Two experts on Afghanistan’s ‘caretaker’ government and its ties to other terrorist groups

To learn more about the men leading the new Taliban government in Afghanstan, Judy Woodruff speaks to Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author of "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," and Douglas London, who had a 34-year CIA career and authored the new book “The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, who are the men — and they are all men — who will lead the new Taliban government in Afghanistan?

    We turn to two mew who have tracked the Taliban for a long time. Ahmed Rashid is a journalist who has covered Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia for decades. His book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," which came out in 2000, was the first one on the Taliban. And Douglas London had a 34-year career in CIA's clandestine service, where he focused on Afghanistan, South and Central Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. He is the author of the new book "The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence."

    Welcome to both of you.

    Mr. Rashid, Mr. London, thank you very much.

    Ahmed Rashid, let me start with you.

    What does the naming of these individuals say to you about what the Taliban has in mind for the future of Afghanistan?

    Ahmed Rashid, Author, "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia": Well, I think, overall, I mean, they have — they have not done anything, what the Western countries have been asking for.

    It's not a diverse cabinet. It's a very solidly Taliban cabinet that they had chosen. The government has not taken on board any of the non-Taliban politicians in Afghanistan. They have chosen not to take any women into the cabinet for the time being.

    Now, this is a caretaker government that they have set up today. They have said that there will be additions and changes. And, presumably, there will be a full-time government at some state. But at the moment, it looks that this is going to continue the hard line that we have seen so far, with beating up women, demonstrators and not tolerating any kind of dissent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that what you see, Doug London, a hard-line cabinet? And what do you see in terms of their attitude toward the West?

  • Douglas London, Former CIA Official:

    I think it reminds us we're best judging the Taliban by what they do and not what they say.

    The majority of this cabinet, they will trace their roots to being close to Mullah Omar, starting out the Taliban in the '90s. That's certainly the case of the named prime minister, Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who was in fact head of their shura. So, that is some continuity, the Shura being their decision-making body that was operating in Pakistan.

    I think, you look at the names, they've given a little more room for the Haqqanis to have some good portfolios for themselves, including the interior minister now being a wanted felon with a $10 million award for his capture in Sirajuddin Haqqani.

    I think it's interesting that the Taliban Five, those individuals that the United States traded who were in Guantanamo prison for PFC Bergdahl, all received good jobs, but not necessarily the top jobs in the Cabinet. And I think it's interesting that I see the number two intelligence official is an individual named Taj Mir Jawad, who was an explosive specialist that the CIA helped to get detained in Pakistan, but the Pakistanis released due to his poor health.

    And, apparently, he has suddenly made quite a recovery.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mr. Rashid, you mentioned, of course, no women in this lineup of leadership.

    What does that say to you? Do you see anything here that tells you there may be some give? Because they have been saying they want women to have a role in society.

  • Ahmed Rashid:

    They have been saying that.

    But women have been out in the streets in Kabul and Herat and other places demanding their rights and demanding — the slogan today was freedom. And it seems the women are literally leaving the young male students and men also to show dissent against the Taliban.

    So — and the Taliban admit that they don't have people trained in crowd control. They don't know what to do when masses of people come into the street. And so what we have seen, of course, is that they have been beating up people quite frequently, as they were doing outside the airport when people were trying to leave Kabul.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about what should we expect in terms of whether they are — what they're going to — what their attitude is going to be toward al-Qaida, toward ISIS?

    We're told they are enemies, but what should we expect?

  • Douglas London:

    Well, I think it's interesting.

    If you look at the statement released today under the name of Haibatullah Akhundzada, who is the emir of the Taliban, who has now been the self-proclaimed leader, much perhaps the system in Iran, the individuals in the Cabinet are those who have historically good and positive relations with al-Qaida.

    And there's even language in the statement that thanks all the Muslims and mujahideen. I think that was really intended as a chapeau to the various organizations that United States and the West considers terrorist groups, namely al-Qaida and many of its other partner groups, that are considered part of what brought the Taliban victory.

    So I think it's a suggestion that they're not really planning to cut their ties.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's coming across as a group of individual certainly to be feared.

    Ahmed Rashid, and, finally, to both of you, the naming of this as a caretaker government, suggesting it's temporary, how do you read that?

  • Ahmed Rashid:

    Well, they don't seem to be having, at the moment, at least, any kind of political plan for the future.

    They have already said, we don't believe in elections. So that's out. But how are they going to put in place a permanent government without giving the public some kind of — some kind of choice or some kind of ability to choose who they want?

    They won't allow political parties, because that's against Islam, according to them. Their whole interpretation is going to be, I think, based on what we have seen — how we have seen al-Qaida in the last few years and other organizations, where you have a top man who's endorsed by basically the shura, the council.

    And there's very little choice left to the public or to people — and there's very little dissent either.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, to Doug London, we have been told that the — this new government is going to need desperately aid from the West.

    But do you see anything here that suggests that they are making any concessions at all that would put them in a better place in terms of receiving aid?

  • Douglas London:

    There's some clues, I think, in Akhundzada's statement.

    And I think it's also important to realize that he's still in charge and calling the shots, regardless of what the government composition is, despite the fact that the Taliban does tend to have to rely on a lot of consensus.

    There's language about self-reliance. There's language about Afghans not leaving because they need them. There's suggestions to me that this leadership, as I would expect, is loath to integrate globally with the West and thus make itself vulnerable to sanctions and vulnerable to information that they can't control.

    I don't see much to hope for a Taliban that, although there are some early indications and language — certainly, the White House has professed this is a Taliban 2.0 — that they want more than subsistence to keep the people under control and keep them content.

    There was language about respecting human rights, nothing about women, if you notice, respecting minorities. Yet their 33 Cabinet members include three ethnic minorities, two Tajiks and one Uzbek, who all go back to the '90s, except for Fasihuddin, the army chief.

    So I think reading them and — for their actions better than their words will be more helpful for us informing our decisions on what we could expect and what actually limited leverage we will have over the Taliban, if we think that their interest in economic aid, technical development is what they seek.

    That does not seem to be in their plans, at least by virtue of their cabinet and the language of the statement put out by their emir.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're all certainly watching it very closely. And we thank the two of you, Doug London, Ahmed Rashid. We appreciate it.

    Thank you so much.

  • Douglas London:

    Thank you.

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