Kathy Gannon | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Tuesday announced a caretaker Cabinet that paid homage to the old guard of the group, giving top posts to Taliban personalities who dominated the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan government allies.
Interim Prime Minister Mullah Hasan Akhund headed the Taliban government in Kabul during the last years of its rule. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had led talks with the United States and signed the deal that led to America’s final withdrawal from Afghanistan, will be one of two deputies to Akhund.
There was no evidence of non-Taliban in the lineup, a big demand of the international community.
The announcement of Cabinet appointments by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid came hours after Taliban fired into the air to disperse protesters and arrested several journalists, the second time in less than a week the group used heavy-handed tactics to break up a demonstration in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The demonstrators had gathered outside the Pakistan Embassy to accuse Islamabad of aiding the Taliban’s assault on northern Panjshir province. The Taliban said Monday they seized the province — the last not in their control — after their blitz through Afghanistan last month.
Afghanistan’s previous government routinely accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad has denied. Former vice president Amrullah Saleh, one of the leaders of the anti-Taliban forces, has long been an outspoken critic of neighboring Pakistan.
Dozens of women were among the protesters Tuesday. Some of them carried signs bemoaning the killing of their sons by Taliban fighters they say were aided by Pakistan. One sign read: “I am a mother when you kill my son you kill a part of me.”
On Saturday, Taliban special forces troops in camouflage fired their weapons into the air to end a protest march in the capital by Afghan women demanding equal rights from the new rulers.
The Taliban again moved quickly and harshly to end Tuesday’s protest when it arrived near the presidential palace. They fired their weapons into the air and arrested several journalists covering the demonstration. In one case, Taliban waving Kalashnikov rifles took a microphone from a journalist and began beating him with it, breaking the microphone. The journalist was later handcuffed and detained for several hours.
“This is the third time I have been beaten by the Taliban covering protests,” he told The Associated Press on condition he not be identified because he was afraid of retaliation. “I won’t go again to cover a demonstration. It’s too difficult for me.”
A journalist from Afghanistan’s popular TOLO News was detained for three hours by the Taliban before being freed along with his equipment and the video of the demonstration still intact.
There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.
Planes remain in Mazar-i-Sharif
Meanwhile, in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, four aircraft chartered to evacuate about 2,000 Afghans fleeing Taliban rule were still at the airport.
Mawlawi Abdullah Mansour, the Taliban official in charge of the city’s airport, said any passenger, Afghan or foreigner, with a passport and valid visa would be allowed to leave. Most of the passengers are believed to be Afghans without proper travel documents.
None of the passengers had arrived at the airport. Instead, organizers apparently told evacuees to travel to Mazar-i-Sharif and find accommodation until they were called to come to the airport.
The Taliban say they are trying to find out who among the estimated 2,000 have valid travel documents.
Blinken in Qatar
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Qatar on Tuesday the Taliban have given assurances of safe passage for all seeking to leave Afghanistan with proper travel documents.
He said the United States would hold the Taliban to that pledge. “It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said those without valid documents, at this point, can’t leave,” he said.
“Because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights have not been allowed to go,” he added.
The State Department is also working with the Taliban to facilitate additional charter flights from Kabul for people seeking to leave Afghanistan after the American military and diplomatic departure, Blinken told a joint news conference with Qatar’s top diplomatic and defense officials.
“In recent hours” the U.S. has been in contact with Taliban officials to work out arrangements for additional charter flights from the Afghan capital, he said.
Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were in Qatar to thank the Gulf state for its help with the transit of tens of thousands of people evacuated from Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15.
Associates Press writers Tameem Akhgar in Istanbul and Robert Burns in Qatar contributed to this report.