Protests against the Taliban broke out in several Afghan cities Wednesday, with the militants struggling to contain the uprising and shooting into at least one crowd of demonstrators just a day after Taliban leaders vowed to forgive people who’d fought against the group in recent years.
Afghans in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Khost held marches and carried the national flag that had been flown by the U.S.-aligned government in Kabul before the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban on Sunday.
While the protests were scattered and not necessarily indicative of a national uprising, they signaled the first serious pushback against the Taliban since the militants rolled into Kabul four days ago with almost no resistance from security forces of the former Afghan government.
The rallies Wednesday in Nangarhar and Khost devolved into clashes between protesters and Taliban fighters, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo news outlet, which reported that at least one demonstrator was killed in the northeastern city of Jalalabad.
Other reports claimed protesters were angry at Taliban efforts to replace the national flag and that Taliban fighters had fired shots into the crowd, and attacked journalists attempting to cover the protest in Jalalabad.
The attack against journalists came a day after the Taliban launched a publicity blitz in Kabul to plead for calm and convince Afghans that the group has changed its ways since ruling over Afghanistan with an iron Islamic fist two decades ago.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid held a press conference in the Afghan capital on Tuesday to assert the group will now honor women’s rights, albeit within the norms of what the Taliban defines as Islamic law.
While Mr. Mujahid provided few specific details, he said the Taliban also hopes to allow private media to “remain independent” as long as they don’t “work against national values.”
There were also reports Wednesday of chaotic skirmishes between crowds of Afghans and Taliban fighters around the external perimeter of Kabul’s international airport, where order has largely been restored in recent days by a surge of U.S. troops.
The troops are now engaged in a major evacuation of Afghan nationals deemed to be at risk of being targeted by the Taliban for work they did to help the U.S.-led occupation of the country in recent years.
The Pentagon has said the goal is to move as many as 9,000 passengers a day out of Kabul. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the Biden administration had set a deadline of Aug. 31 to complete the evacuation amid uncertainty over the extent to which the Taliban may seek to violently halt the operation.