Taliban Announce Some Government Posts, and Protests Pose a Challenge

The Taliban’s violent response to the latest demonstration, which included hundreds of women in Kabul, was another sign that they will not tolerate peaceful dissent in Afghanistan.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced their choices for several acting cabinet positions on Tuesday, but held off on formally announcing a permanent government for Afghanistan.

In a surprise, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had led the Taliban’s negotiations with the United States, was named as the acting deputy leader of the council of ministers — functionally, as deputy prime minister — rather than being named to the top post. Instead, the Taliban said that Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a founding member of the Taliban who served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the group’s first government in the 90s, was named to lead the council of ministers.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, a deputy leader of the Taliban insurgency and the leader of the terrorist-listed Haqqani Network, was named as acting minister of the interior. And Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoob, who is the oldest son of the Taliban’s founding leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, was named acting defense minister.

The announcement came just hours after the Taliban used force to break up a demonstration by hundreds of women in Kabul. The protesters called for the Taliban to respect their rights and made it clear that they would not easily surrender the gains they have made over the past two decades.

Running a government will most likely prove more daunting than toppling one. To succeed, the Taliban will need to secure desperately needed aid, which has been frozen by the United States and other nations. Foreign governments and lenders are waiting to see the fate of the opposition and if rights for women and ethnic and religious minorities will be respected.

Without that money, the government faces worsening challenges, including humanitarian and economic crises that have forced Afghans to flee. Basic services like electricity are under threat, and the United Nations warned that food aid would run out by the end of the month for hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

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Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund in 1999 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.Credit…Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Taliban, notorious for their brutality when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, promised this time to put together a more inclusive government, including possibly including some non-Taliban figures in some form of informal advisory role. But none of that has materialized yet, and people with knowledge of the Taliban’s deliberations said that the real decision-making was an entirely internal process.

Senior Taliban figures did initially meet with leaders from previous governments, among them Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, which the Taliban later characterized as informal discussions.

As the Taliban sought to move on with governing, the scenes on Kabul’s streets on Tuesday were a reminder that they would face resistance domestically, even if mostly symbolic.

As the crowd of demonstrators grew, with the women joined by hundreds of men, the Taliban used force to crush a peaceful demonstration for the second time in less than a week. They began beating protesters with rifle butts and sticks, witnesses said, and the crowd scattered after the fighters began firing into the air.

It was a remarkable public display by women, who suffered brutal subjugation the last time the Taliban were in charge. Those who took to the streets in recent days fear the group has not changed.

The protests are happening as the Taliban cement their military grip on the country, announcing on Monday that they had seized the capital of restive Panjshir Province. And they have said they want to integrate members of the former Afghan Army into their new national security forces, saying they would offer more details on that process at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

While the Taliban have a near-monopoly on the use of force, the demonstrations underlined the challenges the former insurgents face as they try to win the hearts and minds of a generation of Afghans who never lived under Taliban rule, particularly those in urban areas.

Afghanistan also faces a worsening humanitarian crisis. Basic services like electricity are under threat, while the country has been buffeted by food and cash shortages.

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Dozens of protesters regrouped right after the Taliban broke up a larger gathering in Kabul on Tuesday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

And thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee the country, even as the United States works to evacuate dozens of its citizens. At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said U.S. officials were “working around the clock” to ensure that charter flights carrying Americans can depart Afghanistan safely.

During the two decades before the Taliban retook power, women were active in Afghanistan and, among other things, held political offices, joined the military and police forces, played in orchestras and competed in the Olympics.

Many Afghan women who have benefited from education and the right to freedom of expression over the past 20 years, fear a return to the past when women were forbidden from leaving the home without a male guardian, and faced public flogging if they breached morality rules by, for example, not covering their skin.

But the reality is that Afghan women in rural areas — and more than two thirds of the population live outside of cities — had little or no access to those improvements. Constant war and upheaval was a fact of life for years in the countryside, and for rural families, the Taliban’s victory has brought a respite from that, even if it is an uncertain one.

Since coming to power last month, the Taliban has sought to rebrand itself as more moderate, inviting women to join the government and saying that women will be allowed to work and girls will be allowed to be educated.

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After the protesters regrouped, the Taliban chased them away.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

But the group has yet to codify any new laws or offer specifics on how it plans to govern. Early signs from around the country have not been promising, including the Taliban warning women to stay home until the rank and file of Taliban fighters can be taught how not to hurt them.

The protests on Tuesday were the second demonstration involving women in the nation’s capital in less than a week, and it was also the second to be crushed violently.

Rezai, 26, one of the coordinators and organizers of the latest protest, said the demonstration was organized in coordination with people trying to organize a national resistance to the Taliban.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.

How did the Taliban gain control? See how the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in a few months, and read about how their strategy enabled them to do so.

What happens to the women of Afghanistan? The last time the Taliban were in power, they barred women and girls from taking most jobs or going to school. Afghan women have made many gains since the Taliban were toppled, but now they fear that ground may be lost. Taliban officials are trying to reassure women that things will be different, but there are signs that, at least in some areas, they have begun to reimpose the old order.

What does their victory mean for terrorist groups? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago in response to terrorism, and many worry that Al Qaeda and other radical groups will again find safe haven there. On Aug. 26, deadly explosions outside Afghanistan’s main airport claimed by the Islamic State demonstrated that terrorists remain a threat.

How will this affect future U.S. policy in the region? Washington and the Taliban may spend years pulled between cooperation and conflict, Some of the key issues at hand include: how to cooperate against a mutual enemy, the Islamic State branch in the region, known as ISIS-K, and whether the U.S. should release $9.4 billion in Afghan government currency reserves that are frozen in the country.

“We invited people using social media platforms,” she said. “And there were more people than we expected. We are expecting more rallies tonight because people do not want terror and destruction. The Taliban have had no achievements since they have taken power except for killing people and spreading terror. So it was an utterly self-motivated protest, and we just coordinated and invited people to participate.”

As they marched on Tuesday morning, they carried a banner with a single word: “Freedom.”

The women chanted the same word as they walked, the Taliban watching closely. They were joined by men, many condemning Pakistan for what they view as its support for the Taliban and interference in Afghan affairs.

“We are not defending our right for a job or a position we will work in, we are defending the blood of our youth, we are defending our country, our land,” one woman said, according to video posted on social media.

Witnesses reported Taliban fighters beating demonstrators with clubs and rifle butts. Tolo TV, a leading Afghan broadcaster, said that one of its cameramen covering the protests was briefly detained by the Taliban.

As a photographer for The Times approached the demonstration on a street outside the presidential palace, known as the Arg, a convoy of at least a dozen Taliban pickup trucks raced toward the crowd.

As soon as the Taliban fighters dismounted their trucks, they started shooting — mostly into the air, it seemed. There were no immediate reports of severe injuries or fatalities.

The people — which appeared to number several hundred — started running.

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Protesters fleeing as Taliban forces fire their weapons into the air in Kabul on Tuesday.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The large gathering was over. A short while later, when some of the male protesters gathered in a small group and started shouting pro-resistance slogans, the Taliban chased them away.

After the crowd dispersed, Jamila, 23, said it had been a peaceful demonstration.

“The people just went to the streets and protested,” she said. But she worried that the Taliban’s tactics to break up the crowd could lead to bloodshed.

Michael Crowley, Sahak Sami, Walid Arian and Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.

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