Taliban postpones forming new gov’t amid continued fighting in Panjshir

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Sept. 4 (UPI) — The Taliban on Saturday postponed their expected announcement of a new government as fighters in the Panjshir Valley continued to hold out against the militant group’s takeover of the country.

“The announcement about the new government and Cabinet members will now be made next week,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Press Trust of India as the group struggled with continuing military resistance in the Panjshir Valley.

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The fighting continued days after the United States fully withdrew troops and ended the 20-year-long war that began after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The Taliban were expected to announce the government formation on Saturday with co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar named as its leader. He was to be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai in senior positions.

But those plans were pushed back as the leader of National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, Ahmad Massoud, vowed to hold out.

“We never give up fighting for God, freedom and justice,” he wrote on his official Facebook page.

The post came in apparent response to unconfirmed reports that the Panjshir Valley — the final refuge against Taliban control in Afghanistan — had been captured and the resistance leaders had fled the country. But the country’s former First Vice President Amrullah Saleh denied those claims in a video message to the BBC.

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“The reports concerning my escape from Afghanistan are totally baseless,” Saleh said in the video. “We have resisted, the resistance is not going to surrender, it’s not going to bow to terrorism and it’s going to continue.”

Khalil Haqqani, a member of a committee constituted by the Taliban to negotiate talks with different groups over the government formation, told PTI the group has struggled to shape an inclusive administration acceptable to the international community.

“The Taliban can form a government of their own but they are now focusing to have an administration in which all parties, groups and sections of the society have proper representation,” Haqqani said, adding, “The Taliban alone will not be acceptable to the world.”

He said Afghanistan’s former prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the brother of ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai, will be given representation in the government.

U.S. Secretary of state Antony Blinken reiterated Friday that the international community expects a Taliban-led government to honor freedom of travel and to make good on its commitments to counterterrorism.

The world, he said, is also expecting it to uphold the basic rights of Afghans, including women and minorities, and to form an inclusive government while “rejecting reprisals.”

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An inclusive government means “it will have non-Talibs in it who are representative of different communities and different interests in Afghanistan,” Blinken added.

He is slated to travel to Doha Sunday to meet with Qatari leaders and express gratitude for supporting the evacuation effort.