Three killed as Afghan protests test Taliban's promise of peaceful rule
At least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, witnesses said, as the militant group moved to create a government and Western countries ramped up evacuations from a chaotic Kabul airport.
The deaths mar the Taliban's efforts to consolidate Islamist rule and their promises of peace following their sweep into the capital. They have said they will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.
The witnesses said the deaths in Jalalabad took place when local residents tried to install Afghanistan's national flag at a square in the city, some 150 km (90 miles) from the capital on the main road to Pakistan.
There were also more than a dozen people injured after Taliban militants opened fire on protesters in the eastern city, two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters.
Taliban spokesmen were not immediately reachable for comment.
Thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped US-led foreign forces over two decades, are desperate to leave the country and people are flooding to Kabul airport.
Taliban commanders and soldiers fired into the air on Wednesday to disperse the crowds outside the airport, a Taliban official said. "We have no intention to injure anyone," he told Reuters.
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani is in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf state's foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after he left the country as Taliban fighters seized control.
About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours, a Western official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The evacuations by military flights will continue around the clock, he said, adding that clearing the chaos outside the airport was a challenge.
"It's absolutely hectic and chaos out there." the official said.
For a graphic on the airport chaos, click
ACTIONS NOT WORDS
One of the Taliban's leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years and a Taliban official said the leaders would show themselves to the world, unlike in the past when they lived in secret.
"Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders," the senior Taliban official told Reuters.
The Taliban's first news briefing since their return to Kabul suggested they would impose their laws more softly than during their harsh 1996-2001 rule.
Women would be allowed to work and study and "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam", Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban's main spokesman, said.
During their rule, also guided by sharia religious law, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Wednesday: "We'll see what they do, whether it will be according to the pronouncements that they made."
Echoing that comment and those of other Western leaders, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Taliban would be judged on their actions.
"We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education," he told parliament, recalled from summer recess to debate the crisis.
TIME WILL TELL
Many Afghans are sceptical of the Taliban promises. Some said they could only wait and see.
"My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed but only time will tell and it's going to become clear very soon," said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.
Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for ex-soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.
"Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors," he said, adding that there was a "huge difference" between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.
The Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday as Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.
US President Joe Biden, who has faced a barrage of criticism about the withdrawal, has said he had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal of his predecessor Donald Trump.
US forces running the airport initially had to stop evacuation flights after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the airfield.
Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan said his team had evacuated about 700 people on Tuesday.
Asked whether Britain hoped to take 1,000 people out of Afghanistan a day, Johnson's spokesman said they were aiming to operate at that capacity.
Germany has flown 130 people out, France said it had moved out 25 of its nationals and 184 Afghans, and Australia said 26 people had arrived on its first flight back from Kabul. Denmark said it had evacuated 84 people on a military plane.
"Everyone wants out," said one Afghan man who arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday with his wife and son on a flight via Tashkent. "We saved ourselves but we couldn't rescue our families."