On the second full day with no US troops on Afghan soil, the Taliban moved on Wednesday to form a new Islamic government and prepared to appoint the movement’s leading religious figure, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, as the country’s highest authority, said Taliban officials.

The Taliban are faced with a daunting challenge that switched from insurrection to government after two decades of insurgents fighting international and Afghan armed forces, planting roadside bombs and planning mass bombings that killed the lives of people in densely populated urban centers.

Now, with Taliban rule fully restored 20 years after being overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2001, the group is faced with the responsibility of ruling a country of around 40 million people for over 40 years War was devastated.

There are hundreds of thousands displaced in the country and much of the population lives in crushing poverty, all amid a punishing drought and Covid-19 pandemic. Food supplies distributed by the United Nations are likely to be depleted in much of Afghanistan by the end of September, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

The economy is in free fall after the US freeze $ 9.4 billion in Afghan currency reserves, part of a liquidity pipeline that long made a fragile, US-backed government dependent on foreign aid. International lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, have also cut funds, driving inflation higher and undermining the weak Afghani currency.

Electricity service, spotty and unreliable at the best of times, is failing, local residents say. Fear keeps many people at home instead of working and shopping outside. A shortage of food and other essentials has been reported in a country that imports much of its food, fuel and electricity. A third of Afghans had already dealt with what the United Nations called “crisis levels of food insecurity”.

Taliban officials did not indicate when the new governance would be announced. But the group was under heavy pressure to fill a political vacuum created by the rapid collapse of the U.S.-backed administration of former President Ashraf Ghani, who like many other officials fled the country when Taliban forces broke out on Sept. .August invaded.

Sheikh Haibatullah, a pragmatic but passionate religious scholar from Kandahar, is supposed to take on a theocratic role similar to that of the supreme Iranian leader, according to official reports. His son was trained as a suicide bomber and blew himself up in an attack in Helmand province when he was 23, the Taliban say.

Taliban officials, including Sheikh Haibatullah, met in Kandahar, according to Taliban officials. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a respected Taliban co-founder and one of its current deputies, was expected to be put in charge of day-to-day affairs as head of government, officials said.

Mr. Baradar had a similar role during the Taliban’s early years in exile, directing the movement’s operations until his arrest by Pakistan in 2010.

After three years in a Pakistani prison and several others under house arrest, Mr. Baradar was released in 2019 and then headed the Taliban delegation that negotiated the troop withdrawal agreement with the Trump administration in February 2020.

Other key government positions are expected to be held by Sirajuddin Haqqani, another deputy and influential leader of operations within the movement, and Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the group until his death in 2013.

Mr. Haqqani, 48, who helped direct the Taliban’s military operations, is also a leader of the brutal Haqqani Network, a mafia-like wing of the Taliban mainly based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border. The network was responsible for hostage-taking, attacks on US forces, complex suicide bombings and targeted assassinations.

Political developments on Wednesday gave the Taliban, whose members celebrated with gunfire and fireworks, a real boost after the last planeload of US troops and equipment left Kabul airport shortly before midnight on Monday. On Tuesday, leading Taliban leaders led journalists on a triumphant tour of the looted airport, just hours after it was occupied by US troops.

Now the Taliban are fighting for international aid and diplomatic recognition. The relationship between the United States and the former insurgents is entering a tense new phase in which each side depends on decisive decisions made by their long-standing adversary.


9/2/2021, 12:24 p.m. ET

The Taliban cooperated in the US military’s evacuation efforts, but that does not mean further cooperations will follow, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t make logical leaps on broader topics,” he said. “It’s hard to predict where this will lead.”

General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Taliban were “a ruthless group,” but when asked if the two sides could work together against a common enemy, the Islamic State of Khorasan, he said: “It is possible.”

A primary question is how much, if any, US economic aid will it provide and how it will ensure that aid goes to needy Afghans and not to the Taliban government.

The Taliban are also fighting stubborn opposition forces led by leaders of the National Resistance Front in Panjshir Province and other regions in northern Afghanistan, where anti-Taliban sentiment has always been strong. There were competing claims on Wednesday, with Taliban supporters saying their fighters had made progress and resistance leaders said they had repulsed a Taliban attack.

Panjshir, a stronghold of former Northern Alliance commanders, was one of the few areas in Afghanistan not under the control of the Taliban when the group ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

The Taliban’s transition to governance is based on years of patient building of a so-called shadow government at the provincial, district and even village levels. In the Taliban-controlled areas, many Afghans learned to rely on this shadow government for basic services such as litigation rather than turning to a deeply corrupt national government that could not or would not serve remote areas.

After a military evacuation that flown more than 123,000 people out of Afghanistan in 18 days, most of them Afghans, 100 to 200 Americans will remain in the country, President Biden said Tuesday. Some stayed voluntarily. Others were unable to reach Kabul airport.

Tens of thousands of Afghans who have helped the US or its international partners also remain stranded, according to estimates by US officials. Many are permanent residents of the United States traveling in Afghanistan when the government and military collapsed at breakneck speed and the Taliban took control on August 15.

Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputation and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more about their genesis and track record as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who for years have been on the run, in hiding, in prison and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to rule, including whether they will be as tolerant as they say they are. A spokesman told the Times that the group wanted to forget their past but had some restrictions.

Taliban officials have repeatedly publicly assured that Afghans with proper passports and visas will be allowed to leave the country, regardless of their role during the 20-year US mission in Afghanistan.

About 6,000 Americans, the vast majority of them dual Afghan citizens, were evacuated after Aug. 14, Foreign Secretary Antony J. Blinken said Tuesday. In early spring, the American embassy in Kabul began warning Americans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, referring to the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Mr. Blinken described “extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to leave the country.” He said diplomats made 55,000 calls and sent 33,000 emails to US citizens in Afghanistan, and in some cases took them to Kabul airport.

Mr Biden said Tuesday that the US government had alerted Americans 19 times since March to leave Afghanistan.

The president and his national security team have pledged to continue working to evict Americans and vulnerable Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday that Kabul airport would be reopened to air traffic within a few days. But with the airport’s future uncertain, some Afghans are crawling around neighboring borders. Hundreds gather every day in Torkham, a major border crossing with Pakistan, in hopes that Pakistani officials will let them through.

The United Nations Refugee Agency recently warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee by the end of the year and urged countries in the region to keep their borders open to refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, estimates that around 3.5 million people have been displaced by violence in Afghanistan – half a million since May alone. The majority of them are women and children.

On the Afghan side of the Pakistani border near Torkham, about 140 miles east of Kabul, some families have been huddled together with their belongings in recent days and decided to flee from the rule of the Taliban. There are also workers from neighboring Afghan provinces who, in the face of increasing money and food shortages, want to move over to earn a living.

Pakistan has announced that it will not accept any further refugees from Afghanistan. Border officials reportedly only allow Pakistani nationals and the few Afghans who have visas to cross.

While Afghan refugees living in Pakistan commuted back and forth for decades without being asked, Pakistan has made access more difficult in recent years and has erected a 2,600-kilometer border fence.