Taliban to appoint supreme leader and establish new government

The Taliban are preparing to set up their new Islamic government imminently, appointing Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the insurgency’s top religious leader, as the country’s supreme authority, according to a Taliban official.

Although the group quickly took final control of the country this month, the Taliban have spent more than a decade preparing for power by gradually expanding a shadow government, called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and appointing officials down to the district level for a time when they were back in power.

While it is not clear when exactly an announcement could be made and whether it would include more inclusive advice, the new government will face enormous challenges, including growing humanitarian and economic crises that have forced Afghans to flee. It will also be strapped for cash as funds are cut by the United States and international lenders, and foreign governments wonder if they should recognize the Taliban.

Basic services like electricity are under threat and Afghans struggle with soaring food prices and malnutrition.

The announcement, which will also define key appointments to the communications and interior ministries, could arrive as early as Thursday, according to the official who requested anonymity as talks continued.

According to talks with the Taliban and other sources in Kabul and Kandahar, Sheikh Haibatullah will be the supreme authority of the new Islamic government, with a theocratic role similar to that of Iran’s supreme leader. Sheikh Haibatullah – who carries two of the highest religious titles, Sheikh ul-Hadith and Mawlawi – met other leading figures in Kandahar this week, Taliban officials said.

Bloomberg News, quoting Bilal Karimi, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, also reported on the plans of the new government, including the new role of Sheikh Haibatullah.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban who has served as the group’s deputy in recent years, was to be in charge of day-to-day affairs as head of government.

Credit…Taliban, via, Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Mr. Baradar acted as the group’s chief negotiator in the peace talks with the United States in Qatar, chairing the agreement that paved the way for the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Other key positions in government are expected to fall to Sirajuddin Haqqani, another influential deputy and chief of operations within the movement, and Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, who is the son of the founder of the Taliban movement, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

The role of a shura or a governing council was still unclear and whether its members would fulfill the Taliban’s promise to build an inclusive government. The question also remains whether leaders of previous governments, such as Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who remained in Kabul for talks, will be included.

Other Taliban leaders expected to receive ministerial posts included Sadar Ibrahim, who has served as de facto interior minister since the Taliban takeover.

Dan Bilefsky contributed reports.

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