Afghan women took to the streets of Kabul to protest for a second consecutive day, outraged by the formation of a hard-line Taliban government and posing an unfamiliar challenge to a movement that has never tackled peaceful demonstrations.
While officials of the Taliban’s newly restored Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan say they support freedom of speech and of media, Taliban fighters dispersed Wednesday’s protests using violence. They also detained and beat several Afghan journalists who covered the events and tried to force foreign reporters to delete footage from their cameras and phones.
The new administration, announced Tuesday night, is made up only of men and doesn’t include anyone who didn’t hold a leadership position during the 20-year insurgency. It has promised to institute strict Islamic rule, curbing many social freedoms that Afghans in Kabul and other big cities used to enjoy.
“Their government doesn’t count us as citizens of this country even though we are half of the population. We don’t care if they beat us or even shoot us, we want to defend our rights,” said one woman who protested in western Kabul’s Karte Char neighborhood Wednesday morning. “We will continue our protests even if we get killed.” Taliban fighters called the women agents of America and berated them for not being true Muslims, she said.
The Taliban, who conquered Kabul on Aug. 15, face no significant armed opposition after seizing the capital of the only holdout province, Panjshir, on Monday. The unrest in Kabul and some other big cities represents a different kind of threat, especially as Afghanistan’s economic crisis deepens.
Seeking international recognition and a resumption of foreign aid, the Taliban are trying to calibrate their response: They aim to maintain control of Kabul’s streets without eliciting international condemnation. In the absence of a trained police force that is difficult, with Taliban fighters who fired in the air as they tried to disperse protesters Tuesday hitting the windows of a hotel housing foreign reporters.
While Taliban officials branded demonstrations as illegitimate earlier this week, a senior official in the newly established ministry of information, Enamullah Samangani, said the situation has changed since the interim government assumed its duties Wednesday.
“We were in an emergency. The protests were before the right time. From now on, this problem will be solved,” he said in an interview in Kabul. “We always support the peaceful demonstrations and will not create problems in this regard.”
To maintain order, a special uniformed security force will be deployed across Kabul soon, and fighters without uniform will be withdrawn from the capital, he added. Some of the more violent behavior in recent days came from Taliban clad in traditional countryside attire, most of them rural fighters from neighboring provinces who have had limited training.
Both the uniformed and the plainclothes Taliban interfered with journalists trying to cover Wednesday’s protests, which erupted in several areas of Kabul, said Zaki Daryabi, publisher of the independent Etilaatroz newspaper. Three of his journalists were detained in Karte Char while covering the protests, as were two others who went to the police station to seek their colleagues’ release, he said. All were released later in the day, but some had to seek hospital treatment after being severely beaten during detention, he added.
The Taliban’s chief spokesman “announced that they are for the freedom of the press, for the free media, but the fighters on the ground are against this order as we see,” Mr. Daryabi said.
The new government is made up exclusively of core members of the Islamist movement, with a U.S.-designated global terrorist with a $5 million FBI bounty on his head, Sirajuddin Haqqani, taking over the interior ministry responsible for police and internal security.
With the exception of two Tajiks and one Uzbek, all positions went to members of the Pashtun ethnic group, Afghanistan’s largest. Women and members of the Shiite Hazara community, which accounts for roughly one-fifth of the population, weren’t represented at all.
The government’s makeup belied the Taliban’s promises of creating an inclusive administration to reflect Afghan society. “There is room for improvement in diversity, to put it mildly,” the European Union’s envoy to Afghanistan, Andreas von Brandt, tweeted Wednesday. U.S. officials have also expressed concern about the record of the new government’s members, and about the lack of inclusion.
China adopted a different tone. The government’s formation “has ended the more than three weeks of anarchy in Afghanistan and is a necessary step toward Afghanistan’s restoration of order and postwar reconstruction,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said at a briefing Wednesday.
Unlike the U.S., other Western nations and India, China kept its embassy in Kabul operational after American forces withdrew on Aug. 30, alongside Russia, Pakistan, Turkey and Qatar. No country, however, has formally recognized the newly restored Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Its previous incarnation was ousted by the U.S. invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that Osama bin Laden plotted on Afghan soil.
No inauguration ceremony for Afghanistan’s new administration was being planned, said Mr. Samangani. “It was very necessary to declare the cabinet because people were confused,” he said. “There is no plan to celebrate. It is a temporary, acting, and changeable cabinet.”
Now that the Islamic Emirate’s government is in place, it will soon appoint new ambassadors and seek to open diplomatic missions around the world, Mr. Samangani added.
“We want to have good relations with the whole world. We want the West, too, to be connected with us. We don’t want to have relations just with Russia and China,” he said. “We are hopeful that other countries will recognize us as soon as possible.”
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