Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai is unlikely to play a prominent role in a Taliban-led government, while veteran politician Abdullah Abdullah is viewed as the “least controversial” option by the Islamist movement, according to two senior Pakistan officials.
“The Taliban are ready to recruit them,” said one of the officials, but added it would be “difficult” to include Karzai. “They will have their representatives but not old horses. There may be some space for Abdullah.”
Karzai and Abdullah played leading roles in negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar before the spectacular collapse of the Afghan government as the US began its final troop withdrawal. Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, fled the country as the Taliban seized Kabul last month but Karzai and Abdullah remained in Afghanistan and have met the militants.
Forming an inclusive government is one of the crucial steps the Taliban will have to take to gain broad international recognition and secure aid to help it address a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis. The movement also has to convince western powers that it respects human rights and is willing to take on extremist groups in the country.
Analysts said a power-sharing government could also pave the way towards unlocking financial assistance after the World Bank and IMF stopped funding the country.
The Taliban on Tuesday said it had concluded a three-day leadership council in Kandahar, a southern city that is the heartland of the Islamist movement, which is led by Haibatullah Akhundzadeh, the group’s spiritual leader who has yet to make a public appearance.
A decision was taken to “improve the security situation” and “organise administrative matters”, the Taliban said in a statement. “Detailed advice was also given on the establishment of a new Islamic regime and formation of the government.”
But there have been no details on what a Taliban-led government would look like.
Analysts question the degree of leverage foreign powers have over the Taliban in the wake of the US withdrawal. But some within the group’s leadership have indicated they want international legitimacy.
The Taliban has told Qatar’s envoy, who has also met Afghan officials including Abdullah and Karzai, that the Islamist movement was willing to “share the government” and “give positions to others”.
But Taliban officials said they would only form a new administration after the full withdrawal of foreign troops, which was completed on Monday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, told the Financial Times this week.
“What is the form of the government, what is the proportion of these positions we don’t know,” said Sheikh Mohammed. “We have to be cautious, we have to watch the situation very closely, and we have to judge them by their actions.”
Qatar, which hosts a Taliban office and facilitated talks between the US and the Islamist movement, has been mediating between the Afghan parties.
The Pakistani official said the west could still influence the Taliban by dangling the offer of legitimacy and financial support. “They [the Taliban] failed last time because no one accepted them. They realise they need international support, they can’t live like North Korea,” the official said.
Taliban leaders are expected to meet in the coming days Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan that is holding out against the Taliban in the Panjshir valley, in Tajikistan to negotiate potential roles, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.
“The Taliban are offering but they haven’t said yes,” said a person familiar with the negotiations.
Experts said the Taliban was struggling to balance the conditions from the international community with the expectations of its rank and file fighters who fought for years against US and Afghan government forces.
Additional reporting by Farhan Bokhari