Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday expressed concern over the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan, calling it not “inclusive” enough.
“We’re assessing the announcement but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consist exclusively of individuals or members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women,” Blinken said at a press conference at Ramstein Airbase in Germany.
“We’re also concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals. We understand that the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker cabinet. We will judge it and them by its actions. The international community’s made clear its expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government,” he said.
In days before the Biden administration withdrew all U.S. forces and employees from the country last month, it had repeatedly called on the Taliban to form an “inclusive” government.
However, the Taliban announced an interim government on Tuesday that is made up of all males — among whom are senior Taliban leaders who are wanted for attacks against American forces.
The interim government is led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who served as deputy foreign minister when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and who is on a United Nations blacklist.
The acting interior minister is Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani militant group, which is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Haqqani is wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in connection to a January 2008 attack on a Kabul hotel that killed six people, including an American citizen, and attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel.
Asked specifically about Haqqani and whether the U.S. could work with him to get Americans out of Afghanistan, Blinken responded:
…with regard to the composition of this government, or interim government, I noted the fact that it certainly does not meet the test of inclusivity and it includes people who have very challenging track records.
Our engagement with the Taliban and with a government, interim or long term, will be for purposes of advancing the national interest, advancing our interests, the interests of our partners. We have and we will find ways to engage the Taliban, to engage an interim government, a future government, to do just that and to do it in ways that are fully consistent with our laws.
Blinken said the nature of the U.S. government’s relationship with the Taliban “will depend entirely on its actions in the weeks and months in time ahead.”
The Secretary of State also called upon the Taliban to let charter flights with Americans and other citizens leave Afghanistan. At least six charter planes have been grounded in Afghanistan for the past week, unable to take off.
“We made clear to all parties we made clear to the Taliban that these charters need to be able to depart, and we continue every day, virtually every hour to work on that,” Blinken said.
He also defended the State Department against heavy criticism that it has not been helpful enough to private groups organizing the flights.
“Specifically, we’re working with NGOs, with advocates, with lawmakers around the clock to help coordinate their efforts and offer guidance where we can. We’re helping to arrange landing rights and liaise with other countries in the region in the question of overflight. We’ve made clear to all parties – we’ve made clear to the Taliban – that these charters need to be able to depart, and we continue every day, virtually every hour, to work on that,” he said.
On Tuesday, Fox News reported that the State Department refused to grant official approval for private evacuation flights from Afghanistan to land in third countries or let the flights land at a U.S. military base.