Afghanistan's Taliban rulers were on Thursday (Sep 2) preparing to unveil their new government as the economy teetered on the edge of collapse more than two weeks after the Islamist militia captured Kabul and brought a chaotic end to 20 years of war.
Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said on social media a ceremony was being prepared at the presidential palace in Kabul, while private broadcaster Tolo said an announcement on a new government was imminent.
The Islamist movement's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to have ultimate power over a governing council with a president below him, a senior Taliban official told Reuters last month.
The legitimacy of the new government in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for Afghanistan's economy, which is likely to collapse following the Taliban's return to power, analysts said.
The Taliban have promised safe passage out of the country for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the huge airlift which ended when US troops withdrew on Monday. But with Kabul airport still closed, many were seeking to flee over land.
Qatar's foreign minister said the Gulf state was talking with the Taliban and Turkey about potential technical support to restart operations at Kabul airport, which would facilitate humanitarian assistance and possibly more evacuations.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the same news conference in Doha "we need to adjust to the new reality" in Afghanistan and said he would be talking with regional leaders about securing safe passage through third countries.
"Our immediate priority is ... those remaining British nationals, and also the Afghans who worked for the United Kingdom and others who may be at the most risk," Raab said.
The Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to have ultimate power over a new governing council, with a president below him, a senior Taliban official told Reuters last month.
The supreme Taliban leader has three deputies: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of the movement's late founder Mullah Omar; Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani network; and Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founding members of the group.
An unelected leadership council is how the Taliban ran their first government which brutally enforced a radical form of Sharia law from 1996 until its ouster by US-led forces in 2001.
The Taliban have tried to present a more moderate face to the world since they swept aside the US-backed government and returned to power last month, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
But the United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government - and the economic aid that would flow from that - is contingent on action.
The foreign minister of current EU president Slovenia told Reuters the bloc was "far from even tackling this question", which EU leaders might discuss at summits next month. Some EU states consider the Taliban a terrorist organisation.
If the European Union - the world's biggest aid donor - decides to formally recognise the Taliban government, "aid is the leverage that the European Union has" in setting conditions, Anze Logar said.
On Wednesday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland had said the United States would look at deeds not words.
"So they've got a lot to prove ... they also have a lot to gain, if they can run Afghanistan, far, far differently than they did the last time they were in power," she said.
Humanitarian organisations have warned of catastrophe as severe drought and the upheavals of war have forced thousands of families to flee their homes.
Afghanistan desperately needs money, and the Taliban are unlikely to get swift access to the roughly US$10 billion in assets mostly held abroad by the Afghan central bank.
The Taliban have ordered banks to reopen, but strict weekly limits on withdrawals have been imposed and there are long queues at banks.
"Everything is expensive now, prices are going up every day," said Kabul resident Zelgai.
Afghanistan's real gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 9.7 per cent this financial year, with a further drop of 5.2 per cent seen next year, said analysts in a report from Fitch Solutions, the research arm of ratings agency Fitch Group.
Foreign investment would be needed to support a more optimistic outlook, a scenario which assumed "some major economies, namely China and potentially Russia, would accept the Taliban as the legitimate government", Fitch said.
The new, Taliban-appointed central bank head has sought to reassure banks the group wants a fully functioning financial system, but has given little detail on how it will supply funds for it, bankers familiar with the matter said.
While the Taliban are cementing control of Kabul and provincial capitals, they are fighting with opposition groups and remnants of the Afghan army holding out in mountains north of the capital.
Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi called on the rebels in Panjshir province to surrender, saying "the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is home for all Afghans", referring to the Taliban-run state.
Opposition leader Ahmad Massoud, son of a former mujahideen commander who fought against the Taliban in northeastern Afghanistan in the late 1990s, told CNN his forces were fighting for a "decentralised state where power is equally distributed between the different ethnic and sectarian groups".
"Unfortunately, the Taliban have not changed, and they still are after dominance throughout the country," he said.