The Taliban has unveiled a new caretaker government in Afghanistan, more than three weeks after it seized control of the country in a lighting offensive.
The militant Islamist group, which oversaw a repressive theocratic regime in the 1990s before being driven out by US forces in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks, had said it would be more inclusive than when it last ruled Afghanistan.
But analysts say individuals from the Taliban’s own ethnic Pashtun leadership secured the top roles with few representatives from the country’s other ethnic groups. The all-male 33 strong cabinet is made up of Taliban heavyweights, some of them former detainees at the US-run Guantánamo Bay prison and one on an FBI most wanted list.
As the international community assesses the impact of this new hardline regime, the Taliban is already taking action. It has reinstated the ministry of virtue and vice, a religious police force that it used to enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic laws when it last ruled Afghanistan.
Here are the main figures in the Taliban’s government.
Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada
Emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
The head of state of the new Taliban government, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada took over as the Islamic movement’s Supreme leader, often called the commander of the faithful, after his predecessor, Mullah Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike in May 2016.
The son of a village preacher, Akhundzada rose through the Taliban as a religious scholar, rather than a fighter. During the years the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, he presided over a Taliban military court and taught at the madrassa founded by the late Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
After 2001, Akhundzada remained head of the Taliban’s council of religious scholars and later ran the movement’s sharia courts.
His 23-year-old son was killed in 2017 while carrying out a suicide attack against the Afghan military. He drove an explosive-laden vehicle into their base in Helmand province.
Akhundzada has not been seen in public for many years, though Taliban spokesmen insist he will show himself soon. Akhundzada is expected to be based out of Kandahar, the Islamist movement’s spiritual home.
In a Tuesday statement, the new emir made clear that “all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the Holy sharia”.
Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund
Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund was one of the four original co-founders of the Taliban in the 1990s and has remained at the highest level of the movement since then. He was a close associate and political adviser to Mullah Omar.
Akhund held senior positions in the group’s regime in Afghanistan, including foreign minister, deputy prime minister, and governor of Kandahar province.
He remained part of the Taliban’s Supreme Council after the group was driven from power and was among the group’s commanders in 2010 when it battled the US-trained Afghan security force.
Akhund has been on a UN sanction list since 2001.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
deputy prime minister
The most familiar international face of the Taliban and one of the movement’s original four co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar held a senior military role in the first Taliban regime, and helped instigate and organise the Taliban insurgency after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.
Baradar was captured in a joint US-Pakistan operation in 2010 and then spent eight years in Pakistani custody. He was released in 2018 and flown to Doha, apparently at Washington’s request, to represent the Taliban in talks with the US. He signed the February 2020 Doha deal with the US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, which paved the way for the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover.
Ahead of the US final departure Baradar, who had been living in Doha and was projected by the group as a relative moderate, travelled the world, meeting foreign leaders to seek support for a prospective Taliban government.
Son of a famous anti-Soviet warlord who became close to both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, Sirajuddin Haqqani is now head of the militant group known as the ‘Haqqani network’. He is one of the US FBI’s ‘most wanted men”, with a $10m bounty for information that can lead directly to his arrest.
According to the FBI, he is wanted for questioning in connection with a January 2008 attack on a hotel that killed six people, including an American citizen.
The Haqqani network, which was designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2012, is believed to be responsible for some of the most sophisticated and deadly attacks of the Afghan war, including two suicide attacks on the Indian embassy and the June 2011 assault on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel.
In 2015, Haqqani was named deputy to the newly appointed Taliban leader, Mullah Mansour, highlighting the alliance between his family and the Taliban, and continued to serve as Akhundzada’s deputy when he was elevated to the top role.
Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid
Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid is the eldest son of Mullah Omar, the Taliban founder who died while in hiding in 2013, but whose death was concealed by the movement for nearly two years until Afghan intelligence broke the news.
Born around 1990, Mujahid was a child during the Taliban’s first regime in Afghanistan and educated in various religious institutions in Pakistan. He was appointed as second deputy to the then Supreme leader, Akhundzada in 2016.
In May 2020, he took over as head of the military commission, making him the insurgent’s military chief after Akhundzada allegedly was stricken with Covid-19.
Minister of Information and Broadcasting
Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served as acting interior minister and governor in the first Taliban regime, spent 13 years in the Guantánamo prison. It followed his capture in 2001 in the wake of the US-led invasion. He was also accused of close association with al-Qaeda.
Khairkhwa was released in 2014, along with four other inmates from the Taliban, by then US president Barack Obama as part of an exchange for a US soldier who was the only American known to have been held by the insurgents as a prisoner of war.
Intelligence officials had described Khairkhwa and his four comrades, who were known as the ‘Gitmo 5’, as among the “hardest of the hard core” of the Islamist movement, and warned against their release, but Obama went ahead.
After their release, the five were taken to the Taliban political office in Qatar where they were kept under close watch and also participated in the negotiations with the Americans on a US troop withdrawal.