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Taliban name new Afghan govt, interior minister on US sanctions list

russia and afghanistan peace talks
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (C) arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for attending an international peace conference in Moscow, Russia, 18 March 2021

The Taliban named Mullah Hasan Akhund, an associate of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar, as the head of Afghanistan’s new government on Tuesday, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the movement’s political office, as deputy.

Sarajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani network, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, will be the new interior minister, the Taliban’s main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, has been named as defence minister. All the appointments are in an acting capacity, Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.

It was not clear what role in the government would be played by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban supreme leader. He has not been seen or heard in public since the collapse of the Western-backed government and the seizure of Kabul by the Islamist militant movement last month.

Akhund, the new head of government, has been close to Akhunzada for 20 years.

The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not return to the brutality of their last reign two decades ago, marked by brutal punishments and the barring of women and girls from public life.

The appointment of a group of established figures from different elements of the Taliban gave no indication of any concession towards protests that broke out in Kabul earlier in the day, when Taliban gunmen fired in the air to scatter them.

Hundreds of men and women shouting slogans such as “Long live the resistance” and “Death to Pakistan” marched in the streets to protest against the Taliban takeover. Neighbouring Pakistan has deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of assisting its return to power – charges Islamabad denies.

The Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan as U.S. forces pulled out last month triggered a scramble to leave by people fearing reprisals.

U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans, but tens of thousands were left behind.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was in contact with about 100 Americans who were still in Afghanistan.

About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for days awaiting clearance for charter flights to leave, an organiser told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.

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