Defiant protesters waved Afghan flags in scattered rallies Thursday to mark the country’s independence day, as a UN document suggests the Taliban are detaining blacklisted people for working with the Afghan government or forces. led by the United States.
As the small-scale demonstrations unfolded, the son of the nation’s most famous resistance fighter vowed to take up arms against hardline Islamists, who are back in power after being toppled in an invasion led by America almost 20 years ago.
Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban stormed the capital Kabul on Sunday, completing a shocking defeat of government forces in a matter of days.
The United States said Thursday that it had flown some 7,000 people out of Kabul in the past five days, and that the Taliban appeared to be cooperating to allow Afghan nationals registered for special US visas to reach the airport.
Small groups of Afghans waved the country’s black, red and green flags in Kabul and in a handful of suburbs on Thursday to celebrate the anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, sometimes in full view of patrolling Taliban fighters.
“My demand from the international community, the (UN) Security Council, is that they turn their attention to Afghanistan and not allow the achievements of 20 years to be wasted,” said one protester.
There were unconfirmed reports of gunfire in the northeastern city of Kunar, after Taliban fighters fired to disperse dozens of flag-waving Afghans in Jalalabad on Wednesday.
The Taliban have raised their own black and white banner over government buildings in Kabul.
‘Door to door visits’
Leaders of the movement have repeatedly vowed not to take revenge on their opponents, while seeking to project an image of tolerance.
But a confidential United Nations document, provided by its threat assessment consultants and seen by AFP, says the Taliban have been conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” in search of people they want to arrest.
The greatest risk is people who had central roles in Afghan military, police and intelligence units, but those who worked for US and NATO forces were also included on “priority lists,” according to the report.
The militants are also screening people on the way to Kabul airport and have set up checkpoints in major cities, including the capital and Jalalabad, according to the document.
Memories of the brutal Taliban regime of the 1990s, which saw music and television banned, people stoned to death and women confined to their homes, have sparked panic about what awaits Afghans.
Women begin to withdraw from public view in the early days of the Taliban government
In the Panjshir valley northeast of Kabul, the country’s last stronghold, Ahmad Massoud, son of Afghanistan’s most famous anti-Taliban fighter, Ahmed Shah Massoud, said he was “ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
“But we need more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies,” Massoud said.
‘A situation worse than death’
The United States, which successfully toppled the first Taliban regime in 2001 following the September 11 attacks, was just weeks away from completing its military withdrawal when militants took power.
Now, more than 5,200 American soldiers are back to facilitate the airlift of American citizens and Afghan allies who worked with American forces.
Chaos erupted at the airport this week, as frantic Afghans searched for a way out of the country.
>> Gunfire and barbed wire prevent Afghans from reaching Kabul airport
An Afghan sports federation announced that a footballer for the national youth team had died after falling from a US plane he was desperately clinging to as he took off.
The Group of Seven and the heads of various UN agencies echoed U.S. calls for the Taliban to allow safe passage for Afghans trying to leave, but Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the situation was improving.
“We have indications this morning that that process is working,” he told reporters.
State Department spokesman Ned Price later said there had been “productive talks” with the Taliban “about the need and imperative to ensure safe passage.”
Unconfirmed reports say several people have died as US forces and the Taliban, separated by an unofficial no-man’s-land, struggle to contain desperate crowds.
“I went to the airport with my children and my family … the Taliban and the Americans were shooting,” said one man, who until recently had worked for a foreign non-governmental organization.
“Despite that, people moved forward only because they knew that a situation worse than death awaited them outside the airport.”
‘The system has been changed’
Many are struggling to believe the Taliban’s promises of a “positively different” regime this time around.
An Afghan journalist made a desperate request on social media Thursday after she was banned from the television station where she worked.
“Male employees … were allowed into the office, but they told me that I could not continue my duty because the system had been changed,” said news anchor Shabnam Dawran, adding: “Our lives are threatened “.
The Taliban are moving towards establishing a government, with co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar returning from exile and other top figures meeting with former President Hamid Karzai and other former government officials.
The group said it wants “good diplomatic relations” with all countries, but will not accept any interference in its religious principles.
“We will not submit to pressure from anyone,” he said, in a statement released by the monitoring group SITE.