By Ayesha Tanzeem
Hundreds of protesters, including dozens of women, were in the streets Tuesday in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, chanting anti-Taliban slogans as they protested Taliban rule of the country and what they say is Pakistan’s involvement.
The Taliban allowed some of the groups to walk through the streets, but they fired warning shots into the air in at least two locations, according to local media reports and video footage captured by mobile phones that is circulating on social media.
Multiple men in dark clothing fired the shots to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered outside Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul. In one instance, the bursts were so long and sustained that they sounded like a fireworks display. Afghan television footage showed people running for cover.
“Taliban members in police vehicles initially drove alongside the protesters, not preventing them from demonstrating,” reported BBC’s Secunder Kirmani, who was at one such protest.
They later fired warning shots and stopped the BBC team and several other journalists from filming the scene further.
Local media reported the Taliban detained 14 journalists for several hours. The journalists, including local Tolo news network’s Wahid Ahmadi, later were released and their equipment was returned.
According to Kabul News TV, one of its photographers, Najim Sultani, was injured, and the reporter, Emran Fazili, was beaten by the Taliban.
At a press conference Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid called the protests illegal and said protesters needed to get permission and inform the Taliban administration of the time, place, and aim of any protests. He told people to refrain from protesting until the new administration is fully functional.
Some of the crowd expressed anger directed mainly against Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan, which many Afghans say supports the Taliban. Pakistan denies these allegations, claiming it has “no favorites” in Afghanistan.
Members of the crowd, many of whom were carrying anti-Pakistan banners, at one point chanted, “Death to Taliban,” “death to Pakistan” and “Pakistan, get out from Afghanistan,” along with shouts of “freedom.”
This was the first protest after an audio message Monday from anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Massoud that called on Afghans to rise up against the Taliban.
In a press conference Monday in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Mujahid said the group had taken over Massoud’s stronghold Panjshir and declared the war over. Soon after the presser, Massoud and his followers posted messages on social media saying they were hiding in the mountains to regroup and intended to continue the fight.
Women in Afghanistan had been protesting for nearly a week for their rights, but this was the first protest in which a large number of men joined them.
At his Monday news conference, Mujahid, when questioned about women’s right to protest, said they needed to wait until the new government is formed before they protest.
“We have seen the protests by women. We are trying, and we hope to resolve their issues as soon as possible,” he said. He also warned against creating chaos, reminding people of the deadly bomb attacks outside Kabul airport last month that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 Americans.
The Taliban have asked women working in the health ministry to return to work and have allowed female students in universities to return to their classes. They have hinted, however, that their cabinet will not include a female minister.
Women in Afghanistan are demanding more clarity about their potential role in the new setup. Western governments have said they will be watching how the Taliban treat women and minorities in the country before deciding whether to give the Taliban recognition or much needed economic aid.
International human rights groups have expressed concern over the use of violence against peaceful protesters.
“Exercising right to freedom of peaceful assembly is a human right,” rights watchdog Amnesty International tweeted.