On Tuesday, the Taliban appointed Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a close aide to the group’s late founder Mullah Omar, as head of Afghanistan’s new caretaker government, weeks after it took control of the country in a rapid offensive.
The list of cabinet members announced by chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday was dominated by members of the group’s old guard, with no women included.
Another key aspect of the new regime was that the members were drawn mostly from Afghanistan’s dominant Pashtun ethnic group that formed the Taliban’s original power base. Just three appointees appeared to be from other ethnic groups.
The appointment of so many leaders from the Pashtun tribe reiterates their importance not only to the group but also to the political spectrum in the country.
Pashtuns and the Taliban
Pashtuns are native to the land comprising southern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.
Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, constituting around 42 percent of the country's total population. They have been the dominant ethnolinguistic group in Afghanistan since the nation's founding.
Pashtuns and the Taliban are inter-related to one another. Taliban has largely been comprised of Pashtuns. In fact, the Taliban's ideology has been described as combining an "innovative" form of Sharia Islamic law based on Deobandi fundamentalism and militant Islamism, combined with Pashtun social and cultural norms.
Additionally, Mullah Mohammed Omar, known to be the founder of the Taliban, is also an ethnic Pashtun.
Hibatullah Akhundzada, the current supreme leader, also belongs to the Pashtun tribe, which clearly shows that the militant group's ideology is deeply intertwined with tribes socio-cultural practices.
Even the new acting Prime Minister Mullah Hasan Akhund belongs to the Pashtun tribe. Al-Jazeera says that Akhund's Pashtun lineage descends from Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of modern Afghanistan.
Other senior members of the Taliban such as Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, all belong to the Pashtun tribe.
Besides the Taliban leadership, Afghanistan has been governed by other Pashtun stalwarts.
Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai was the president of Afghanistan from 1986 till April 1992. He was later killed at the hands of the Taliban after their capture of the city in 1996.
A Pashtun, Najibullah's rise to power began only with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
In 1996, he hoped to strike a deal with the Taliban, counting on his Pashtun ethnicity. However, the Taliban offered no deal, but beat him, dragged him behind a jeep, castrated, shot, and then was strung up from a traffic light pole outside the Presidential palace.
Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president who held office between 2001 and 2014, recently was in the spotlight when he shared a video asking the Taliban to help save Afghanistan together.
Born to a prominent Pashtun family, the 63-year-old former president was once the fresh face of the new Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001 attacks.
For years, Karzai warned that the heavy-handed counterinsurgency in the Taliban's southern strongholds was only reviving the movement. He insisted that the Taliban must be brought into the fold, drawing harsh criticism. He eventually lost the support of the West, with his former finance minister Ashraf Ghani taking the reins in 2014.
Ashraf Ghani, who was till recently the Afghan president before he fled the nation, also belongs to the Pashtun tribe.
In the 1990s, he joined the World Bank and worked on several projects in Asia and Middle East.
In 2002, Ghani left his post at the World Bank and became the chief advisor to Hamid Karzai and later also became the finance minister, following which in 2014 he became president.
In the past, Ghani has been sympathetic towards the Taliban. In an interview, Ghani said that his 'heart breaks for Talibans'. He further stated that 'Talibans are Afghans and he is president of all Afghans'.
As an attempt to strike a peace deal with them, he also offered to recognise them as a legitimate political group.mHowever, in 2021, he alleged that the Taliban had not cut ties with terrorist organisations.
On 15 August when the Taliban finally took over the country after the withdrawal of the US troops, Ghani left the presidential palace and fled to the United Arab Emirates.
Besides these, Former Afghanistan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known as the ‘Butcher of Kabul’, is another key politician in Afghanistan who belongs to the Kharoti tribe of the Ghilji Pashtun.
With the Taliban, dominated by the Pashtuns, back in power, there is an unease among the other tribes. They are susceptible to threat from the majority Pashtun ethnic Taliban.
They are also unsure of their circumstances, helping to plant the seeds of mistrust, which could potentially lead to an all-out ethnic conflict.
Inputs from agencies