The Taliban attacked Afghan women protesters demanding equal rights today as they fired shots into the air and ‘let off tear gas’ during a peaceful march.
The women’s march – the second in as many days in the capital – began with demonstrators laying a wreath outside Afghanistan’s defence ministry to honour soldiers who have died fighting the extremist group, before moving on to the presidential palace.
But the peaceful protest descended into chaos and turned violent as Taliban special forces waded into the crowd, firing shots into the air and sending demonstrators fleeing.
Witnesses said Taliban forces also used tear gas to stop the protest, with women seen coughing and clutching their throats in videos shared widely across social media.
One prominent protester, 20-year-old Maryam Naiby, said of the campaign in the wake of the Taliban seizing power: ‘We are here to gain human rights in Afghanistan. I love my country. I will always be here.’
When the Taliban first gained hold of the country some two decades ago, women and girls were mostly denied education and employment.
Burqas became mandatory in public, women could not leave home without a male companion, and street protests were unthinkable.
While the group has promised a more inclusive government, many women in the country remain skeptical.
The peaceful march descended into chaos as Taliban special forces waded into the crowd, firing shots into the air and sending demonstrators fleeing
There were chaotic scenes as the special forces marched into the protest
The Taliban official promised women would be given their rights, but the women, all in their early 20s, were skeptical
A woman joins a group to demand their rights under the Taliban rule
Taliban kill 17 and injure 41 with celebratory gunfire as false rumours spread that they had beaten rebels in Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley
Taliban and opposition forces were fighting on Saturday for control of the Panjshir valley north of Kabul, the last province in Afghanistan holding out against the Islamist militia, according to reports.
Taliban sources had said on Friday the group had seized control of the valley, although the resistance denied it had fallen.
The Taliban have so far issued no public declaration that they had taken the valley, which resisted their rule when they were last in power in Kabul in 1996-2001.
A spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, which groups opposition forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said Taliban forces reached the Darband heights on the border between Kapisa province and Panjshir but were pushed back.
As the protesters’ shouts grew louder, several Taliban officials waded into the crowd to ask what they wanted to say.
Flanked by fellow demonstrators, Sudaba Kabiri, a 24-year-old university student, told her Taliban interlocutor that Islam’s Prophet gave women rights, and they wanted theirs.
The Taliban official promised women would be given their rights, but the women, all in their early 20s, were skeptical.
Taliban fighters quickly captured most of Afghanistan last month and celebrated the departure of the last US forces after 20 years of war.
The insurgent group must now govern a war-ravaged country that is heavily reliant on international aid.
The Taliban have promised an inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.
But many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical and fear a rollback of rights gained over the last two decades.
For much of the past two weeks, Taliban officials have been holding meetings among themselves, amid reports of differences between them.
Earlier today, neighbouring Pakistan’s powerful intelligence chief Gen Faiez Hameed made a surprise visit to Kabul.
It was not immediately clear what he had to say to the Taliban leadership, but the Pakistani intelligence service has a strong influence on the Taliban.
The Taliban leadership had its headquarters in Pakistan and were often said to be in direct contact with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Although Pakistan routinely denies providing the Taliban with military aid, the accusation was often made by the Afghan government and Washington.
Many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical and fear a rollback of rights gained over the last two decades
UN to hold aid summit in Geneva to avert ‘looming humanitarian catastrophe’ in Afghanistan
The United Nations chief will convene a ministerial meeting in Geneva on September 13 to seek a swift scale-up in funding to address the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where nearly half the country’s 38 million people need assistance.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric made the announcement Friday and said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will also appeal ‘for full and unimpeded humanitarian access to make sure Afghans continue to get the essential services they need.’
Dujarric said the UN appeal for $1.3billion for 2021 to help more than 18 million people is just 40 per cent funded, leaving a $766million deficit.
‘Afghanistan faces a looming humanitarian catastrophe,’ the UN spokesman said. ‘One in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from. Nearly half of all children under the age of 5 are predicted to be acutely malnourished in the next 12 months.’
Earlier Friday, Dujarric said the secretary-general is ‘very grateful for the generosity’ of Denmark, Kazakhstan, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the United States for making available facilities and transport for the temporary relocation of UN staff in Afghanistan.
Dujarric announced August 18 that about 100 of the UN’s 300 international staff were being moved to Kazakhstan to work remotely because of security concerns.
Gen Faiez’s visit comes as the world waits to see what kind of government the Taliban will eventually announce, seeking one that is inclusive and ensures protection of women’s rights and the country’s minorities.
The Taliban have promised a broad-based government and have held talks with former president Hamid Karzai and the former government’s negotiation chief Abdullah Abdullah.
But the makeup of the new government is uncertain and it is unclear whether hard-line ideologues among the Taliban will win the day – and whether the rollbacks feared by the demonstrating women will occur.
Taliban members whitewashed murals on Saturday, some of which promoted health care, warned of the dangers of HIV and even paid homage to foreign contributors, like anthropologist Nancy Dupree, who singlehandedly chronicled Afghanistan’s rich cultural legacy.
It is a worrying sign of attempts to erase reminders of the past 20 years.
The murals were replaced with slogans congratulating Afghans on their victory.
A Taliban cultural commission spokesman, Ahmadullah Muttaqi, tweeted that the murals were painted over ‘because they are against our values. They were spoiling the minds of the mujahedeen, and instead we wrote slogans that will be useful to everyone’.
The young women demonstrators said they have had to defy their worried families to press ahead with protests, even sneaking out of their homes to take their demands for equal rights.
Farhat Popalzai, another 24-year-old university student, said she wanted to represent women too afraid to come out on the street.
‘I am the voice of the women who are unable to speak,’ she said. ‘They think this is a man’s country but it is not – it is a woman’s country, too.’
Ms Popalzai and her fellow demonstrators are too young to remember the Taliban rule that ended in 2001 with the US-led invasion. The say their fear is based on the stories they have heard of women not being allowed to go to school or to work.
Ms Naiby has already operated a women’s organisation and is a spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Paralympics.
John Major blasts ‘very stupid’ British withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and says failure to rescue all Afghans who worked for UK was ‘shameful’
Withdrawing from Afghanistan was ‘strategically very stupid’ and the failure to evacuate all Afghans who worked for Britain was ‘shameful’, former prime minister Sir John Major has said.
The Conservative said on Saturday the move to pull out allied troops ‘abruptly and in my view unnecessarily’ will be a ‘stain on the reputation of the West’ for at least a lifetime.
Sir John’s excoriating criticism came after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab returned from his diplomatic tour to try to assist those left behind after the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghans who helped British efforts there, their relatives and other vulnerable civilians, are feared to have been left behind after the US decided to pull out its troops.
Sir John, speaking at the FT Weekend Festival, said: ‘I think we were wrong to leave Afghanistan, I think we were wrong morally but we were also wrong practically.
‘I think it was shameful that we weren’t able to take out those who had worked for us in one capacity or another, or who had worked carrying out the changes to Afghanistan that the Taliban won’t approve of.
‘It’s also I think strategically very stupid.’
The former prime minister rebuked US President Joe Biden for insisting his troops had to leave the nation so swiftly by the hard deadline of the end of August after two decades in Afghanistan.
‘The fact that it was left in that fashion will leave a stain on the reputation of the West that will last for a very long time and certainly through the whole of the lifetime of those people in Afghanistan whom we have returned to Taliban rule,’ Sir John said.
Mr Raab, who has been criticised for holidaying in Crete in August as the Taliban swept to power last month, has been unable to say how many Afghans were left behind.
More than 8,000 former Afghan staff and their family members were among the 15,000-plus people evacuated by the UK since August 13.
But up to 1,100 Afghans deemed eligible were estimated to have been left behind, though that figure will fall short of the true number the UK would wish to help.
The Foreign Secretary held talks in Pakistan in order to discuss British nationals and Afghan citizens crossing the land border in order to find safety.
He also visited Qatar for talks about reopening Kabul airport in order to resume evacuations.
With the House of Commons returning from its summer recess on Monday, Mr Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are expected to come under renewed pressure to explain their response to the crisis and how they will help more people leave the country.