Taliban fire in air to scatter protesters in Kabul; two killed in Herat protest

At least 70 people, mostly women, rallied outside the Pakistani embassy on Sept 7, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - The Taliban on Tuesday (Sept 7) fired shots into the air to disperse crowds who had gathered for an anti-Pakistan rally in the capital, the latest protest since the hardline Islamist movement swept to power last month.

Afghans - fearful of a repeat of the group's previous brutal reign between 1996 and 2001 - have staged small, isolated demonstrations in cities, including the capital Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Two people were shot dead and eight wounded in a protest in the western Afghan city of Herat on Tuesday, a doctor said.

The bodies were brought to the city's central hospital from the site of the protest, the doctor, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisals, told AFP.

"They all have bullet wounds," he said.

Across Kabul, at least three rallies were held 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 recognised 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, Mr Faiz Hameed, was in Kabul at the weekend, reportedly to be briefed by his country's ambassador but is likely to have also met Taliban officials.

Videos posted on social media of a separate rally showed more than a hundred people marching through the streets under the watchful eye of armed Taliban members.

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.

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.

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 Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Qatari opposite numbers.

(From left) US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani hold a joint press conference in Doha on Sept 7, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

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 demonstration comes after the Taliban claimed total control over Afghanistan a day earlier, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last holdout of resistance against their rule.

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 forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.

As the Islamist hardliners claimed victory, 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," Mr Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference in Kabul.

Taliban fighters in Kabul fire their guns in celebration after receiving unconfirmed reports that Panjshir Province had fallen to their forces on Sept 3, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

As they undertake a mammoth transition into overseeing key institutions and cities of hundreds of thousands of people, Mr 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 is also grappling with looming financial and humanitarian crises.

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