As Afghans fight to keep their flag, the ‘new’ Taliban reveals its old ways

The Taliban reportedly fired into the air to disperse the crowds and break up protests. Videos also show a Taliban fighter kicking and whipping protesters and local Afghan journalists.

This screengrab taken from video from Pajhwok shows Afghan people protesting over the reported removal of Afghan flags replaced with the Taliban flags in Jalalabad
This screengrab taken from video from Pajhwok shows Afghan people protesting over the reported removal of Afghan flags replaced with the Taliban flags in Jalalabad (AFP)

The Taliban’s intention to replace the Afghan national flag with their white banner bearing the Shahada [Muslim profession of faith], after seizing control of the country on Sunday had triggered protests in at least two cities.

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At least three people are said to have been killed and twelve injured in the eastern city of Jalalabad during an anti-Taliban protest on Wednesday, following demonstrations in eastern Khost and Asadabad cities on Thursday.

In videos obtained and verified by TRT World, protestors tried to replace the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s insignia with the government flag.

The Taliban reportedly fired into the air to disperse the crowds and break up the protest. The videos also show a Taliban fighter kicking and whipping protesters and local Afghan journalists.

Taking place on the eve of Afghanistan’s Independence Day, some Afghans who either participated or were bystanders in the protest in Jalalabad described what happened.

“We demonstrated to bring back our flag, and celebrate our independence day to protect the nation’s identity,” Saifatullah Ahmadzai, 33, who is from Jalalabad, told TRT World.

However chaos soon reigned, and the Taliban intervened by firing into the air.

Ahmadzai explained that the Taliban first called for calm and did not intend to shoot anyone. “But many thugs in the demonstration benefited from the situation and created chaos,” he said.

Press members that arrived on the scene were soon met with the brunt of Taliban gunmen in the midst of scattering the demonstrators.

Babrak Amirzada, a journalist for Pajhwok news agency, said he was on the way to the office in the morning when he heard about the demonstration.

“So we started to take pictures and videos,” he told TRT World.

As the Taliban responded violently against the demonstrators, journalists also fell victim. “Few [of the] Taliban attacked our camera and beat us up,” he said.

Ahmadzai claimed that four people, including a 16-year-old from Bati Kot district, were killed in the skirmishes.

Similar incidents occured in Asadabad, the capital of the eastern province of Kunar and another eastern city, Khost, on Thursday where several people were killed. It is not immediately clear whether the casualties were a result of Taliban gunfire or from a stampede, witnesses said.

The Taliban’s first test?

Afghan say how the Taliban handled the protests determines if the armed group can be trusted with their assurances or not.

“Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that there won’t be any issue for journalists but unfortunately we saw that Taliban beat reporters and journalists in Kabul and the eastern part of Afghanistan,” Mujeebullah Dastyar, a Kabul resident, told TRT World.

“Peaceful protest is the right of each and every Afghan, today when Afghans wanted to protest some Taliban opened fire on journalists and protesters,” he said, adding that people are skeptical of the armed group’s claims of protecting journalists and Afghans.

A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

After taking charge of Kabul, the Taliban have pledged a different rule from two decades ago, promising women’s rights, media freedom, and amnesty for government officials.

In an exclusive interview with TRT World, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said that the group is working out a new framework “bearing in mind people’s basic right of assembly and protest”.

Despite a palpable sense of fear, Ahmadzai said upon listening to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid’s plea to ensure safety and protection for all Afghans, he feels the Taliban should be given a chance to govern.

“No one should get sensational,” he said, quick to denounce any foreign interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

“We shouldn’t be against the new government. We must cooperate with the Taliban to secure the country,” he added.

“Give them time to provide us with public services.”

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