KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan protesters defied the Taliban for a second day Thursday, waving their national flag in scattered demonstrations, and the fighters again responded violently as they faced down growing challenges to their rule.
A U.N. 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 their promises that 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.
On Thursday, a procession of cars and people near Kabul's airport carried long black, red and green banners in honor of the Afghan flag — a banner that is becoming a symbol of defiance. At another protest in Nangarhar province, video posted online showed a bleeding demonstrator with a gunshot wound. Onlookers tried to carry him away.
In Khost province, Taliban authorities instituted a 24-hour curfew Thursday 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.
Protesters also took the streets in Kunar province, according to witnesses and social media videos that lined up with reporting by The Associated Press.
The demonstrations — which come as Afghans celebrated Independence Day and some commemorated the Shiite Ashoura festival — were a remarkable show of defiance after the Taliban fighters violently dispersed a protest Wednesday. At that rally, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, demonstrators lowered the Taliban’s flag and replace it with Afghanistan’s tricolor. 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 U.S. 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 U.N.'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% 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, Torkham near Jalalabad and Chaman near Spin Boldak, are now open for trade. However, traders still fear insecurity on the roads and confusion over customs duties that could push them to price their goods higher.