A small group of Afghan women braved the Taliban-controlled streets of Kabul once more on Saturday to demand equal rights and the ability to participate in government, CNN has confirmed.
In a bold public challenge to the militant group’s rule, female activists have staged at least three small demonstrations across the country in the past week.
Footage shared by Afghan news network TOLO news Saturday showed a confrontation between Taliban guards and some of the women. In the video, a man on a megaphone is heard telling the small crowd “we will pass your message to the elders.” His voice appears to be calm. But towards the end of the video, women can be heard screaming, with one activist saying “why are you hitting us?”
Violence reportedly broke out after Taliban forces prevented the women from marching on to the presidential palace, according to TOLO, which reported the use of tear gas on protesters.
“Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near the former government offices for a protest. But before we got there, the Taliban hit women with electric tasers, and they used tear gas against women. They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine, and the women became bloody. There was no one to ask why,” Soraya, a former government employee present at the protest scene on Saturday, told Reuters.
A video of Afghan activist Narjis Sadat bleeding from her head was shared widely on social media, claiming she had been beaten by militant fighters at the protest. CNN has reached out to Sadat for comment.
Taliban leaders on Twitter dismissed the videos being shared online of violence at the women-led protests. The head of the Cultural Commission, Muhammad Jalal, said that these demonstrations were “a deliberate attempt to cause problems,” adding that “these people don’t even represent 0.1% of Afghanistan.”
The moves are at odds with promises from the insurgent group, whose leaders have insisted publicly that women will play a prominent role in society and have access to education. But, the group’s public statements about adhering to their interpretation of Islamic values have stoked fears of a return to the harsh policies of Taliban rule two decades ago, when women all but disappeared from public life.
Some Afghan women are already opting to remain indoors as fears mount over their safety, with some families purchasing full-length burqas for female relatives.
Dozens of women staged a similar demonstration on Friday in Kabul, and on Wednesday in the western Afghan city of Herat.
A prominent Afghan activist said she did not take part in the Herat demonstration because of a direct threat. She spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity, fearing even expressing interest in the demonstration could subject her to reprisal.
Kabul airport could reopen in days ahead
Meanwhile, a technical team was able to reopen Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to receive aid Saturday, amid ongoing preparations to prepare the facility for civilian flights, Qatar’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Saeed bin Mubarak Al-Khayarin Al-Hajar said in a statement.
Two domestic flights flew from the capital’s airport to the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar, bin Mubarak Al-Khayarin Al-Hajar confirmed.
A team of Qatari technicians are carrying out repairs at the airport, which could start receiving flights in the coming days, the statement added.
The airport has not been operational since the final withdrawal of US troops last week.
Qatar’s Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani landed in Kabul Friday. Qatari officials in Kabul are engaging in talks with the Taliban on transitioning to a government and the reopening of Kabul airport.
The Gulf state’s goal is to help establish a political settlement for lasting peace in Afghanistan ensuring security, stability and development in the country, a Qatari source with knowledge of the situation told CNN Friday.
There are three parties engaged in discussions to resume operations at Kabul airport, the source said.
Qatar is also working closely with the international community, particularly those embassies relocated to Doha from Kabul, including the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Japan, to provide safe corridors and freedom of movement for those in Afghanistan and continue cooperation in the fight against terrorism to prevent any future instability in the region, the source added.
Fighting intensifies in remote holdout region
Elsewhere, clashes have continued in several parts of the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan, the last province holding out against the Islamist takeover. Fighters of the National Resistance Front (NRF), a multi-ethnic group that includes former Afghan security force members and reportedly numbers in the thousands, have been battling a Taliban offensive for the past two weeks.
Panjshir Valley, a mountainous, inaccessible region north of Kabul, has a long history of resisting the insurgent group. In the late 1990s, it was a center of resistance against the Taliban during their rule.
A Taliban spokesman told CNN Saturday that its forces had made “considerable advances” and taken four districts of the mountainous province. The Taliban have attacked Panjshir from several directions and appear to be targeting the provincial capital, Bazarak.
An international NGO working in the area, Emergency International, said in a post on Twitter that Taliban fighters had reached the village of Anabah, which is located a few kilometers from Bazarak, on Friday night.
“During the night of Friday 3 September, Taliban forces pushed further into the Panjshir Valley, reaching the village of Anabah where EMERGENCY’s Surgical Centre and Maternity Centre are located. There has so far been no interference with EMERGENCY’s activities. We have received a small number of wounded people at the Anabah Surgical Centre,” the tweet read.
In a video message Friday, the former Vice President of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, said there had been casualties on both sides. Saleh fled to Panjshir when the previous government fell in August.
“There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation. We are under invasion by the Taliban,” he said, before adding: “We will not surrender, we are standing for Afghanistan.”
Earlier Friday, the National Resistance Front claimed it had fought back enemy attacks and surrounded Taliban militia at the Khawak Pass in the north-east of Panjshir.
In Kabul, the leader of the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan party, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, issued a warning Friday to the population of Panjshir, which is largely Tajik.
Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and veteran power broker in Afghanistan, said people should not sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. Some people in Panjshir were resisting the Taliban for personal gain and if defeated, they could go to other countries, he continued.
“Our Panjshiri brothers will be aware that the worst consequences of this war are on you more than anyone else. You will be harmed,” Hekmatyar told supporters in Kabul Friday, according to Afghan media.
CNN’s Alex Marquart and Mick Krever contributed to this report.