The Taliban said Thursday they were close to forming a new government, as dozens of women held a rare protest for the right to work under a new regime that faces enormous economic hurdles and deep public mistrust.
The Islamist militants, who have pledged a softer brand of rule than during their brutal reign of 1996-2001, must now transform from insurgent group to governing power.
The announcement of a cabinet, which two Taliban sources told AFP may take place on Friday following afternoon prayers, would come just days after the chaotic pullout of US forces from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war with an astounding military victory for the Islamist group.
In one of the most symbolic moments since the takeover of Kabul on August 15, the militants paraded Wednesday some of the military hardware they had captured during their offensive, even flying a Black Hawk helicopter over Kandahar, their movement’s spiritual heartland.
Now, all eyes are on whether the Taliban can deliver a cabinet capable of managing a war-wracked economy and honour the movement’s pledges of a more “inclusive” government.
– ‘We are not afraid’ –
Speculation is rife about the make-up of a new government, although a senior official said Wednesday that women were unlikely to be included.
Senior leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai — a hardliner in the first Taliban administration — told BBC Pashto in an interview that while women could continue working, there “may not” be a place for them in the cabinet of any future government or any other top post.
In the western city of Herat, some 50 women took to the streets in a rare, defiant protest for the right to work and over the lack of women’s participation in the new government.
“It is our right to have education, work and security,” the protesters chanted in unison, said an AFP journalist who witnessed the protest.
“We are not afraid, we are united,” they added.
Herat is a relatively cosmopolitan city on the ancient silk road near the Iranian border. It is one of the more prosperous in Afghanistan and girls have already returned to school there.
One of the organisers of the protest, Basira Taheri, told AFP she wanted the Taliban to include women in the new cabinet.
“We want the Taliban to hold consultations with us,” Taheri said. “We don’t see any women in their gatherings and meetings.”
Among the 122,000 people who fled Afghanistan in a frenzied US-led airlift that ended on Monday was the first female Afghan journalist to interview a Taliban official live on television.
Speaking to AFP in Qatar, the former anchor for the Tolo News media group said women in Afghanistan were “in a very bad situation”.
“I want to say to the international community — please do anything (you can) for Afghan women,” Beheshta Arghand said.
– ‘Business below zero’ –
Women’s rights were not the only major concern in the lead-up to the Taliban’s announcement of a new government.
In Kabul, residents voiced worry over the country’s long-running economic difficulties, now seriously compounded by the militant movement’s takeover.
“With the arrival of the Taliban, it’s right to say that there is security, but business has gone down below zero,” Karim Jan, an electronic goods shop owner, told AFP.
The United Nations warned earlier this week of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan, as it called to ensure that those wanting to flee the new regime still have a way out.
On Wednesday, a Qatar Airways flight landed at the trashed airport in Kabul — a first step towards getting the facility back up and running as a crucial lifeline for aid.