Amid rumblings about the new power structure in restive Afghanistan, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in Kabul on Saturday with a promise of a 'new and inclusive rule' even as he held talks with former warlords, wanted terrorists and mujahids.
Baradar arrived in Afghanistan last Tuesday from Qatar, choosing to touch down in the country's second-biggest city Kandahar — the Taliban's spiritual birthplace. However, he has maintained a low-key presence in keeping with old Talibani customs, meeting politically important groups but leaving the job of public interactions to the many spokespersons in the insurgents' ranks.
Baradar's presence is significant because he has often held talks with former Afghan leaders like ex-president Hamid Karzai.
Within hours of his return, the group announced its rule would be "different" this time but have given few details of who it would include. A senior Taliban official told AFP that Baradar would meet "jihadi leaders and politicians for an inclusive government set-up".
While questions about what kind of government the Taliban would form continue to loom, efforts seem to have already begun to give the terror organisation a semblance of legitimacy. For instance, Taliban lead negotiator Anas Haqqani has told his ex-government interlocutors that the insurgent movement has a deal with the US to do nothing until after the final withdrawal date passes. Reports also claim that Baradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and 133 other leaders may also be exempted from the United Nations' sanctions list on the terror group, as part of the same deal.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, China and Russia have already indicated that they would not oppose the Taliban rule. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, is in fact, expected to be in Kabul on Sunday to discuss the formation of this "inclusive" Taliban government in Afghanistan. On Saturday he tweeted:
Good to speak with FM @HeikoMaas. We discussed latest devpts in #Afghanistan & importance of peace & stability. An inclusive political settlement is vital as is role of global community, ensuring humanitarian assistance & economic sustenance for the people of Afghanistan. 🇵🇰 🇩🇪
— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) August 21, 2021
In another major development, even Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai — the brother of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani — has also allegedly pledged allegiance to the insurgents, local Afghan media reported.
Ahmandzai's pledge of support is just the latest on the list. The Taliban has seen little resistance from former leaders like Karzai and Ghani, who were once proponents of democracy. While Ghani has fled the country, Karzai is negotiating peace deals with the militant group.
Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the ousted government, tweeted that he and Karzai met Saturday with Taliban’s acting governor for Kabul, who “assured us that he would do everything possible for the security of the people” of the city.
But contrary to such claims, only last week, a senior member of the Taliban, Waheedullah Hashimi, said that the group is still finalising how they will govern the country. He clarified that there will be no democratic system. "We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is sharia law and that is it."
Explaining further, he said a council will govern the country overseeing the day-to-day activity while the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is likely to remain the overall in-charge.
If Hashimi is to be believed, then the Taliban of 2021 will be barely different from its 1996 to 2001 rule when Mullah Omar, founder of the movement, was the supreme leader and everyday governance was the responsibility of the council.
As per reports, Baradar is likely to be the new president. But Hashimi said any of the three deputies of Akhundzada might be president. Apart from Baradar, the other deputies are Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, Taliban deputy leader, who was seen leading the Friday prayers at a mosque in Kabul.
Speculation about a Taliban government 2.0 has been rife, which is unsurprising given that the fall of Afghanistan to Taliban fighters has brought back memories of their rule in the 1990s, when the group largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions of political activists and rebels.
But allaying fear and suspicion, the Taliban this time has claimed that they have changed. They have maintained that they want an "inclusive" government, will offer full amnesty to those who worked for the US and the Western-backed government and claim they have become more moderate since they last held power from 1996 to 2001.
They say they’ll honour women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law, without elaborating.
But Afghans fear an uncertain future laced with violence, retribution, stifling control and bloodshed once the intense international scrutiny abates post the complete evacuation of foreign forces and allies.
With inputs from agencies