The Taliban leaders appear to be measuring the pulse of the street. Its tug of war with the population continues. While in Kabul they allowed the Shiites to celebrate a religious ceremony on Thursday, and even turned a blind eye to those who waved the national flag in some neighborhoods, in other places they shot at those who demonstrated with it. Several people were killed for that reason in Asadabad, in eastern Afghanistan. The tricolor has become a sign of resistance against Islamic extremists. Undaunted by those killed yesterday in a protest in Jalalabad, thousands of Afghans have dared to draw the black, red and green banner that Islamic extremists have replaced with the black and white that identifies them. Under the pretext of National Day, which celebrates independence from the British in 1919, the demonstrations spread to more cities, according to social media, where many Afghans uploaded videos and images of the protests.
“Our flag is our identity”, “Long live Afghanistan”, several groups could be heard chanting in different places. In the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, one of the wealthiest in Kabul, the crowd, which unusually in addition to young men and boys were also women of different ages, passed by some Taliban who hurled expletives at them and waved their weapons, but finally they let them pass without intervening.
However, in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, militiamen opened fire on protesters when they tried to raise the country’s official flag. Several people were killed, but it is not clear whether as a result of the shots or the stampede they unleashed. Radio Azadi tweeted that there were three dead and two wounded. According to this US-funded Afghan affiliate of the public service, the Taliban said people had tried to remove their ensign (a white cloth with Islam’s profession of faith overprinted in black) and that they were investigating the incident.
Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who has proclaimed himself president after Ashraf Ghani’s flight and is trying to rally the opposition against the Taliban, sent a greeting via Twitter “to those who carry the national flag and thus defend the dignity of the nation”.
The militia, which has greatly improved its public relations since the US ousted it from power in 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, responded with its own Independence Day celebration in Qalat, the capital of Zabul. Its propagandists spread images of militiamen in training and hundreds of supporters waving the banner of the Islamic Emirate, as they call their regime.
The anti-Taliban protests, very unequal in size, are not widespread. However, given the uncertainty about the fundamentalists’ intentions and the precedent of their brutal dictatorship, it takes a lot of courage to go out onto streets that the foreign journalists present describe as “full of Taliban patrols.” In addition, at a time when the group is trying to project a more moderate image to gain international recognition (and funding), they send a message of rejection amplified by the thousands of Afghans who these days are trying to escape their country.
The scenes that have been taking place at the Kabul airport since last Monday speak for themselves. Thousands of Afghans, mostly young men, but also many families with young children, try to reach one of the evacuation flights organized by the United States and other countries for their nationals and their local collaborators.
At least 12 people have been killed in the effort so far this week, according to NATO and a Taliban official quoted by Reuters. It is not clear whether they have been shot or stampeded. Also this Thursday, shots have been heard in several of the accesses to the airfield, according to the same news agency, which has not been able to determine if those who were shooting were the Taliban or the security personnel who help the US forces inside.
The US military has taken control of the airport and is organizing the boarding and taking off of the aircraft. But the outside of the perimeter is in the hands of the Taliban. Although they have vowed to facilitate the safe passage of foreigners, they do not seem so content to let the Afghans go. Many complain that they are prevented from crossing the checkpoints even when their papers are in order.
Those who during the last two decades have worked with the armies, embassies or other Western organizations, as well as those who have stood out in the defense of human rights and civil liberties, are looking for a way out of the country. They are suspicious of the amnesty announced by the new rulers and the promises that they will not seek revenge. His words collide with the stories that come to light every day.
A confidential UN report assures that the Taliban are looking house to house for the disaffected, something that activist Humira Sadiq has already denounced in this newspaper. The British channel BBC has collected the testimony of an Afghan interpreter who has arrived in Scotland with his family and who feared that he would be beheaded. “Many translators were tortured,” he says.
Hence it is striking that Sunni extremists have tolerated the processions of Ashura in various neighborhoods of Kabul. With these ceremonies, the Shiites commemorate the death of Hussein, their third imam assassinated by the Umayyads (Sunnis) in the 7th century. When they were in power (1996-2001), the Taliban reviled and marginalized that community (which represents between 15% and 20% of the 38 million Afghans and mostly Hazara) for considering its members unfaithful.
The Taliban have also made gestures towards other minorities. As soon as they entered Kabul on Sunday, they sent representatives to meet with the leaders of the small Sikh and Hindu communities. In accordance with The Times of India, They tried to reassure them about their presence and asked them not to leave the country. According to a testimony collected by that newspaper, they even gave them their mobile numbers in case they had a problem.
On the other hand, UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations have asked donors for 800 million dollars (about 684 million euros) to be able to maintain the assistance they provide to Afghans. The humanitarian effort, which was already underfunded, needs to be scaled up to reach the roughly half a million displaced people caused by the Taliban advance since the beginning of the year.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.