By Kathy Gannon | Assistant Printing Press
KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s new foreign minister said on Tuesday he was committed to not allowing the country’s ruling Taliban militants to use their territory. But he declined to say when the country’s new rulers would form a more inclusive government.
With the exception of other political parties and women in government, the Taliban are less likely to gain international recognition as legitimate leaders in Afghanistan. And without such recognition, the Afghan state is unable to tap its billions of dollars of funds deposited abroad, it is virtually bankrupt in times of immense humanitarian need.
The Taliban came under intense criticism last week when they announced a cabinet consisting entirely of men from their movement, several of whom were on the international terrorism list. Taliban leaders had previously promised extensive representation.
Longtime Taliban negotiator Amir Khan Mutaki, nominated for foreign minister, appeared at the first press conference on Tuesday after becoming a member of the interim government. But he gave little indication of whether the Taliban would bow to international pressure.
Asked if the Taliban would include women or ethnic and religious minorities in the government, Mutaki replied, “We will make a timely decision,” but did not promise.
He emphasized that the current government was ruling on an interim basis and said that when a permanent government is formed, “we will consider what the people want.” He would not give a permanent government schedule.
“We are taking everything step by step. We have not said how long this cabinet will last, ”Mutaki said.
After the withdrawal of Western troops and the sudden rise of the Taliban to power last month, the United States and its allies have used money, potential recognition and isolation warnings to keep them from repeating the repressive regime of the 1990s. At the time, the Taliban imposed strict interpretations of Islamic law, including strict restrictions on women and minorities.
In response to a question about holding elections on Tuesday, Mutaki replied that other countries should not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, a remark he repeated several times during the press conference.
However, the foreign minister gave the first confirmation from the new cabinet’s interim government that the Taliban would honor the agreement they made with the United States last year. Under the agreement, which paved the way for the withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan, the Taliban promised to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other militant groups and not to threaten another country from the area of movement.
“We will not allow anyone or any group to use our soil against any other country,” Mutaki said.
During its rule in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban sheltered al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Their refusal at the hands of bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members after the 9/11 terrorist attacks prompted the United States to launch a military offensive that overthrew the Taliban and led to a 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Many experts suspect that the Taliban have severed ties with al-Qaeda since reaching a 2020 withdrawal agreement with the Trump administration. But al Qaeda has weakened significantly, and Washington has made it clear that its highest priority is to prevent Islamic State attacks from Afghanistan.
The Taliban have been fighting the Islamic State since the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan in 2001. A growing ally of IS has claimed responsibility for recent attacks, including a horrific bombing outside Kabul airport that killed 1 U.S. military personnel and 19 Afghans during a riot last month. .
Nevertheless, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Scott Barrier, who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a national security conference Tuesday that al Qaeda could begin threatening the United States from Afghanistan in one to two years, before the U.S. withdrew its warning. .
Meanwhile, the broader terms of world relations with the Taliban remain uncertain. They entered Kabul on August 15 and Ashraf Ghani, the US-backed president of Afghanistan, fled the presidential palace.
In the next steps, there is division among the Taliban as well. Some leaders are said to be more open to compromise, while others strongly insist on Taliban domination.
As the UN prepares to open a new session of the General Assembly, the makeup of the Taliban government creates a dilemma for the UN. A number of interim ministers, including Mutaki, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund and Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, are on the UN blacklist of so-called international terrorists and terrorist financing.
The FBI also wanted Haqqani for questioning in the wake of the attacks on the Afghan capital over the past two decades. As interim interior minister, he oversees police in Afghanistan and has already sent former officers back to work. While some, including most of the traffic police, came back, many were reluctant.
Mutaki called on the United Nations to remove Taliban ministers from the watch list. He said there was no argument on the list.
When the Taliban last ruled, the United Nations refused to recognize their government and instead gave the seat in Afghanistan to the warlord-ruled government before President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed in a suicide bombing in 2011. From Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996.
At this time, it is unclear whether the seat will be reserved for a representative of the Gani government. The sudden departure of the president has shocked Kabul’s political leadership, including former President Hamid Karzai and the government’s chief negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, who are still negotiating with the Taliban to form an interim government.
The United States and other governments have pledged new humanitarian aid to the United Nations to be spent in Afghanistan as the country faces growing hunger and economic crisis, but their willingness to help in the future may depend on the activities of the Taliban.
During a tough second day of congressional questioning about the withdrawal of Afghanistan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the Biden administration would hold on to the Taliban, promising not to use Afghanistan again as a base for terrorist attacks.
Mutaki said the Taliban-led government wanted good relations with foreign countries but insisted they would not interfere. He called on international donors to send more help and international banking institutions to continue their projects in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is poor. The world needs all the help it can, Mutaki said, promising that foreign aid would be distributed without corruption.
He added that all Afghan embassies operating abroad have been asked to continue their activities. He promised that Afghans would be allowed to leave the country and said that the job of the Taliban government was to issue passports to citizens.
Lee Keith from Cairo contributed.