The phrases have tripped off the tongues of Taliban for quite some time.
“We’re working to establish an inclusive government that represents all the people of Afghanistan,” promised Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar when he recently arrived in Kabul to start talks aimed at forming a leadership to move the movement from guns to government.
“We would like to live peacefully,” vowed Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid at the first press conference in the capital after the Taliban suddenly swept into power on 15 August. “We don’t want any internal enemies and any external enemies.”
Judge them by their actions, not their words, has become the mantra of a fast-expanding league of Taliban watchers including Afghans, foreign governments, humanitarian chiefs and political pundits the world over.
But Afghans are watching most closely of all. They have to.
On a day when brave protesters with bold banners spilled into the streets of Kabul and other cities – Afghan women leading the charge to demand their rights, their representation, their roles in society – the new Taliban government was unveiled.
Was this more evidence of the media-savvy Taliban? It temporarily knocked news of Taliban firing guns in the air, wielding rifle butts and sticks to disperse protesters, out of the world’s headlines.
But it was a modest ceremony, in the mundane setting of a press conference, for such a momentous, much-anticipated message. It electrified social media, and delivered a gut punch to those who had held fast to Taliban promises.
Far from being inclusive, it is exclusively Taliban. The old organigram of the Taliban movement, with its commissions, deputies, and the all-powerful Emir Hibatullah Akhundzada, has been transplanted into a cabinet with the same political architecture of governments everywhere.
The reviled Ministry of Vice and Virtue is back; the Women’s Affairs Ministry is out. Its makeup is overwhelmingly drawn from Pashtun tribes, with only one Tajik and one Hazara, both Talibs. There’s not a single woman, not even in deputy minister positions.
It’s a government of the old guard, and the new generation of mullahs and military commanders: men in charge when the Taliban ruled in the 1990s who return, beards much lighter and longer; former Guantanamo Bay prisoners; current members of US and UN black lists; battle-hardened fighters who pressed forward on every front in recent months; self-styled peacemakers who sat around negotiating tables, and shuttled around regional capitals with promises of a new Taliban 2.0.