KABUL, Afghanistan – Despite the threat of violent beatings and retaliation, hundreds of women marched through the streets of Kabul on Tuesday morning, calling on the Taliban to respect their rights and making it clear that they would not easily give up the gains they have made in recent years. two decades.
But as the crowd grew and hundreds of men joined the women, witnesses said protesters were beaten with rifle butts and beats with sticks. Then shots rang out. The crowd dispersed and for the second time in less than a week, the Taliban used violence to crush a peaceful demonstration.
Even as the Taliban continued to fight to destroy the armed opposition in the country, took control of the troubled Panjshir Valley on Monday, and planned to announce a new government that they have promised will be inclusive, it was The breakup of the demonstration on Tuesday provided yet another indication that they would use a crackdown on peaceful dissent.
It was also a remarkable display of women, who suffered brutal subjugation the last time the Taliban was in charge. Those who took to the streets in recent days fear that the group has not changed.
The protests have come as the Taliban tighten their military hold on the country. They have said they want to integrate members of the former Afghan army into the country’s new security forces, and they planned to provide more details about that process at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Although the Taliban have a near monopoly on the use of force, the demonstrations underlined the challenges the Taliban face as the former insurgents try to win the hearts and minds of a generation of Afghans who have never lived under Taliban rule, especially those in urban areas.
The Taliban face an uphill battle to gain legitimacy, not only at home but also abroad, amid a lingering humanitarian crisis. Basic services such as electricity are under threat, while the country is plagued by food and money shortages.
And thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee the country, even as the United States tries to evacuate dozens of civilians.
At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Tuesday that US officials are “working around the clock” to ensure that charter flights with Americans can safely leave Afghanistan.
Appearing alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Qatari counterparts, Mr Blinken said Taliban leaders recently reaffirmed their commitment to free US citizens and others with valid travel documents.
But the Taliban have raised objections to charter flights that combine people with and without valid travel documents, Mr Blinken said.
He added that he was unaware of a “hostage” situation at the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif, where some advocacy groups and members of Congress say the Taliban is blocking the departure of charter flights. Mr Blinken added that he believes there are still about 100 US citizens in Afghanistan, including “a relatively small number” who want to leave Mazar-e-Sharif.
For the vast majority of Afghans, there is no escaping it. Only uncertainty.
But the fact that women have been prominent participants in many of the recent protests has underlined their willingness to stand up for their rights, even in the face of gun butts, tear gas and retaliation.
In the two decades before the Taliban regained power, women were active in Afghanistan and held positions such as political positions, joining the military and police, playing in orchestras and competing in the Olympics.
Many Afghan women, who have benefited from education and the right to freedom of expression for the past two decades, fear a return to the past when women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male guardian, and were publicly flogged for breaking morality rules by, for example, their not to cover the skin.
Since taking power last month, the Taliban have tried to rebrand themselves as more moderate, inviting women to join the government and saying that women will be allowed to work and girls will be allowed to study.
But the group has yet to codify new laws or provide details on how it plans to govern. Early signs from across the country are not promising, including Taliban women warning women to stay at home until the base of Taliban fighters can be taught how not to hurt them.
Tuesday’s protests were the second demonstration involving women in the country’s capital in less than a week, and it was also the second to be violently crushed.
Rezai, 26, one of the coordinators and organizers of the latest protest, only gave her first name for fear of retaliation. She said the demonstration was organized in close cooperation with national resistance forces.
“We invited people through social media platforms,” she said. “And there were more people than we expected. We expect more demonstrations tonight because people don’t want terror and destruction. The Taliban have accomplished nothing since they took power, except killing people and spreading terror. So it was a completely self-motivated protest, and we coordinated and invited people to participate.”
As they marched on Tuesday morning, they carried a banner with a single word: “Freedom”.
The women chanted the same word as they walked, while the Taliban watched closely. They were accompanied by men, many of whom condemn Pakistan for what they consider to be its support of the Taliban and meddling in Afghan affairs.
“We’re not defending our right to a job or a position we’re going to work in, we’re defending the blood of our youth, we’re defending our country, our country,” one woman said, according to a social media video.
As a photographer from The Times approached the demonstration on a street outside the presidential palace known as the Arg, a convoy of at least a dozen Taliban pickup trucks rushed toward it.
As soon as the Taliban fighters got off their trucks, they started firing – mostly in the air, it seemed. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or fatalities.
The people – who appeared to be several hundred – started running.
The big meeting was over. A short time later, when some male protesters gathered in a small group and started shouting pro-resistance slogans, the Taliban chased them away.
After the crowd dispersed, Jamila, 23, said it had been a peaceful demonstration.
“People just took to the streets and protested,” she said. But she feared that the Taliban’s tactics of dispersing the crowds could lead to bloodshed.
Michael Crowley, Sahak Sami, Walid Arian and Farnaz Fassihi reported.