At another protest in Nangarhar province, video posted online showed a bleeding demonstrator with a gunshot wound.
There were similar demonstrations in Jalalabad and Khost in the east, as Afghans used celebrations of the nation’s 1919 independence from British control to vent their anger with the Taliban takeover.
The Taliban urged unity ahead of Friday prayers, the first since they seized power, calling on imams to persuade people not to leave Afghanistan amid the chaos at the airport, protests and reports of violence.
A UN official warned of dire food shortages and experts said the country was severely in need of cash while noting that the Taliban are unlikely to enjoy the generous international aid that the civilian government they dethroned did.
In light of these challenges, the Taliban have moved quickly to suppress any dissent, despite promising they have become more moderate since they last ruled Afghanistan with draconian laws. Many fear they will succeed in erasing two decades of efforts to expand women’s and human rights and remake the country.
In Khost province, Taliban authorities instituted a 24-hour curfew after violently breaking up another protest, according to information obtained by journalists monitoring from abroad. The authorities did not immediately acknowledge the demonstration or the curfew.
The protests – on Independence Day and when some commemorated the Shiite Ashoura festival – were a remarkable challenge to the Taliban after its fighters violently dispersed a protest on Wednesday. At that rally, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, demonstrators lowered the Taliban’s flag and replaced it with Afghanistan’s tricolour. At least one person was killed.
Meanwhile, opposition figures gathering in the last area of the country not under Taliban rule talked of launching an armed resistance under the banner of the Northern Alliance, which allied with the US during the 2001 invasion.
It was not clear how serious a threat they posed given that Taliban fighters overran nearly the entire country in a matter of days with little resistance from Afghan forces.
The Taliban so far have offered no specifics on how they will lead, other than to say they will be guided by Shariah, or Islamic, law. They are in talks with senior officials of previous Afghan governments. But they face an increasingly precarious situation.
“A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes,” warned Mary Ellen McGroarty, the head of the UN’s World Food Program in Afghanistan.
Beyond the difficulties of bringing in food to the landlocked nation dependent on imports, she said that drought has seen over 40 per cent of the country’s crop lost. Many who fled the Taliban advance now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul.
“This is really Afghanistan’s hour of greatest need, and we urge the international community to stand by the Afghan people at this time,” she said.
Hafiz Ahmad, a shopkeeper in Kabul, said some food has flowed into the capital, but prices have gone up. He hesitated to pass those costs onto his customers but said he had to.
“It is better to have it,” he said. “If there were nothing, then that would be even worse.”
Two of Afghanistan’s key border crossings with Pakistan were reopened for trade. However, traders still feared insecurity on the roads and confusion over customs duties that could push prices up.
Military evacuations continue
Amid that uncertainty and concerns that the Taliban will reimpose a brutal rule, which included largely confining women to their homes and holding public executions, many Afghans are trying to flee the country.
At Kabul’s international airport, military evacuation flights continued, but access to the airport remained difficult. On Thursday, Taliban fighters fired into the air to try to control the crowds gathered at the airport’s blast walls.
After a chaotic start that saw people rush the runway and cling to a plane taking off, the US military is ramping up evacuations and now has enough aircraft to get 5000 to 9000 people out a day, Army Major General Hank Taylor said on Thursday.
Overnight, US President Joe Biden said that he was committed to keeping US troops in Afghanistan until every American is evacuated, even if that means maintaining a military presence there beyond his August 31 deadline for withdrawal.
Despite Taliban assurances of no revenge, in an interview with Good Morning America, Biden said he didn’t believe the Taliban had changed.
“I think they’re going through sort of an existential crisis about do they want to be recognised by the international community as being a legitimate government,” Biden said. “I’m not sure they do.”
Taliban under pressure
Indirectly acknowledging the resistance they face, the Taliban on Thursday asked preachers to urge people to remain in the country and counter “negative propaganda” against them.
They have also urged people to return to work, but most government officials remain in hiding or are themselves attempting to flee.
The head of the country’s Central Bank warned that the supply of physical US dollars was “close to zero,” which will batter the currency, the afghani. The US has apparently frozen the country’s foreign reserves, and the International Monetary Fund cut off access to loans or other resources for now.
“The afghani has been defended by literally planeloads of US dollars landing in Kabul on a very regular basis, sometimes weekly,” said Graeme Smith, a consultant researcher with the Overseas Development Institute. “If the Taliban don’t get cash infusions soon to defend the afghani, I think there’s a real risk of a currency devaluation that makes it hard to buy bread on the streets of Kabul for ordinary people.”
Still, Smith, who has written a book on Afghanistan, said the Taliban likely won’t ask for the same billions in international aid sought by the country’s fallen civilian government – large portions of which were siphoned off by corruption. That could limit the power of the international community’s threat of sanctions.
“You’re much more likely to see the Taliban positioning themselves as sort of gatekeepers to the international community as opposed to coming begging for billions of dollars,” he said.
There has been no armed opposition to the Taliban. But videos from the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, a stronghold of the Northern Alliance militias that allied with the US during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, appear to show potential opposition figures gathering there.
Those figures include members of the deposed government – Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who asserted on Twitter that he is the country’s rightful president, and Defence Minister General Bismillah Mohammadi – as well as Ahmad Massoud, the son of the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.
In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Massoud asked for weapons and aid to fight the Taliban.
“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” he wrote.