Afghans defy Taliban with mass protests because ‘we can’t remain silent’

Taliban fighters crack down on demonstrations as protesters try to protect their rights

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Taliban fighters in Kabul fired warning shots and beat protesters demonstrating against the militant group on Tuesday, as unrest broke out in cities across the country.

Eyewitnesses in Kabul told The National that several women were injured after taking part in the protests.

“They shot at us and beat protesters. They beat the people taking the videos and even the journalists,” said one of the protesters, who said his name was Haider.

Several women were among those injured in the clashes, he added.

“I don’t know how many were injured but I saw women who were bleeding,” he said.

“One woman took off her headscarf to use it to stop the bleeding of another protester and was also beaten by a Taliban fighter who called her immodest,” he said.

Afghan news channel Tolo News reported that one of its video journalists, Waheed Ahmadi, was detained by Taliban fighters while covering Tuesday’s protests in the capital.

“Our colleague Waheed Ahmadi, who has covered many frontlines over the years, is arrested by the Taliban in Kabul for filming an Afghan women's protest. I call on the Taliban to release our colleague asap,” Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of Tolo news, said on social media.

The mass protests erupted in Balkh, Daikundi and Bamyan provinces late on Monday and continued into Tuesday.

Afghans at the rallies chanted anti-Taliban as well as anti-Pakistan slogans, demanding the withdrawal of Pakistani intelligence officials who arrived in Kabul on Saturday.

Chants of “death to Pakistan” and “Azadi [freedom]” echoed across central and west Kabul on Tuesday.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies have often been accused of sheltering and supporting the Taliban.

Many Afghans saw the arrival in Kabul of Faiz Hamid, the head of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, at a time when the Taliban was struggling to form a government, as proof of Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan’s conflict.

In a video shared with The National by one woman protesting against the Taliban, she shouts:

“We are not here to ask for a job or even the right to work. We are here to fend the blood of our youth. We are here to defend our country from Pakistan. Why is Pakistan interfering? Why has their chief of ISI been here for six nights. Why are they in my land?”

Taliban would like to believe that the foreigners took the freedoms and rights with them, but they did not – those values are our own, and they live within us

Other women The National spoke to voiced similar anger.

Masouma, 20, said: “All we want is freedom. It is our inalienable right.

“How is it that in just a matter of days, I can no longer write what I want, or listen to music or walk the streets of my Kabul? My whole future was snatched away.”

'The future that was once so bright, now seems so dark'

For some protesters, it was worth risking Taliban reprisals to stand up for their rights.

Haider, in Kabul, said he was protesting because being “silent is a constant death. It is better to embrace death once while raising our voices, but we can’t keep dying over and again by staying quiet against injustice”.

Most of those taking to the streets, he said, were younger than 30.

“This is the generation that was betrayed and abandoned by their international allies. The Taliban would like to believe that the foreigners took the freedoms and rights with them, but they did not — those values are our own, and they live within us,” he said.

After seeing Taliban fighters filming the protests and photographing some of the demonstrators, Haider said he feared there will be retribution.

“I realise that they will use these to come after us later. But we can’t remain silent either,” he said, as he left to join another protest in a different part of the city.

Masouma said she and her fellow protesters supported the resistance in Panjshir — the last bastion fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“I can relate to the resistance in Panjshir because they are also fighting for freedom. One of the conditions their movement seeks is equal rights for women,” she said.

Many of Masouma’s friends were forced to flee the country as the Taliban took over.

But she stayed behind, hoping to make a difference.

“I wanted to pursue my further study in counter-terrorism and extremist groups, and now we are surrounded and suppressed by them. The future that was once so bright, now seems so dark,” she said.

Updated: September 07, 2021, 3:00 PM