul airport still closed, many were seeking to flee overland to neighbouring countries.
Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said the Gulf state was talking with the Taliban and working with Turkey about technical support to restart operations at Kabul airport, which would facilitate humanitarian assistance and possibly more evacuations.
Speaking at a joint news conference with the Qatari minister in Doha, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he would be talking with regional countries about how to secure safe passage through third countries for people who want to leave Afghanistan.
“The prospects of getting Kabul airport up and running and safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders (are) top of the agenda,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to have ultimate power over a new governing council, with a president below him, a senior Taliban official told Reuters last month.
The supreme Taliban leader has three deputies: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar; Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani network; and Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founding members of the group.
An unelected leadership council is how the Taliban ran their first government which brutally enforced a radical form of sharia Islamic law from 1996 until its ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
The Taliban have tried to present a more moderate face to the world since they swept aside the U.S.-backed government and returned to power last month, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
But the United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government – and the economic aid that would flow from that – is contingent on action.
“We’re not going to take them at their word, we’re going to take them at their deeds,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told a news briefing on Wednesday.
Taliban soldiers are seen at one of the main city squares of Kabul, Afghanistan, September 1, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
“So they’ve got a lot to prove … they also have a lot to gain, if they can run Afghanistan, far, far differently than they did the last time they were in power.”
Gunnar Wiegand, the European Commission’s managing director for Asia and the Pacific, said the European Union would not formally recognise the Islamist group until it met conditions including the formation of an inclusive government, respect for human rights and unfettered access for aid workers.
Britain’s Raab said there was a need to engage with the Taliban on Afghanistan but Britain had no immediate plans to recognise their government.
Humanitarian organisations have warned of catastrophe as severe drought and the upheavals of war have forced thousands of families to flee from their homes.
Afghanistan desperately needs money, and the Taliban are unlikely to get swift access to the roughly $10 billion in assets mostly held abroad by the Afghan central bank.
The new, Taliban-appointed central bank head has sought to reassure banks the group wants a fully functioning financial system, but has given little detail on how it will provide the liquidity needed, bankers familiar with the matter said.
Afghanistan’s real gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 9.7% this financial year, with a further drop of 5.2% seen next year, said analysts in a report from Fitch Solutions, the research arm of ratings agency Fitch Group.
Foreign investment would be needed to support a more optimistic outlook, a scenario that assumed “some major economies, namely China and potentially Russia, would accept the Taliban as the legitimate government”, Fitch said.
While the Taliban are cementing control of Kabul and provincial capitals, they are fighting with opposition groups and remnants of the old army holding out in mountains north of the capital.
Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi called on the rebels in Panjshir province to surrender, saying “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is home for all Afghans”, referring to the Taliban-run state.
The Panjshir opposition leader, Ahmad Massoud, son of a former mujahideen commander who fought against the Taliban in northeastern Afghanistan in the late 1990s, was unconvinced.
“Unfortunately, the Taliban have not changed, and they still are after dominance throughout the country,” Massoud told CNN.