The Taliban used gunfire, detentions and beatings to crush dissent over their rule on Tuesday, as scores of Afghan protesters marched through Kabul in the largest demonstration the capital has seen since the militant group seized power last month.
According to photos and videos shared on social media, activists shouted in support of resistance fighters in the holdout province of Panjshir and chanted against Pakistan, which they view as meddling in Afghan affairs.
Videos from central Kabul showed dozens of men and women marching through the streets shouting “Death to Pakistan” as the demonstrators made their way towards the presidential palace.
Amid chaotic scenes on the streets, Taliban fighters intervened and shot into the air to disperse the protesters. The videos showed people scattering or crouching down amid sustained bursts of gunfire. There were no initial reports of casualties.
Witnesses estimated the crowd at between 300 and 500 people – many of whom were women wearing the hijab.
Demonstrators question Pakistan’s role
Some protesters complained about the role that the head of Pakistan’s military intelligence has played as negotiations concluded on the formation of a government. The intelligence chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, arrived in Kabul at the weekend and has been meeting senior Taliban officials, including Mullah Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s Political Bureau.
One man said: “The protest near Zanbak Square was dispersed by Taliban shooting in the air. Most of our friends went towards Serena Hotel. One group gathered here, and another group marched towards Pakistan embassy. No matter if they try to cut us off we will sprout [again], we will grow. We will not go quiet. We will never accept the enslavement and invasion of any foreigners.”
In one video from Kabul on Tuesday, a woman is seen to confront a Taliban fighter. Afghan journalist Ahmad Jawid Kargar told CNN that the Taliban detained dozens of women protesting in front of the presidential gate and took them to the basement of the Azizi Bank nearby. CNN has been unable to confirm how many people were detained.
A non-Afghan photojournalist who was one of about a dozen media representatives detained at the protest said he had been held for two hours. He told CNN: “Before detaining me, one Taliban beat me with his AK-47, on the back of my head.” He said his camera was broken but when the Taliban found out he was not Afghan they were much more polite. “They were not treating local journalists the same and made sure several times that I wasn’t one.”
The photojournalist, who asked not to be named, said it was becoming impossible to work in Kabul. “There’s nothing we can do. They ban us from coverage. We can’t do our work. They are just so aggressive. I saw this with my own eyes – I saw a man point his gun at the people, he was ready to shoot. Another guy had to stop him. He was so close to doing it. Some of them are just uncontrollable.”
The photojournalist added: “There were around 500 people at the protest today. Women were being detained in an outdoor parking lot. They were not allowed out of that space. That was their method of detaining and stopping them.”
According to several social media accounts of Afghan journalists, at least some of the reporters and cameramen who had been detained have since been released.
A number had been beaten, according to the social media accounts of their organizations.
Kabul News posted on Twitter that Ahmad Najim Sultani, a photographer for Kabul News TV, was injured and Imran Fazli, a journalist, was beaten during today’s protest in Kabul. “The Taliban also confiscated photography equipment,” it said.
The Afghan network TOLO news said in a tweet: “Waheed Ahmadi, a TOLO news photographer, was released by Taliban forces after a three-hour detention. The Taliban returned the photos to Mr Ahmadi with a camera.”
Ariana News, another private TV network based in Kabul, had also said that its reporter and cameraman were detained.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a post on Twitter that it is “deeply concerned about reports on use of violence against peaceful protestors & journalists in Kabul by the Taliban. Exercising right to freedom of peaceful assembly is a human right. Taliban must respect & allow people to exercise their rights.”
While Human Rights Watch tweeted: “In yet another indication that #Afghanistan’s new rulers will not tolerate peaceful dissent, the Taliban again used force to crush a protest by hundreds of #Afghan women calling for their rights today.”
The protests in Kabul also saw people chanting slogans in favor of the leader of the National Resistance Front (NRF), Ahmad Masoud, who has been leading opposition to the Taliban from the province of Panjshir. On Monday he called for a national uprising against Taliban rule as the militant group claimed victory in the mountainous region, following two weeks of intense fighting with the NRF. The NRF denied that claim, however, with spokesman Ali Nazary telling CNN: “The resistance is still all over the valley.”
One man told Reuters: “I have come today to ask why Pakistan is destroying Panjshir. I am from Panjshir. People need to express their anger, men and women, they must not stay silent. Pakistan enters my country and destroys it. Neither Pakistan nor the Taliban or Al-Qaeda have this right. Long live Panjshir and its resistance.”
Questioned about the handling of the protests at a press conference to announce the new government,Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that illegal demonstrations would not be allowed. He said protesters must observe the rules during the current emergency in the country.
He dismissed the claims by protesters about Pakistani interference in Afghanistan, saying they were rumors that had been circulated for two decades.
There have previously been a number of smaller protests in Kabul and other Afghan cities in the last week that have seen female activists call on the Taliban to respect their rights and allow them to participate in government. One protest by women in Kabul was broken up at the weekend.
According to multiple videos and images posted on social media Tuesday, there was also a protest in the western Afghan city of Herat at which “Death to Pakistan” was also chanted. In several videos, gunfire could be heard as protesters ran or took cover. At least 2 people died and 3 others were wounded, according to an official at the Herat regional hospital, who asked that his name not be disclosed for his safety.
The casualties were caused by the Taliban “firing shots into the air” to try to disperse the crowds of protestors, the hospital official said. The Taliban have not yet commented publicly on the deaths.