The Taliban sought to crush a protest in Afghanistan on Wednesday, only one day after promising the world that they are no longer the brutal terrorist force that governed the nation during the 1990s.
Taliban fighters fired into the crowd of demonstrators in Jalalabad in one of the first glimpses of how the fundamentalist group may handle dissent going forward. Jalalabad is Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city.
Witnesses said members of the group, who have been patrolling virtually the entire city of Kabul and provinces throughout the country this week, attempted to break up the show of opposition by first firing into the air and then into the crowd when they refused to disperse.
Part of the event included raising the Afghan national flag to commemorate Afghanistan’s independence from British rule in 1919, and lowering the Taliban flag.
Al Jazeera reported that at least two people were killed in the fracas and several were hurt.
The show of force came less than a day after Taliban leaders sought to present a new image to the world in a news conference from the presidential palace on Tuesday.
While President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Taliban had agreed to provide “safe passage” for civilians to leave Afghanistan, there were increasing reports of Afghan nationals being beaten, intimidated and at least one being shot at various checkpoints leading to Kabul’s airport, the Washington Post reported.
The Taliban has quickly created checkpoints around Kabul and near the entrance of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. One Afghan interpreter who worked for the Australian army was shot by a Taliban fighter while others who attempted to reach the airport were beaten.
The United Arab Emirates confirmed Wednesday that former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in their country after fleeing his home country over the weekend.
“The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds,” the UAE said in a statement.
A State Department release co-signed by several countries called on Taliban leaders to protect the rights and freedoms of the women and girls in the country, particularly their right to work, to be educated and to have freedom of movement.
“Afghan women and girls, as all Afghan people, deserve to live in safety, security and dignity,” the statement said. “Any form of discrimination and abuse should be prevented. We in the international community stand ready to assist them with humanitarian aid and support, to ensure that their voices can be heard.”
The statement was signed by the European Union, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as several other countries.
Under the meeting, the group was questioned about how they want to treat women and girls under their reign, as well as whether they intend to provide a safe haven for extremist terrorist factions, as they did during their previous control from 1996 until U.S. forces forced them out in 2001.
During the previous Taliban regime, women and girls were not permitted to attend school, were not permitted to work, and were needed to have a male escort just to go outside.
“[Women] are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us, and the international community,” a spokesman told reporters. “If they have concerns, we would like to assure them that there is not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have.”
“I would like to assure the international community, including the U.S., that nobody will be harmed in Afghanistan,” he added. “You will not be harmed from our soil.”
The group also promised “amnesty” for opponents who have fought the Taliban over the past 20 years, as long as they give up their arms.
Some policy analysts and terror experts have responded to the new Taliban promises with skepticism.
Pakistan has opened both of its major border crossings to let in Afghan nationals with Pakistani visas, including the crossing at Torkham, which is typically the busiest.
Pakistani interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said he’s not seen large numbers of refugees trying to enter the country so far.
“No refugees have entered Pakistan yet,” Ahmed told CNN, adding that the crossing has remained “peaceful and calm.”
Also Wednesday, Taliban leaders led by Anas Haqqani of the Haqqani network met with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the government transition. The United States has designated the Haqqani network a terrorist group.
According to a spokeswoman for Karzai, Afghanistan’s president from 2001 to 2014, the meeting was held to encourage continued talks with the Taliban.
This week, former Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh claimed to be the primary caretaker of the Afghan government during the transition period. Saleh, who has previously stated that he will not submit to the Taliban, claims that the Afghan constitution allows him such authority.
Opposition representatives are rumoured to be assembling in a province north of Kabul, Afghanistan’s only province that has yet to fall to Taliban forces.