Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has arrived in Kabul for talks to hammer out a new Afghan government, nearly a week after the armed group seized the capital without resistance.
The Taliban completed its sudden advance across the country as United States-led forces pulled out, coinciding with what German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said was the “breathtaking collapse” of the Afghan army.
Since then, thousands have thronged Kabul’s airport with security worsening by the day, as Western nations struggle to ramp up the pace of evacuations of their citizens and vulnerable Afghans amid the chaos and reports of Taliban violence.
Baradar will meet battlefield commanders, former government leaders, and policy-makers, as well as religious scholars, a Taliban official said without elaborating.
He arrived in Afghanistan last Tuesday from Qatar, choosing to touch down in the country’s second-biggest city, Kandahar – the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace.
Baradar negotiated the movement’s 2020 peace deal with the US. His presence is significant because he has often held talks with former Afghan leaders such as ex-president Hamid Karzai.
Afghan officials familiar with talks held in the capital say the Taliban has said it will not make announcements on the government until the August 31 deadline for the foreign troop withdrawal passes.
Taliban officials said the armed group planned to ready a new model for governing Afghanistan within the next few weeks, with separate teams to tackle internal security and financial issues.
“Experts from the former government will be brought in for crisis management,” one unnamed official told Reuters news agency.
The new government structure would not be a democracy by Western definitions, but “it will protect everyone’s rights”, he added.
The Taliban has presented a more moderate face since returning to power after being overthrown in 2001, saying it wants peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.
When in power from 1996-2001, the group stopped women from working or going out without wearing an all-enveloping burqa, and stopped children from going to school.
Other senior Taliban leaders seen in the capital in recent days include Khalil Haqqani – one of the US’s “most-wanted terrorists” with a $5m bounty on his head.
Pro-Taliban social media feeds showed Haqqani meeting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – a former bitter rival during the brutal civil war of the early 1990s, but still influential in Afghan politics.
Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the ousted government, tweeted he and Karzai met on Saturday with the Taliban’s acting governor for Kabul, who “assured us that he would do everything possible for the security of the people” of the city.