Taliban fighters interrupted a women’s rights march in Kabul with gunfire as fierce fighting continued in Afghanistan’s last rebel stronghold and the top U.S. military general warned the country risked descending into a larger civil war.
Camouflaged members of the Islamist militia fired shots in the air on Saturday to disperse the second protest march in as many days in the capital by Afghan women demanding equal rights for the new leaders.
“We are here to obtain human rights in Afghanistan,” protester Maryam Naiby told The Associated Press. ” I love my country. Others in the march of a dozen said the Prophet Muhammad had given women rights and they wanted theirs.
The Taliban have pledged to be more moderate than their previous regime of 1996-2001, which applied a radical form of Sharia law, barring women from access to education and employment, enforcing strict dress codes and brutally punishing the transgressors.
Officials assured the women on Saturday that their rights would be respected, but outside the presidential palace, at least a dozen special forces soldiers ran at the protesters, shooting in the air and causing them to flee.
A protester said the fighters used tear gas and stun guns against the participants, who were carrying banners and a bouquet of flowers. “They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine, and the women became bloody,” she said.
Farhat Popalzai, a 24-year-old student, said she spoke on behalf of Afghan women who were too afraid to go out. “I am the voice of women who are unable to speak,” she said. “They think it is the country of men but it is not, it is also the country of women. “
The composition of the new government remains uncertain, with any announcement being pushed back to next week amid reports of heated disagreements between extremists in the Islamist movement and those who wish to pursue a more inclusive line.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, reported by some Taliban sources as being in line to lead the new government, told Al Jazeera that the new administration will include all factions of Afghans. “The government will provide security,” he said.
But Taliban fighters painted murals promoting health care and warning of the dangers of HIV, replacing them with slogans hailing the victory. Taliban spokesman Ahmadullah Muttaqi said the murals were “against our values”.
North of Kabul, meanwhile, militia forces pushed deep into the Panjshir Valley as heavy fighting unfolded in the latest rebel area to resist its flash takeover of the country last month, both parties making conflicting claims about their progress.
Spokesman Bilal Karimi said Taliban forces now hold four of the seven districts of Panjshir and “advance towards the center” of the province, which was resisting Soviet Union occupation and the first Taliban regime. .
But the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, regrouping forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said it had surrounded “thousands of terrorists” in Khawak Pass and that the Taliban had abandoned vehicles and equipment in the region of. Dashte Rewak.
In a Facebook post, Massoud insisted that the Panjshir “continues to stand firm”. Praising “our honorable sisters”, he said the women’s protests in Kabul and Herat in the west of the country showed that the Afghans had not renounced justice and “feared no threat. “.
Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, however, warned of a “large-scale humanitarian crisis” in the province, and international observers have said the rebels’ chances of resisting the seasoned Taliban army for long appear slim.
But many also question the Taliban’s ability to transform from armed insurgents into the government of a country that is rapidly heading into a crushing economic and humanitarian crisis.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, said he believed there was “a very good likelihood of a wider civil war.” He said he was unsure whether the movement would be “able to consolidate power and establish governance.”
Speaking to Fox News from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Milley said such a failure “would in turn lead to a re-enactment of al-Qaida, or a growth of the Islamic State, or a myriad of other terrorist groups ”, warning against“ a resurgence of terrorism coming out of this general region within 12, 24, 36 months ”.
As the international community timidly began to engage with the new regime, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to visit Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga and the location of the Taliban’s political office, on Monday.
Blinken will then travel to Germany to lead a virtual 20-country ministerial meeting on Afghanistan alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called a high-level meeting in Geneva on September 13 to focus on humanitarian assistance to the country.
Pakistani intelligence chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, who heads the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, visited Kabul on Saturday. Washington has accused Pakistan and the ISI of supporting the Taliban in the group’s two-decade struggle to regain power, although Islamabad has denied the charges.
The Qatari ambassador to Afghanistan said a technical team was able to reopen the Kabul airport, closed to international traffic since the end of the US-led evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans, other foreigners and Afghans considered threatened by the Taliban.