Hundreds of Afghan women took to the streets in Kabul Tuesday to protest ahead of the Taliban’s formation of a new government in the country. The protests played out in dramatic fashion as female demonstrators, many of whom have no recollection of life under oppressive Taliban rule, called for women’s rights, shouting anti-Pakistan slogans, along with expressing support for the anti-Taliban resistance in Panjshir province.
The highly-charged street scenes started peacefully in response to a visit to the country from the head of neighboring Pakistan’s intelligence service for talks on the formation of the new Taliban administration. The group has preached a more moderate line since surging back to power after two decades, and Taliban fighters allowed the procession, which grew to include many male demonstrators, to continue until the protest moved into the city center, where protesters were beaten and machine guns fired into the air to disperse the crowd.
The bold demonstrations are a reminder that it will not be easy for the Taliban to simply turn back the clock 20 years as it resumes control. “Tuesday’s demonstrations [-] show that they also have to reckon with simmering discontent within the wider Afghan society, particularly in Kabul, a modern metropolis where many oppose the Taliban’s puritan ways,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “With the country cut off from the international financial system and most foreign aid, long lines have formed daily at bank branches in Kabul as Afghans try to withdraw at least part of their savings.”
The Taliban’s response to the public protest, by women in particular, served as an early litmus test for how much the group’s thinking has changed. “Since coming to power last month, the Taliban has sought to rebrand itself as more moderate, inviting women to join the government and saying that women will be allowed to work and girls will be allowed to be educated,” the New York Times notes. “But the group has yet to codify any new laws or offer specifics on how it plans to govern. Early signs from around the country have not been promising, including the Taliban warning women to stay home until the rank and file of Taliban fighters can be taught how not to hurt them.”