As demonstrations spread, Taliban face growing challenges

Protesters took to the streets to rally against Taliban rule for the second day Thursday, this time marching in Kabul, including near the presidential palace. At one demonstration in the city, about 200 people had gathered before the Taliban broke it up violently.

The Taliban announced a curfew in the southeastern city of Khost, also on Thursday, after protests there. Authorities did not say how long it would be in effect.

And several people were killed in the eastern city of Asadabad when Taliban fighters fired on people waving the national flag at a rally Thursday, Afghanistan’s annual Independence Day, according to a witness cited by Reuters.

It was not clear whether the casualties had come from the gunshots or from a stampede they set off, the witness, Mohammed Salim, was quoted by the news agency as saying.

It was a remarkable display of defiance, coming just one day after violence broke out at protests in two other cities, with Taliban members shooting into crowds and beating demonstrators.

Protesters rally against Taliban rule in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

It was also further evidence that while tens of thousands are now seeking escape, there were many more left behind and determined to have a voice in the kind of country in which they live.

After sweeping so quickly into power, the reality of governing a changed nation is proving as difficult for the Taliban as their military blitz across the nation’s provinces was fast.

Many critical workers are hiding in their homes, fearful of retribution despite promises of amnesty. And services like electricity, sanitation and clean water could soon be affected, aid agencies say.

While the Taliban, for now, have a monopoly on the use of force, there is no functioning police service in any traditional sense. Instead, former fighters are patrolling checkpoints and — in many cases, according to witness accounts — administering the law as they see fit.

Taliban members ride in a truck amidst protesters rallying against Taliban rule in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

The Taliban leadership’s suggestion this week that the brutality that defined their rule two decades ago was a thing of the past has not always been matched by the actions of the foot soldiers on the street.

Taliban members are intensifying a search for people who they believe worked with U.S. and NATO forces, including among the crowds of Afghans outside Kabul’s airport, and have threatened to kill or arrest their family members if they cannot find them, according to a confidential United Nations document.

Afghans, fleeing the country, face violence from the Taliban on the dangerous road to the airport, where the U.S. military has tried to quell the continued chaos. The sound of fighter jets roaring over Kabul was nearly constant Thursday as more U.S. and international forces raced to evacuate foreign nationals, many still trapped outside the airport.

Women walk past patrolling Taliban members in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)

As they struggle with the immediate crisis, the Taliban is facing threats to the long-term stability of the state. The new regime is finding itself frozen out financially.

The International Monetary Fund said Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves, a decision that followed pressure from the Biden administration. An agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt.

The assistance is critical in a country where the U.N. estimates that many are going hungry.

“That’s 14 million people, including 2 million children who are malnourished,” the World Food Program said in a statement.

Some protests turned violent when demonstrators tried to tear down the new Taliban flag and replace it with the tricolors of the Afghan one.

A Taliban member tries to hit a woman who was waiting to get access to the international airport with her family and others in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in order to flee the country. (Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)

“Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for dignity of the nation and the country,” a top official for the deposed Afghan government, Amrullah Saleh, wrote on Twitter.

In the 20th century, there have been at least 19 iterations of the flag.

Afghanistan — a nation with a brutal history, but also home to beautiful natural wonders and a quilt of cultures — is now the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The Taliban reasserted its new regime in a tweet on Thursday commemorating the anniversary of independence from British rule more than a century ago.

That anniversary was also the occasion for the street protests, with many calling for independence from Taliban rule.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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