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Foreign minister says Taliban government won't allow militant attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan — The foreign minister in Afghanistan’s new Taliban-run Cabinet said Tuesday that the government remains committed to promises the Taliban made last year to not allow militants to use their territory to launch attacks on foreign countries.

Amir Khan Mutaqi, a longtime Taliban negotiator, appeared at his first news conference since the movement formed an interim government a week ago. Other nations — and many Afghans at home — are watching for signs of how the Taliban will govern Afghanistan after sweeping out the U.S.-backed administration and back into power last month.

The United States and its allies have pushed the Taliban not to repeat their harsh rule of the 1990s, when they last governed and imposed an extreme interpretation of Islamic law that included severe restrictions on women and ethnic and religious minorities.

Mutaqi gave little indication of whether they would bend to international pressure. During the news conference, he would not say how long the interim government would be in place or whether it would eventually be opened up to other factions, women or minority group representatives.

Asked whether elections eventually would be held, he replied that other countries must not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal issues. He repeated the comment several times during the news conference.

Mutaqi did give the first confirmation from a member of the interim government of the new Cabinet's intention to honor a deal the Taliban reached with the United States last year. Under the deal, which opened the way for the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban promised to break ties with al-Qaida and other militant groups and ensure they don’t threaten other countries from the movement's territory.

“We will not allow anyone or any groups to use our soil against any other countries,” the foreign minister said.

While ruling Afghanistan during the 1990s, the Taliban sheltered al-Qaida and its chief, Osama bin Laden. Their refusal to hand over bin Laden and other al-Qaida members after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks prompted the U.S. to launch a military assault which ousted the Taliban and led to the ensuing 20-year war in Afghanistan..

The Taliban, who toppled Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government on Aug. 15, have faced heavy international criticism for forming an interim government made up entirely of Taliban members despite previous promises to be more inclusive.

Governments around the world have said they will not recognize Afghanistan’s new rulers until a more inclusive government is put in place.

Asked Tuesday if the Taliban would include women or ethnic and religious minorities in the government, Mutaqi said, “We will decide in time,” without making a commitment. He underscored that the government was interim and that when a permanent one is formed “we will take into account what the people want,” though he would not give a timetable for a permanent government.

“We are taking everything step by step. We have not said how long this Cabinet will last,” he said.

The United Nations now faces a dilemma as it prepares to begin the U.N. General Assembly. Several of the Taliban ministers, including Mutaqi, Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund and Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, are on the U.N.‘s so-called black list of international terrorists and terrorist financers.

Haqqani is also wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with attacks in the Afghan capital during the last two decades. As the interim interior minister, he oversees Afghanistan's police and has already called former officers back to work. While some have returned, including most traffic police, many are reluctant.

Mutaqi urged the U.N. to move quickly to delist the Taliban ministers, saying, “The list has no logic.”

When the Taliban last ruled, the U.N. refused to recognize their government and instead gave Afghanistan's seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who eventually was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011.

This time around, it is not clear whether the seat will be reserved for President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul after the Taliban reached the gates of the capital. His departure shocked the political leadership in Kabul, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s chief negotiator, who were still negotiating with the Taliban to form an interim government.

Mutaqi said the Taliban-led government seeks good relations with foreign nations but insisted they must not interfere in its affairs. He also called for international donors to send more aid.

“Afghanistan is poor. It needs all the help” the world can give, Mutaqi said, promising that foreign aid would be distributed without corruption. He urged international banking institutions to return to Afghanistan to continue their projects.

He also said that all of Afghanistan’s embassies operating abroad have been told to continue their operations. He promised Afghans would be allowed to leave the country and said it was the job of the Taliban government to provide passports to its citizens.

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