Taliban special forces abruptly end women’s protest
Taliban special forces in camouflage fired their weapons in the air on Saturday, bringing an abrupt and terrifying end to the recent protest march by Afghan women in the capital, who demanded equality from the new rulers.
Also on Saturday, the head of the powerful Pakistani secret service, which has an overwhelming influence on the Taliban, paid a surprise visit to Kabul.
The women’s march, the second of as many days in Kabul, began peacefully. Protesters laid a wreath outside the Afghan Ministry of Defense to honor Afghan soldiers who died fighting the Taliban before marching to the presidential palace.
“We are here to achieve human rights in Afghanistan,” said 20-year-old protester Maryam Naiby. “I love my country. I will always be here.”
As the protesters’ shouts grew louder, several Taliban officials waded into the crowd to ask what they were going to say.
Flanked by other demonstrators, Sudaba Kabiri, a 24-year-old university student, told her Taliban interlocutor that the Prophet of Islam gave women rights and that they wanted their rights. The Taliban official promised women would get their rights, but the women, all in their early 20s, were skeptical.
When the protesters reached the presidential palace, a dozen Taliban special forces stormed into the crowd, fired into the air and sent the protesters to flight. Kabiri, who spoke to The Associated Press, said they also fired tear gas.
The Taliban promised inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. But many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical and fear a withdrawal of the rights they have acquired over the past two decades.
For much of the past two weeks, Taliban officials held meetings with one another while reports of differences between them surfaced. The powerful intelligence chief of neighboring Pakistan, General Faiez Hameed, paid a surprise visit to Kabul early on Saturday. It wasn’t immediately clear what he had to say to the Taliban leadership, but Pakistani intelligence has a strong influence on the Taliban.
Faiez’s visit comes as the world waits to see what kind of government the Taliban will eventually proclaim to find an inclusive government that will protect the country’s women’s rights and minorities.
The Taliban have promised a broad-based government and have held talks with ex-President Hamid Karzai and former Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But the composition of the new government is uncertain, and it was unclear whether the tough ideologues under the Taliban will prevail and whether the setbacks feared by the women demonstrating will materialize.
Taliban members on Saturday whitewashed murals promoting health care, warning of the dangers of HIV and even paying homage to some of the iconic foreign contributors like anthropologist Nancy Dupree, who single-handedly mapped Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage. It was a worrying sign of attempts to erase memories of the past 20 years.
The murals were replaced with slogans congratulating the Afghans on their victory.
A spokesman for the Taliban Culture Commission, Ahmadullah Muttaqi, tweeted that the murals had been painted over “because they violate our values.