Three killed as Afghan protests test Taliban’s promise of peaceful rule

A woman takes a moment in a vigil for Afghanistan outside the West LA Federal Building in Los Angeles, California.
REUTERS/Ringo Chiu

At least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, witnesses said, as the Islamist group moved to consolidate power and Western countries ramped up evacuations from a chaotic Kabul airport.

Thousands of people are trying to flee the country, fearing a return to the austere interpretation of Islamic law imposed during the previous Taliban rule that ended 20 years ago.

Witnesses said armed members of the Taliban were preventing people from getting into the airport compound, including those with the necessary documents to travel.

“It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,” said one person who was trying to get through.

A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse crowds outside Kabul airport, but told Reuters: “We have no intention to injure anyone.”

Some 150 km (90 miles) east of the capital in Jalalabad, protests against the Taliban provided an early test of the group’s promise of peaceful rule.

After seizing power at the weekend, the Taliban said they would not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters that Taliban fighters opened fire when local residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, killing three and injuring more than a dozen.

Taliban spokespeople could not be reached for comment.

A new government to replace that of President Ashraf Ghani, who is in exile in the United Arab Emirates, may take the form of a ruling council, with Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in overall charge, a senior member of the group said.

But Afghanistan would not be a democracy. “It is sharia law and that is it,” Waheedullah Hashimi told Reuters.

Ghani, who has been bitterly criticized by former ministers for leaving Afghanistan as Taliban forces swept into Kabul on Sunday, said he had followed the advice of government officials. He denied reports he took large sums of money with him.

“If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,” Ghani said in a video streamed on Facebook, his first public comments since it was confirmed he was in the UAE.

About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours and military flights will continue around the clock, a Western official told Reuters.

“Everyone wants out,” said a member of an Afghan family after they arrived in Germany. “Every day is worse than the day before. We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”

The United Nations said it had begun moving up to 100 international staff temporarily to Kazakhstan, but stressed it is “committed to staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need”. The U.N. has about 300 international staff and 3,000 local staff in Afghanistan.

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan said his team had evacuated about 700 people on Tuesday while Germany’s foreign minister said it had evacuated 500 people in total.

The Taliban have suggested they will impose their laws less severely than during their former rule, and a senior official said on Wednesday that the group’s leaders would be less reclusive than in the past.


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