Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (right) confers with an Afghan guerrilla leader in Peshawar in January 1987

Days after a lightning offensive and swift military control of Afghanistan, the Taliban are struggling to form an inclusive government amid fears of another civil war. The group has been holding meetings with former president Hamid Karzai and former head of High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.

The majority ethnic Pashtun population, which is most dominant in the southern part of the country, makes up the Taliban’s membership. However, despite its dominance, the Taliban recognises that any stable governance structure will require the participation of powerful warlords and ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras. Without it, the country risks devolving into the kind of internal strife that erupted in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, the group also finds it difficult to gain approval and support from the global powers. The United States has dismissed any chance of rapid recognition for a Taliban government.

The formation of government in the country may not be an easy task for the Taliban. Here are the leaders the Taliban needs to support from in order to form an inclusive government in Afghanistan:

Hamid Karzai:

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who resolved to stay in the country, has also been involved in talks with the insurgent group, which once wanted to kill him. A Taliban commander and senior leader of the Haqqani Network militant group, Anas Haqqani, met Karzai for talks, as part of efforts by the Taliban to set up a government. Karzai, 63, was accompanied by the old government’s main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, in the meeting. During his tenure as the Afghanistan president, Karzai fell out with the US over its use of drones and his refusal to sign a security pact that would’ve let US troops stay beyond 2014.

Abdullah Abdullah:

Former head of High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, 60, was an adviser to the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought the Russians and the Taliban. An ethnic Tajik, Abdullah has also been involved in negotiating a peaceful transfer of power with the Taliban.

He led the High Council for National Reconciliation which was expected to lead the intra-Afghan peace talks, which have met a dead end now. Abdullah ran for president twice and came close to winning the second time in 2014. Due to a disagreement over the results, former Secretary of State John Kerry flew in to mediate a power-sharing agreement between Ghani and Abdullah.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar:

Former Prime Minister and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose fighters killed thousands in Kabul during the bloody civil war of the 1990s, has remained a divisive figure since his return from exile in 2016. Hekmatyar, 72, has supported a dialogue and elections to decide the next Afghan government, and is also participating in discussions with Taliban leaders presently. He has deep and well-established links with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which make him a crucial player.

In 2003, the US State Department listed him as a terrorist, accusing him of taking part in and supporting attacks by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But Washington later welcomed former president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to sign a peace deal with Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami party faction has been blamed for atrocities committed during Afghanistan’s brutal civil war, which led many Afghans to welcome the emergence of the Taliban in 1996 in the hope the hardline Islamist group would restore law and order.

Abdul Rashid Dostum:

Abdul Rashid Dostum, 67, a US-allied warlord and former vice president, is also likely to play an important role in the negotiations. Considered a political veteran, who has switched allegiances several times over four decades of fighting, he was a big part of the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban when they were last in power from 1996 to 2001. The warlord backed Ghani’s government and was vice president for six years from 2013.

Despite a series of war crimes linked to his forces, the Afghan government was hoping Dostum’s military acumen and seething hatred of the Taliban could help beat back the current insurgent offensive. However, he was forced to flee amid the Taliban’s swift control.

The warlord’s prominence in the latest fight with the Taliban laid bare the long-simmering conundrum facing President Ashraf Ghani’s administration, which has struggled with on-again, off-again relationships with Afghanistan’s ubiquitous strongmen. Former paratrooper, communist commander, warlord and vice president Dostum has been the very definition of a cunning political survivor forged over four decades of conflict in war-torn Afghanistan.

Amrullah Saleh:

Former spy chief and vice president, Amrullah Saleh, 48, declared himself “the legitimate caretaker president” when former president Ghani fled the country. Saleh, who joined Ghani’s government in 2017 as interior minister and also led Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, has survived multiple assassination attempts by the Taliban, including one last September.

Saleh is currently in his stronghold of the northern Panjshir valley — which never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s and was not conquered by the Soviets a decade earlier. He seems to have joined hands with Tajik leader Ahmad Massoud, who has vowed to fight the Taliban.

Ahmad Massoud:

Young rebel leader Ahmad Massoud, the son of the slain Tajik Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, is determined to put up a fight against the Taliban and could emerge as the face of the rebellion, but that would largely depend on foreign support. Massoud has called on aid from France, Europe, the US and the Arab world, saying they had helped in his father’s fight against the Soviets and the Taliban 20 years ago.

Massoud is currently in talks with the Taliban, but the things do not seem to be in his favour as the Taliban were in position near the Panjshir Valley and had retaken three districts in northern Afghanistan that fell to local militia groups last week, a spokesman said on August 23, though there were no confirmed reports of further fighting. An adviser to Massoud said the 32-year-old was looking for a way to capitulate with his honour intact.

Ata Mohammad Noor:

Provincial leader Ata Mohammad Noor has been involved in wars in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion and was among the Taliban’s fiercest enemies. An ethnic Tajik leader, he was governor of the northern Balkh province, the most prosperous in Afghanistan, until he was removed by Ghani in 2018. As the provincial capital of Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the Taliban, Noor fled along with his one-time rival Dostum.

Earlier this year as the Taliban gained momentum, Noor was one of the first to call for new militias and a people’s uprising to fight the terrorists. On Twitter, Noor alleged the surrender of the Afghan forces was part of a larger “organized and cowardly plot” and he vowed to fight on. He is currently in Uzbekistan.

Mohammad Karim Khalili:

Former vice president Mohammad Karim Khalili, a prominent Hazara ethnic leader, was part of the delegation of senior Afghan politicians who went to Pakistan after the Taliban’s gained control of Kabul on August 15. Khalili, in a Facebook post last week, has expressed hopes that the Taliban’s top leadership would form a stable political order and said, “The future of Afghanistan depends on it.”