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Taliban Announce New Government With Old Faces

Temporary cabinet appointments may stall any international recognition of the regime.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid addresses a press conference.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid addresses a press conference in Kabul on Sept. 7. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Taliban announce a 33-man interim cabinet, France puts 2015 Paris attackers on trial, and Mexico decriminalizes abortion.

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Taliban Announce Interim Cabinet

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Taliban announce a 33-man interim cabinet, France puts 2015 Paris attackers on trial, and Mexico decriminalizes abortion.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Taliban Announce Interim Cabinet

The Taliban announced the formation of an interim government on Tuesday, three weeks after the fall of Kabul and one day after the group claimed to have captured the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining pocket of resistance.

Those hoping for a more moderate or modern group than the one U.S. forces drove from power in 2001 will be disappointed. All of the appointees are men, most are ethnic Pashtuns, and many come from the top ranks of Taliban leadership, calling the cabinet’s temporary nature into question.

Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a former Afghan foreign minister and deputy prime minister, will serve as acting prime minister while Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former head of the Taliban’s Doha-based political office, has been named as his deputy. Even though Akhund is already on a U.N. sanctions list, what has raised the most eyebrows is the appointment of Sirajuddin Haqqani as acting interior minister. Haqqani has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head as the leader of the Haqqani network, which is a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, a relative moderate and member of the Taliban’s Doha-based negotiating team, will take the role of acting foreign minister while Mullah Yaqoob, son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, takes on the defense portfolio. (Foreign Policy documented Yaqoob’s rise, helped in part by a coronavirus outbreak in the Taliban’s senior ranks, back in June 2020.)

In a statement that warned the “world is watching closely,” the U.S. State Department offered veiled criticism of the announcement, highlighting its lack of women and opposition figures. Noting the cabinet is intended only in a caretaker capacity, the statement said the United States would judge the group by “its actions, not words,” repeating demands for a more inclusive government.

International recognition. A more clear-cut response from the international community is expected today as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, co-host a ministerial-level summit on Afghanistan with almost two dozen participants.

Haqqani’s appointment will likely stall any calls for international recognition of the new government and may jeopardize the outcome of an international donor conference set for Sept. 13 in Geneva.

Service collapse. Although the cabinet announcement still represents a step forward in the Taliban’s quest for legitimacy, how they handle matters on the ground will decide their ability to placate a restive populace. On Tuesday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that Afghanistan faces imminent collapse as basic services like food and other aid begin to dwindle.

What We’re Following Today

Canada’s debates. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces rival party leaders tonight in the second of three debates before a general election on Sept. 20. Trudeau’s snap election gambit appears in jeopardy as polls show his Liberal Party currently trailing the Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole. Tonight’s debate, like last weeks, will take place in French while an English-language debate follows tomorrow.

Duterte’s party congress. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban party convenes today for its national convention, where it is expected to nominate Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go as its candidate in next year’s presidential election, with Duterte as his running mate. A PDP-Laban party faction loyal to Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the former boxer, has called the maneuver a “smokescreen” to pull criticism away from Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is likely to run on a ticket for a different party. Duterte-Carpio currently ranks highest in opinion polling ahead of the October 2022 election.

Islamic State on trial. The trial of 20 people charged in connection with the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks begins today, in a case that includes the sole surviving attacker, Salah Abdeslam, among the accused. The trial is the largest trial France has ever held, taking two years to prepare, and is expected to conclude within nine months.

Keep an Eye On

Mexico’s abortion stance. Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in the country on Tuesday, ruling that penalizing the procedure was unconstitutional. The ruling comes on the heels of Argentina’s historic legalization earlier this year and a recent decision by the neighboring U.S. state of Texas to effectively ban abortion. Before Tuesday’s decision, only four of Mexico’s 32 regions had decriminalized the procedure.

Laschet meets Macron. Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron today in a meeting that seeks to boost the German’s stature as chancellor material as his public support continues to sag ahead of federal elections on Sept. 26. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to assist her CDU colleague on Tuesday, offering a rare public critique of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democrats hold a six-point lead in current polls.

El Salvador’s Bitcoin experiment. El Salvador’s embrace of Bitcoin as legal tender led to small protests on Tuesday amid technical glitches that marred the cryptocurrency’s official launch. The coin’s price initially jumped to $52,000 after news saying the government had purchased 400 of the scarce digital coins but swayed wildly throughout the day, losing nearly $10,000 in value before settling at $45,000. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has championed Bitcoin as a way for citizens to avoid millions of dollars in remittance transaction fees.

Odds and Ends

Singapore has begun trialing robots to patrol public areas to deter anti-social behavior in a surveillance push that includes doubling the number of police cameras to 200,000 cameras by 2030. The two robots, both called Xavier, have been programmed to recognize unsavory behavior, such as those disobeying COVID-19 restrictions, smoking in banned areas, and poorly parking their bicycles, according to a statement from Singapores Home Team Science and Technology Agency. As well as providing surveillance, officials said the robots will display public education messages during the three-week trial.

Xavier(s) hope to have better luck than “Steve,” a security patrol robot that famously met its demise by plunging into a Washington water fountain in 2017.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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