Taliban fighters on high alert patrolled Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan on Thursday after the new government banned unauthorised protests following days of demonstrations by Afghan women and opposition supporters.
The interior ministry announced late on Wednesday that protesters would be required to get government permission for demonstrations and have to share plans and even slogans with authorities 24 hours in advance. “Violators will face severe legal action,” it said.
It was one of the first acts by Afghanistan’s new Taliban government as it cemented its control over the country following the US withdrawal last month.
The move dismayed critics who said the Taliban was erasing basic rights and reinstating repressive practice. There had been hope that the Islamists might prove more moderate than when they first ran Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The Taliban on Tuesday unveiled a caretaker cabinet dominated by hardliners and ideologues, including members facing UN sanctions or on the FBI’s most wanted list, ignoring western calls for a diverse government that included women and non-Taliban leaders.
Afghanistan has faced a wave of protest across the country this week, many led by women demanding rights and representation in the all-male government. A number of women protesters were beaten by Taliban fighters, according to the BBC.
The Taliban had previously said that women’s rights would be respected as per Islamic law. But the UN and others have warned that local Taliban leaders in some provinces are banning them from work and education, as it did across the country in the 1990s.
Taliban militants received orders to patrol Afghan cities on Thursday to prevent further demonstrations. A number of gunshots rung out across Kabul.
They were on high alert for marches by supporters of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a powerful anti-Taliban warlord whose assassination 20 years ago to the day is often marked with rallies.
The Taliban also cracked down on a number of other protests this week, shooting on demonstrators in Herat province. At least two people were killed, according to AFP. A protest in Parwan also turned violent.
A number of journalists covering a demonstration by Afghan women in Kabul on Wednesday were arrested and beaten by Taliban fighters before being released, according to their accounts and social media images.
Australian broadcaster SBS on Wednesday reported that the new government had also banned women’s sports, quoting a Taliban spokesperson who said the group will not allow women to play cricket or any sports “where they get exposed”.
The Taliban is yet to issue an order on the matter, however.
Foreign leaders and diplomats had argued that the Taliban could prove more moderate this time, which would help pave the way for the resumption of aid and security co-operation. But those hopes are fast fading.
Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, on Wednesday said the international community was “concerned” by the Taliban’s new cabinet.
The interior ministry which has banned protests is now led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior member of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network that has historic ties to al-Qaeda. The US has designated it a terrorist group and Sirajuddin Haqqani is on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $10 million bounty. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021