MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When Kabul fell to the Taliban August 15, the president of Afghanistan fled the country. It happened fast - so fast that having conquered the country, the Taliban did not seem to have a plan to run it. What emerged amid the violence and a brewing humanitarian crisis has been a power vacuum. Well, today the Taliban finally announced an interim government. NPR's international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam is with us from Islamabad to sort through who they say is now in charge.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So who is in charge? Who's in this government?
NORTHAM: Well, at this point, it's a lot of the old guard of the Taliban. You know, there's a lot of familiar faces here, and certainly there are a lot of hardliners. Mohammad Hassan Akhund is now the head of Afghanistan's interim government, and he is considered a hardliner. He's from Kandahar, which was the birthplace of the Taliban, and he's held various leadership roles within the Taliban for years. Abdul Ghani Baradar, who currently heads the Taliban's political office, will become deputy prime minister. And this is a bit of a surprise as he was expected to lead the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
KELLY: Well, is it clear why he didn't get the top job?
NORTHAM: No, it's not. The Taliban, you know, are not known for their transparency, so it really is not clear. But, again, he was the one that was supposed to be slotted into the leadership position.
KELLY: And instead he'll be in the No. 2 job. OK. Who else?
NORTHAM: Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob is now the interim defense minister. And he's the son of Mullah Omar, who founded the Taliban. And then also, Sirajuddin Haqqani has been named the interim interior minister. And this is a pretty controversial appointment. You know, he's a member of the Haqqani Network, which the U.S. believes is a terrorist organization. And in fact, Sirajuddin Haqqani himself has a $5 million bounty on his head.
KELLY: OK - so a lot of hardliners, a lot of familiar names and faces. Is there anybody who is not Taliban, anybody who's a surprise? - because the U.S. and U.S. allies have been calling for an inclusive government.
NORTHAM: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Well, look. Not all the positions have been announced, and they said that, you know, they recognize that this is just sort of a small slice of the interim government. But, you know, at first blush, this doesn't appear to be an inclusive lineup. There's been talk about including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai or Abdullah Abdullah, who was a key figure in the former Afghan government, but they weren't mentioned today. The other thing, and maybe not a big surprise, is we didn't get any indication that a woman would be part of the new interim government. And, you know, when asked about this, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid kind of hedged. He said, well, there are a lot of ministries yet to be announced. But he really didn't say that women will have a role at all.
KELLY: OK, so no women, at least for now. Do we know why it took them so long to announce this interim government, Jackie?
NORTHAM: Well, one theory is that the Taliban wanted to have full control of the country, and they were trying to capture the one last part of Afghanistan, which was the Panjshir Valley. And that's been done. The other reason is you've got this real split between the leadership, which wants to sort of have this more moderate face to the world, and really the hardcore militants that want a pure Islamic State. And somehow they have to reconcile those two sides if they don't want the Taliban to fracture.
KELLY: And just to emphasize again, this is an interim government. Do we know when we're going to get a final one, what the game plan is there?
NORTHAM: No, no. There's just no way of knowing that. You know, I'm not certain it's going to be different from what we're seeing now, though. Again, this is a group of hardline, battle-hardened militants that are now in control of Afghanistan. And, you know, frankly, naming the final government is going to be easier than running the country. You know, its economy is just tanking. There is COVID, and there are challenges to Taliban rule from other militant groups there.
KELLY: Oh, so much to keep track of.
NPR's Jackie Northam in Islamabad, thank you.
NORTHAM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.