Hundreds of civilians in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, took the streets on Wednesday to protest the replacement of the national flag in public spaces with the emblem of the Taliban, prompting Taliban jihadists to open fire into the crowd.
Jalalabad was reportedly the last city in Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban before the dramatic seizure of Kabul, the national capital, this weekend. The unrest in that city, captured on camera in images published by the Afghan news agency Pajhwok, appears to be the first major incident of widespread protests against Taliban rule.
The Taliban governed Afghanistan prior to the American invasion in 2001, prompted by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After 20 years of war, American operations had failed to install a competent government in Kabul and quell Taliban resistance, prompting negotiations between Washington and Taliban leaders in Qatar last year. Under President Donald Trump, the two sides agreed to a deal that would have resulted in American troops definitively leaving the country on May 1 in exchange for Taliban leaders cutting ties to international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, the architects of the September 11 attacks, and ceasing aggression against American troops.
President Joe Biden broke the deal in April, triggering a national Taliban campaign to overthrow the corrupt U.S.-backed government. The campaign ended on Sunday with the arrival of Taliban fighters to Kabul and the abrupt flight of now-former President Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban declared victory and control over the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” that night.
The Jalalabad protest significantly damages attempts by Taliban leaders to present themselves as the people’s choice of government. Images published by Pajhwok show what appear to be hundreds of protesters carrying the national flag of Afghanistan through the streets, marching in support of the defunct republic. The protesters do not appear to be armed or engaging in any violence. They ultimately attempted to fly the flag over the city.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) August 18, 2021
About an hour later, Pajhwok posted videos showing armed men shooting into the large crowd. The Afghan news agency identified them as Taliban jihadists; Taliban leaders have repeatedly blamed any violence by alleged Taliban jihadis on imposters who do not represent the leadership, though they have provided no evidence to support that claim.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) August 18, 2021
— Sudhir Chaudhary (@sudhirchaudhary) August 18, 2021
The New York Times reported that, in addition to opening fire on protesters, the Taliban jihadists “fired into the crowd and beat protesters and journalists.”
The Jalalabad incident is the largest protest documented against the Taliban takeover yet, but not the only such incident. The first significant protest documented occurred on Tuesday in Kabul. A small group of women took the streets of the capital demanding that the new government respect their right to work, education, and to be part of any new future political structure. That protest was entirely peaceful, reportedly not suppressed, and notably did not mention the Taliban. The women directed their demands only generally to the new government.
In another incident documented by the New York Times, protesters in Khost also marched peacefully in the streets. That protest, reportedly, did not end in carnage.
Growing reports have surfaced in the past month from Taliban-controlled areas of severe violence against civilians. Christian charity groups this week denounced the practice of going door-to-door in some regions and punishing Afghans found to have downloaded Christian content, such as Bible apps, onto their mobile phones.
“We’re hearing from reliable sources that the Taliban demand people’s phones, and if they find a downloaded Bible on your device, they will kill you immediately,” Rex Rogers, the North America president of Christian aid group SAT-7, said this week. “It’s incredibly dangerous right now for Afghans to have anything Christian on their phones. The Taliban have spies and informants everywhere.”
Taliban spokesmen and leaders have placed a priority in arguing that the people of Afghanistan have chosen their rule, despite the overt lack of free and fair elections or any public participation in the jihadist terrorist group’s takeover of Kabul. The growing number of protests are calling into question those claims even further.
“People want us and they ask us to be with them,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Kurdish outlet Rudaw last week, before the Kabul takeover. “Everyone supports us, and we will give them all the rights specified in the Islamic sharia. We are committed to this.”
Mujahid, in his first-ever public appearance on Tuesday, congratulated Afghans for allegedly getting the government they wanted.
“Freedom and independence-seeking is a legitimate right of every nation,” Mujahid told reporters. “The Afghans also use their legitimate right after 20 years of struggle for freedom and for emancipating the country from occupation, this was our right and we achieved this right.”
Mujahid also promised no violence against civilians – a claim severely contested by the videos from Jalalabad – and described any evidence of Taliban violence against civilians as the acts of “rioters.”
“Therefore, the Islamic Emirate does not have any kind of hostility or animosity with anybody; animosities have come to an end and we would like to live peacefully. We don’t want any internal enemies and any external enemies,” Mujahid said.