Some western governments and media have been involved in a collective act of wishful thinking in recent months over the Taliban—believing them somehow to be ‘moderate’ and on the way to forming an inclusive government. The idea began with their elevation of status as a partner in negotiations with the US in Doha. They were legitimised, so some believed they had changed.
The last remnants of that belief must have been burnt out by the appointment of the Taliban cabinet this week, which was not inclusive in any sense, but was the result of three weeks of bartering between different Taliban factions, only resolved by the intervention of the head of Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, General Faiz Hameed.
More than half of the members of the new government face international sanctions as terrorists. The list includes four of the five men released from Guantanamo in a prisoner swap in 2014 and four members of the Haqqani family, whose terrorist network was responsible for the largest attacks in Kabul in recent years, and who have US bounties on their heads.
In announcing this line-up the Taliban proved once again how out of touch they are with the outside world and any sense that Afghanistan is a different country from the one they governed until 2001. Some of those appointed are even filling the same role they played in the first Taliban government. The only real change from 2001 is the entrenchment of the Haqqani network at the heart of the Taliban, with Sirajuddin Haqqani as interior minister now responsible for the security of people he once terrorised. The son of the founder of the movement, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Sirajuddin has a fearsome personal reputation.