KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The foreign minister in Afghanistan’s new Taliban-run Cabinet on Tuesday said the government remains committed to its promises not to allow militants to use its territory to attack others.
The first press conference by Amir Khan Mutaqi since the Taliban formed an interim government a week ago comes as governments around the world — and many Afghans at home — are searching for indications on how it will rule Afghanistan after sweeping out the U.S.-backed government and taking over Kabul a month ago.
The U.S. and its allies have pushed the Taliban not to repeat its harsh rule of the 1990s, when it monopolized power and imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, including severe restrictions on women and minorities.
Mutaqi gave little sign whether the Taliban will bend to the international pressure. He would not give say how long the interim government would be in place or whether it would eventually be opened up to other factions, minorities or women.
He repeatedly insisted other countries must not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal issues, including in response to a question on whether elections would eventually be held.
Mutaqi, a longtime Taliban negotiator, did make the first confirmation by a member of the new government of its commitment to the Taliban deal last year with the United States that opened the way for the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Under the deal, the Taliban promised to break ties with al-Qaida and other militant groups and ensure they don’t threaten other countries from its territory.
“We will not allow anyone or any groups to use our soil against any other countries,” he said.
During its rule in the 1990s, the Taliban sheltered al-Qaida and its chief Osama bin Laden. The group’s refusal to hand them over after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States prompted the U.S. to launch its assault on Afghanistan, ousting the Taliban and leading to the ensuing 20-year war.
The Taliban, who swept into Kabul and toppled the U.S.-backed on Aug. 15, have come under heavy international criticism after they formed an interim government made up entirely of Taliban members, despite previous promises to be more inclusive. Afghans and governments around the world fear the Taliban will impose a rule similar to that when it last held power in the 1990s, enforcing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
When asked if the Taliban would include women or minorities in the government, Mutaqi said, “We will decide in time,” without making a commitment. He underscored that the government was interim and that when a permanent one is formed “we will take into account what the people want,” though he would not give a timetable for a permanent government.
“We are taking everything step by step. We have not said how long this cabinet will last,” he said.
Governments around the world have said recognition will not take place until a more inclusive government is put in place in Afghanistan. The United Nations now faces a dilemma as it prepares to begin the U.N. General Assembly. Several of the Taliban ministers, including Mutaqi and the prime minister, are on the U.N.‘s so-called black list of international terrorists and terrorist financers.
Mutaqi urged the U.N. to move quickly to de-list the leaders, saying, “The list has no logic.” The Cabinet also includes Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also on the U.N.’s black list as well as wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with attacks in the Afghan capital during the last two decades.
When the Taliban last ruled, the U.N. refused to recognize their government and instead gave the U.N. seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011.
This time around it is not clear whether the seat would be saved for President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the capital after the Taliban had reached the gates of Kabul. His departure shocked the political leadership in Kabul, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s chief negotiator, who were still negotiating with the Taliban to form an interim government.
Muttaqi said the Taliban-led government seeks good relations with nations around the world but insisted they must not interfere in its affairs. He also called for international donors to send more aid, saying “Afghanistan is poor. It needs all the help” the world can give and promising it would be distributed without corruption. He urged international banking institutions to return to Afghanistan to continue their projects.
He also said that all of Afghanistan’s embassies operating abroad have been told to continue their operations. He promised Afghans would be allowed to leave the country and said it was the job of the Taliban government to provide passports to its citizens.
Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press