The Taliban on Thursday urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing the country to go home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone, a day after Taliban fighters fired at protesters, killing three, witnesses said.
The United States and other Western powers pressed on with the evacuation of their nationals and some of their Afghan staff from the airport on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, triggering more protests against the Islamists.
Today, August 19, Afghanistan celebrates its Independence Day to mark the 1919 victory of King Amanullah Khan in the Third Anglo-Afghan War. However, this year, it is not sure if Afghans will be in a celebratory mood after witnessing how rapidly their elected civilian government collapsed with the Taliban capturing power in Kabul on August 15.
With the United States withdrawing its troops, the Taliban was expected to gain the upper hand. Still, none expected the civilian government, government institutions, especially the 300,000 strong Afghan forces, to crumble like a house of cards. The US has rightly been criticized for the timing and the manner of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has led to chaos across the country.
Taliban is saying it’s time of freedom.
Flag-waving protesters took to the streets of several Afghan cities on Thursday as popular opposition to the Taliban spread, and a witness said several people were killed when the militants fired on a crowd.
“Our flag, our identity,” a crowd of men and some women waving black, red, and green national flags shouted in the capital, a video clip posted on social media showed, on the day Afghanistan celebrates its 1919 independence from British control.
One woman walked with a flag wrapped around her shoulders.
A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The Taliban have presented a moderate face to the world since they marched into Kabul on Sunday, saying they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect women’s rights within the framework of their interpretation of Islamic law.
How the Taliban handle the protests, which have included people tearing down white Taliban flags, according to media, could determine whether people put faith in their assurances that they had changed since their 1996-2001 rule, when they severely restricted women, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.
In Asadabad, the capital of the eastern province of Kunar, several people were killed during a rally. Still, it was unclear if the casualties resulted from Taliban firing or a stampede that triggered, witness Mohammed Salim said.
“Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” Salim said. “At first, I was scared and didn’t want to go, but when I saw one of my neighbors joined in, I took out the flag I have at home.
“Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
Protesters also took to the streets of Jalalabad and a district of Paktia province, both in the east.
On Wednesday, Taliban fighters fired at protesters waving flags in Jalalabad, killing three witnesses and media reported.
The media reported similar scenes in Asadabad and another eastern city, Khost, on Wednesday.
Rails of Lies
“It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK-47s,” said one person trying to get out on Wednesday.
A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse the crowd. The situation was calmer on Thursday, witnesses said.
Under a pact negotiated last year by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee they would not let Afghanistan be used to launch terrorist attacks.
The Taliban also agreed not to attack foreign forces as they left.
First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is trying to rally opposition to the Taliban, expressed support for the protests.
“Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for the dignity of the nation,” he said on Twitter.
Saleh said on Tuesday he was in Afghanistan and the “legitimate caretaker president” after President Ashraf Ghani fled as the Taliban took Kabul on Sunday.
The return of the Islamic Emirate
There is an old saying – Be careful what you wish for. China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan were the most vociferous in demanding the United States (US) exit from Afghanistan. However, now that images of people hanging on to a C-17 Globemaster, as it taxis for take-off, evoking parallels with the fall of Saigon in April 1975, have been seen with smug satisfaction in Islamabad, Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow, the grim reality is seeping in. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has already expressed his unhappiness at the US’s “hasty” exit.
The key question now is if there really is a Taliban 2.0 or just a more.
The fall of Kabul raises several questions about the future of the jihadist movement, from the plans being pondered by global organizations like al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS) to the reaction of local actors such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Syrian group that views the Taliban as a model. Answering these questions can help policymakers better understand the current situation and how the environment could change going forward.
Although no one can predict the trajectory of events in Afghanistan with any uncertainty, several developments merit further attention. First, the Taliban takeover led to prison breaks that freed AQ operatives (and likely members of other groups). The fall of Bagram Air Base was particularly relevant since it held the most important AQ prisoners. This outflow of jihadist veterans will likely jumpstart AQ’s efforts to rebuild its local infrastructure.
Yet without information on who exactly escaped, it is difficult to determine whether historically significant figures remain within AQ’s AfPak network or if it is mainly composed of newer figures these days, whether local or regional foreign fighters. To close this gap and enable better assessments of AQ’s future in Afghanistan, the U.S. government should declassify the names of those key figures imprisoned at Bagram and other facilities.
The Bottom Line
This failure can be attributed to how the US treated Afghanistan as a colony, undermining its government, to the point of keeping it in the dark about the February 2020 deal, particularly on the question of the release of over 7,000 Taliban prisoners.
What has brought things to such a pass is Washington’s lack of understanding of Afghanistan, its people and cultural sensitivity, the lack of coordination between the Afghan army and Nato forces, and the heavy reliance of local forces on US airpower. This was why once they withdrew the air support, the Afghan army personnel could not hold ground for long.