Ikramullah was at work at a car wash in Kandahar city on Saturday when he got an urgent call from his family.
The 28-year-old rushed home to find a group of armed Taliban fighters had arrived at his house, demanding that they leave the property in the next three days.
“They came in their ranger cars and ordered us to leave the house in three days. They wanted to take our house with their gun power and force,” he told The National. “They said we were not even allowed any of the items or even the windows, doors, water tank or anything else that we had invested in these houses”.
Ikramullah, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is among 3,000 families living in the Firqa neighbourhood of Kandahar now left homeless by the Taliban. The area was home to employees of the Afghan government.
Angered by the injustice of losing their homes, hundreds of residents of the southern city, including women, came out to protest.
“The house we live in was given to my father for his service in the army. I have lived there for most of my life. We are 11 members in a family who could become homeless,” Ikramullah said.
The houses at the centre of the dispute were originally allotted to members of various Afghan security departments under previous governments, some that date as far back as the rule of President Mohammed Daoud Khan in the 1970s.
“The Taliban are checking the houses of those who worked for the government and the Taliban demanded that we evacuate. We have lived here for over a decade and invested everything we had to build this house. How can we leave and where do we go?” asked Samiullah, 23, a shopkeeper whose family had also been told to leave the only home they have known.
“They are trying to snatch the roof over our heads, so they can come and live in it, or probably give it to their own families,” he said.
The Kandahar protests are part of growing demonstrations taking place across the country by Afghans dissatisfied with Taliban rule.
In Kabul, repeated demonstrations by women demanding their rights prompted the Taliban to make gatherings illegal. Many women also joined the Kandahar protests to “protect our homes”, an affront to the Taliban regime that has already limited women’s presence in the public sphere.
Ikramullah said the Taliban responded violently to the protests, and he accused them of beating the demonstrators. “Our march ended when Taliban fighters started beating the crowds. We had no option but to leave”, he said.
A local Taliban-appointed official in Kandahar denied accusations that the protests were met with violence.
“Of course, people have the right to raise their voice and share their concern through demonstration,” he told The National.
The official, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the Taliban were attempting to seize the neighbourhood.
“Let’s not forget that this particular neighbourhood has been used to accommodate the security forces and their family members. The local government will have a decision in the coming days or weeks. We understand the people's concern and we expect people to understand our situation as well,” he said.
The Taliban official also said that the governor of Kandahar, Haji Muhammad Wafa, had taken note of protesters' grievances. “There are some confusions on the approach of the evacuation. We have ordered that they can stay until further notice, ” he said. “We are trying to find the best possible solution.”
However, Ikramullah said that despite the governor’s reassurances, the Taliban fighters have been returning to their homes and harassing residents. “The same night the governor said we could stay till further notice, the Taliban returned in their rangers and with their guns, telling us to leave by morning. They even forbade us from taking out belongings,” he said.
“We are poor people. There are nights we sleep without a meal. Every Afghani we had, we spent on building these houses, and they are snatching them from us. What kind of justice is that?” he asked angrily.
“They want to take everything with the power of a weapon. They don’t care about justice and they do not respect the laws and traditions. Everything is about force and oppression,” he added.