KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Tuesday fired shots into the air to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered at several rallies in Kabul, the latest signs of defiance by Afghans against the hardline Islamist movement which swept to power last month.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have yet to form a government, but many in the capital are fearful of a repeat of the Taliban’s previous brutal and repressive reign between 1996 and 2001.
At least three rallies were held across Kabul in a show of resistance that would have been unthinkable during the Taliban’s last stint in power — when people were publicly executed and thieves had their hands chopped off.
“Afghan women want their country to be free. They want their country to be rebuilt. We are tired,” protester Sarah Fahim told AFP at one rally outside the Pakistani embassy, where more than 70 people, mostly women, had gathered.
“We want that all our people have normal lives. How long shall we live in this situation?” the 25-year-old said.
The crowd held up banners and chanted about their frustrations with security, free passage out of the country and alleged meddling by Pakistan — which historically has close ties with the Taliban leadership.
Pakistan, one of just three countries that recognized the last Taliban government, has long been accused of offering its leaders safe haven after they were kicked out of power by the US-led invasion of 2001.
Pakistan’s intelligence chief Faiz Hameed was in Kabul over the weekend, reportedly to be briefed by his country’s ambassador but is likely to have also met with Taliban officials.
Videos posted on social media of a separate rally showed more than 100 people marching through the streets under the watchful eye of armed Taliban members.
Anti Pakistan protests in Kabul, happening right now pic.twitter.com/t1SISw9RWY
— Saad Mohseni (@saadmohseni) September 7, 2021
Another protester, Zahra Mohammadi, a doctor from Kabul, said: “We want Afghanistan to become free. We want freedom.”
Scattered demonstrations have also been held in smaller cities in recent days, including in Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif where women have demanded to be part of a new government.
General Mobin, a Taliban official in charge of security in the capital, told AFP he had been called to the scene by Taliban guards who said that “women were creating a disruption.”
“These protesters are gathered based only on the conspiracy of foreign intelligence,” he claimed.
Several Afghan journalists who were covering a demonstration that began at the Pakistani embassy were arrested by the Taliban, witnesses and Afghan media outlets said.
Posts on social media demanded the release of the arrested reporters.
An Afghan journalist who was among those detained and who was later freed told The Associated Press he was punished by the Taliban. “They made me rub my nose on the ground and apologize for covering the protest,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fears for his safety. “Journalism in Afghanistan is getting harder,” he added.
Afghanistan’s TOLOnews TV channel said its cameraman Wahid Ahmadi was among those arrested.
An Afghan journalist covering the demonstration told AFP his press ID and camera were confiscated by the Taliban.
“I was kicked and told to go away,” he said.
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) September 7, 2021
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had reiterated a pledge to allow Afghans to freely depart Afghanistan.
The Taliban told the United States that “they will let people with travel documents freely depart,” Blinken told a news conference in Doha where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Qatari opposite numbers.
US President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure amid reports that several hundred people, including Americans, have been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan.
Tuesday’s demonstrations come after the Taliban claimed total control over Afghanistan a day earlier, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley.
Following their lightning-fast victory in mid-August over the former Afghan government’s security forces and the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fighting the resistance forces defending the mountainous region.
As the Islamist hardliners claimed victory on Monday, their chief spokesman warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule.
“Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard. We will not allow another,” Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference in Kabul.
As the Taliban undertake a mammoth transition into overseeing key institutions and cities of hundreds of thousands of people, Mujahid said an interim government would be announced first, allowing for later changes.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more “inclusive” than during their first stint in power, with a government that represents the country’s complex ethnic makeup — though women are unlikely to be included.
Women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule.
This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban’s education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.
The Taliban are also grappling with looming financial and humanitarian crises.