Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay on Wednesday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to an all-male cabinet, including several with a U.S. bounty on their heads.
As the newly appointed ministers and their deputies set to work after they were named late on Tuesday, acting Premier Mohammad Hasan Akhund urged former officials who fled Afghanistan to return, saying their safety would be guaranteed.
“We have suffered heavy losses for this historic moment and the era of bloodshed in Afghanistan is over,” he told Al Jazeera.
Tens of thousands of people left after the Taliban seized power in mid-August following a lightning military campaign, many of them professionals fearing reprisals because of their association with the Western-backed government.
In Kabul, dozens of women took to the streets again to demand representation in the new administration and for their rights to be protected.
More broadly, people urged the leadership to revive the Afghan economy, which faces steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of international aid being slashed as countries distance themselves from the Taliban.
The United States underscored its wariness on Wednesday. “This is a caretaker Cabinet,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “No one in this administration, not the president nor anyone on the national security team, would suggest that the Taliban are respected and valued members of the global community.”
The Islamist militant movement swept to power in a victory hastened by the withdrawal of U.S. military support to Afghan government forces.
The Taliban’s announcement of a new government on Tuesday was widely seen as a signal they were not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world.
Analysts said the make-up of the cabinet could hamper recognition by Western governments.
The Taliban has promised to respect people’s rights and not seek vendettas, but it has been criticised for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in a chaotic evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul airport.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was assessing the Cabinet announcement. “But despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women,” he said during a visit to a U.S. air base in Germany that has been a transit point for evacuees from Afghanistan.
The European Union voiced its disapproval at the appointments, but said it was ready to continue humanitarian assistance. Longer-term aid would depend on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.
The new acting Cabinet includes former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $10 million.
His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.