A small band of defiant women marched against the Taliban in western Kabul on Wednesday holding signs declaring “No government can deny the presence of women” and “I will sing freedom over and over.”
This is just the latest case of female activists making a bold and public challenge to the Taliban’s rule. Women in hijabs joined protests in Kabul on Tuesday, the largest since the militant group seized power last month. A small group of women demonstrators also took to the streets of the Afghan capital over the weekend to demand equal rights, one of at least three small protests across the country last week.
Some of the women marching Wednesday held placards with the image of a pregnant police officer who was killed in Ghor province a few days ago. The Taliban told CNN they were not involved in her death, but have subsequently launched an investigation.
“How brutally the world is watching us” and “Watch our death but remember that no one is everlasting,” read other signs.
The protests took place in Dasht-i-Barchi, an area of Kabul mostly inhabited by people from the minority Shia Hazara ethnic group, a community known to have been targeted by the Taliban.
According to their organizations, several journalists attending the protest were beaten or whipped by Taliban fighters.
The latest protests come a day after the Taliban cracked down severely on scores of demonstrators who marched in Kabul on Tuesday.
No women, members of religious minorities or members of Afghanistan’s ousted leadership were selected for acting cabinet positions or named to advisory roles in the announcement of the interim government on Tuesday.
This comes in spite of the Taliban’s promises of an inclusive government and more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they were last in power two decades ago.
“We represent the whole of Afghanistan, and we talk on the level of the whole of Afghanistan and our struggle was based on the whole of Afghanistan. We are not people of one tribe or ethnicity, neither do we believe in this,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at Tuesday’s news conference, outlining the interim government.
Fawzia Kofi, a former Afghan MP, peace negotiator and women rights activist, accused the Taliban of going against what they had promised, referencing a meeting with a senior Taliban figure.
“When I [first] met Taliban, Shabudin Dilawar elaborated their version of Islamic rights for women saying no barrier for women to become minister/prime minister, they act in contrary. Was that to get political boost?” she tweeted.
The National Resistance Front in Afghanistan (NRF), an anti-Taliban group which has been battling the militants’ offensive in the Panjshir Valley, called the Taliban’s caretaker cabinet “illegal” and a “threat to stability and security of Afghanistan, the region and the world.”
“NRF believes that the establishment of a democratic, legal and legitimate government can only be achieved through the will and vote of the people in a general election that is also acceptable to the international community,” it said.
According to photos and videos shared on social media, activists who marched on Tuesday shouted in support of resistance fighters in Panjshir and chanted against Pakistan, which they view as meddling in Afghan affairs.
Witnesses estimated the crowd at between 300 and 500 people — many of whom were women wearing the hijab. The Taliban responded with gunfire, detentions and beatings.
Human rights group Amnesty International tweeted that it was “deeply concerned about reports on use of violence against peaceful protestors & journalists in Kabul by the Taliban. Exercising right to freedom of peaceful assembly is a human right. Taliban must respect & allow people to exercise their rights.”
Human Rights Watch tweeted: “In yet another indication that #Afghanistan’s new rulers will not tolerate peaceful dissent, the Taliban again used force to crush a protest by hundreds of #Afghan women calling for their rights today.”
Concern over lack of inclusiveness
Disquiet over the interim government’s composition has been voiced both by Afghanistan’s neighbors and by global powers. The Taliban have given no indication of how long the caretaker government will remain in place.
The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that “ignoring the need for establishing an inclusive government” was a major concern in a tweet Wednesday, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country hoped “that the political situation stabilizes at the earliest, leading to normalcy.”
Speaking to regional leaders in Islamabad on Wednesday, Qureshi said the priorities for Afghanistan’s neighbors included supporting the Afghan people and embracing the importance of national reconciliation and the country’s multi-ethnic makeup.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China was willing to stay in touch with the new Afghan leadership but also indicated that minority rights should be respected.
“We hope that the new Afghan regime, during the period of the interim government, will listen to the opinions of all ethnic groups and parties, and respond to the expectations from the Afghan people and the international community,” he said, according to Reuters. “We noticed that the Taliban stressed that all people will benefit from the new regime.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday the Taliban’s actions were not cause for optimism as Germany assesses how to help Afghanistan’s people amid food shortages, aid stoppages and the threat of economic collapse.
“We are prepared to provide humanitarian aid through the United Nations, and we will continue to talk to the Taliban, if only to enable the people for whom we bear responsibility to leave the country,” he said.
“Any further engagement, however, will depend on the behavior of the Taliban. The announcement of a transitional government without the participation of other groups and yesterday’s violence against demonstrators and journalists in Kabul are not the signals that give cause for optimism.”
Maas was speaking ahead of a meeting with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, where thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan were flown in the massive US airlift operation last month.
The US State Department is “assessing” the Taliban’s announcement of its interim government, a spokesperson said Tuesday.
“We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women,” the spokesperson said. “We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals.”
While this has been presented as a caretaker government, the spokesperson said, “we will judge the Taliban by its actions, not words. We have made clear our expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government.”
EU spokesperson Peter Stano said in a statement sent to CNN that from initial analysis of the appointments, “it does not look like the inclusive and representative formation in terms of the rich ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan we hoped to see and that the Taliban were promising over the past weeks.”
Taliban official: Women should not play cricket
In a signal of the risks posed to women’s freedoms, a Taliban official said women shouldn’t be allowed to play cricket — a popular sport in Afghanistan — because it could expose their bodies, according to an exclusive interview with Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) News.
“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this,” the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq told SBS News.
“It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed,” Wasiq said.
Women athletes made up some of the many thousands of Afghans who fled the country as the Taliban seized power.
Twenty-five members of the Afghan girls’ cycling team were among 41 Afghan evacuees to arrive in the United Arab Emirates on Monday from Tajikistan. They are being processed in the UAE before heading to Canada to start their new lives.
One woman, who didn’t want to reveal her name for safety reasons, told CNN she feared being a female athlete in Afghanistan once the Taliban took over.
“Oh my God, it is really tough to explain our situation in words. It’s really difficult because the main reason, specific reason, that I leave Afghanistan was because I was not secure as an athlete. I was doing sports in Afghanistan, but nowadays that is not safe… I was forced to leave my country,” she said.
“We used to practice, we used to have competitions. We even used to compete with boys… And we were happy,” she said. “But nowadays it is really disappointing. It hurts us actually to see the situation that the girls will not be allowed.”
The woman said she had pursued cycling to stand up for human rights, particularly for girls — and now wants to continue in her sport and her education.