Taliban Leader Won't Commit to Allowing Women, Minorities to Join Government

Afghanistan's new foreign minister in the Taliban-run Cabinet refused to commit to saying whether the Taliban would allow women and minorities into the new government.

At a press conference Tuesday, the first since the Taliban formed a new interim government, Amir Khan Muttaqi was asked whether women and minorities would be included in the permanent one.

"We will decide in time," Muttaqi said but did not make a commitment.

He emphasized that the current government is temporary and that "we will take into account what the people want," when a permanent government is formed, but would not give a timetable for its creation.

"We are taking everything step by step. We have not said how long this Cabinet will last," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Amir Khan Muttaqi
The Taliban has refused to commit to whether women and minorities will be allowed in Afghanistan's permanent government. Above, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan in Kabul on Sept. 14, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images

The press conference 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.

Muttaqi gave little sign whether the Taliban will bend to the international pressure.

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.

Muttaqi, 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.

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 Muttaqi and the prime minister, are on the U.N.'s so-called black list of international terrorists and terrorist financers.

Muttaqi 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 was 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.

Afghanistan Foreign Minister
The foreign minister in Afghanistan’s new Taliban-run Cabinet, Amir Khan Muttaqi, said Tuesday that the government remains committed to its promises not to allow militants to use its territory to attack others. Above, Muttaqi gives a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Muhammad Farooq/AP Photo