Kabul (AFP) -
The Taliban may announce their cabinet Friday, sources said, with a sceptical world watching for clues on whether the new regime will keep its promises to Afghanistan -- particularly for women -- while facing enormous economic hurdles.
The announcement, which two Taliban sources told AFP could come after Friday afternoon prayers, would take place amid deep mistrust of the Islamists as they shift gears from insurgent group to governing power, days after the United States fully withdrew its troops and ended their 20-year war.
The West has adopted a wait-and-see approach to engagement with the Taliban going forward, but there were some signs of unfreezing as Western Union announced it was restarting money transfers, and Qatar said it was working to reopen the airport in Kabul -- a lifeline for aid.
Meanwhile, the British and Italian foreign ministers were both headed to Afghanistan's neighbours in coming days to discuss refugees still hoping to escape Taliban authority.
China, however, may be taking a more proactive stance. A Taliban spokesman tweeted early Friday that the foreign ministry in Beijing had promised to keep its embassy in Afghanistan open and to 'beef up' relations and humanitarian assistance.
The Taliban has pledged a softer rule than their harsh 1996-2001 regime, which also came after years of conflict -- first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.
That first regime was notorious for its brutal and violent interpretation of Islamic law, and its treatment of women, who were forced behind closed doors, banned from school and work and denied freedom of movement.
Now, all eyes are on whether the Taliban can deliver a cabinet capable of managing a war-wracked economy and honour the movement's pledges of a more 'inclusive' government.
- 'We are not afraid' -
Speculation is rife about the makeup of a new government, although a senior official said this week that women were unlikely to be included.
In the western city of Herat, some 50 women took to the streets Thursday in a rare, defiant protest for the right to work and over the lack of female participation in the new government.
'It is our right to have education, work and security,' the demonstrators chanted in unison, said an AFP journalist who witnessed the protest.
'We are not afraid, we are united,' they added.
Herat is a relatively cosmopolitan city on the ancient silk road near the Iranian border. It is one of the more prosperous in Afghanistan, and girls have already returned to school there.
One of the organisers of the protest, Basira Taheri, told AFP she wanted the Taliban to include women in the new cabinet.
'We want the Taliban to hold consultations with us,' Taheri said. 'We don't see any women in their gatherings and meetings.'
Among the 122,000 people who fled Afghanistan in a frenzied US-led airlift that ended on Monday was the first female Afghan journalist to interview a Taliban official live on television.
Speaking to AFP in Qatar, the former anchor for the Tolo News media group said women in Afghanistan were 'in a very bad situation'.
'I want to say to the international community -- please do anything (you can) for Afghan women,' Beheshta Arghand said.
- 'Business below zero' -
Women's rights were not the only major concern in the lead-up to the Taliban's announcement of a new government.
In Kabul, residents voiced worry over the country's long-running economic difficulties, now seriously compounded by the militant movement's takeover.
'With the arrival of the Taliban, it's right to say that there is security, but business has gone down below zero,' Karim Jan, an electronic goods shop owner, told AFP.
In one spot of bright news, Western Union announced it was restarting money transfer services to the country.
Many Afghans rely on remittances from relatives abroad to survive.
The United Nations warned earlier this week of a looming 'humanitarian catastrophe' in Afghanistan, as it called to ensure that those wanting to flee the new regime still have a way out.
Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio was due to visit Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Qatar and Pakistan from Friday in a bid to assist Afghan refugees, his government said, while British foreign minister Dominic Raab was to head to the region next week.
Qatar's foreign minister said on Thursday the Gulf state is working with the Taliban to reopen Kabul's airport as soon as possible.
'We are working very hard (and) we remain hopeful that we will be able to operate it as soon as possible,' said Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
'Hopefully in the next few days we will hear some good news,' he told a news conference in Doha.
A Qatari technical team flew into Kabul on Wednesday to discuss reopening the airport, the first plane to land there since the evacuations.
Turkey said Thursday it was also evaluating proposals from the Taliban and others for a role in running the airport.