New Taliban leaders face cascading challenges

KABUL, Afghanistan – Just a day after the Taliban appointed an interim cabinet to lead the nation they spent two decades trying to conqu...


KABUL, Afghanistan – Just a day after the Taliban appointed an interim cabinet to lead the nation they spent two decades trying to conquer, the dizzying challenges that accompanied victory were highlighted on Wednesday.

Tensions have erupted with neighboring Pakistan. afghanistan the long-standing humanitarian crisis has worsened. And activists’ brutal crackdown on dissent threatened to further erode public trust.

The Taliban, who witnesses said crushed several small protests across the country on Wednesday, gathered dozens of protesters and subjected them to abuse in overcrowded prisons, reporters said. The crackdown followed an announcement by the Taliban on Tuesday that protests would not be allowed without government approval.

Several Afghan journalists said they were arrested and beaten in custody while covering a protest outside a police station in Kabul on Wednesday.

Nemat, a videographer for Etilaat-e Roz, a local newspaper, said he and his colleagues had just arrived on the street where several dozen women were gathered with signs and a loudspeaker when Taliban militants at the police station grabbed his camera and arrested him. .

“I told them I was a journalist and showed them my ID card, but they accused me of organizing the protests,” Nemat said. “They took me to a room, tied my hands with a scarf, and started beating me with a cable.”

Already facing international isolation, the Taliban are also struggling to cope with long-standing tensions on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the Pakistani military has continued to shell hiding places of suspected militants in recent days, officials say. Taliban and Pakistani. Sporadic mortar strikes in hilly areas of Kunar province in northeastern Afghanistan last week left at least four people injured, including a child, according to senior Taliban officials.

As complicated as border tensions are – over the years Pakistan has both supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and accused the Afghan government of providing refuge to a Pakistani branch of the Taliban they see as a direct threat – they are just one of the issues on the Taliban’s plate now that the group is in the driver’s seat.

During its two decades of insurgency, the group has exploited the mistrust of previous Afghan governments by the Afghan people, and they are familiar with the kinds of issues that can spark rebellions.

Former leader Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president who abruptly resigned in mid-August, is still trying to save his shattered reputation, issuing a statement Wednesday to deny stealing millions of dollars before fleeing Kabul in the hours leading up to the capital city. fell.

He apologized again, while claiming his fate was the same as those who came before him. “It is with deep and deep regret that my own chapter ended in a tragedy similar to that of my predecessors – without ensuring stability and prosperity,” the statement said.

While the Taliban’s announcement of the new leadership on Tuesday aimed to unify the movement and formalize the functioning of government, it has sounded alarm bells in the West that the group’s earlier promises of inclusiveness may turn out to be in vain.

The new cabinet does not include any women, it is largely made up of former leaders of the repressive Taliban regime of the 1990s. This has heightened fears both at home and abroad that the group will revert to the excesses of the past. .

Speaking at a press conference at US Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the new Taliban government “does not meet the test of inclusiveness” and that ‘it includes’ people who have very difficult backgrounds. . “

Blinken noted that the Taliban had identified their newly chosen leaders as part of an “interim” cabinet, and said any US support for a final government “should be won”.

The Taliban’s announcement, however, received cautious approval from Beijing. Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters in a briefing Wednesday that China welcomes the new leadership.

“This ended more than three weeks of anarchy in Afghanistan and is a necessary step for the restoration of internal order in Afghanistan and post-war reconstruction,” he said, according to a transcript. published by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said China called for the establishment of an “open and inclusive” government, but respected the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan.

Inside the country, the new Afghan rulers face a host of immediate crises, including the efforts of those opposing their regime to spark a national protest movement.

The Taliban have sometimes responded to protests – even those that were relatively small and led by women – with brute force.

Zabihullah Mujahid, acting deputy minister of information and culture, told a press conference on Tuesday that all protests must be approved in advance by the justice ministry.

“The current protests are spontaneous and some people are creating a riot,” he said. He told reporters that they should not cover the protests because they are “illegal”.

However, a day after the warning, the demonstrators took to the streets again.

The Taliban did not say how many protesters are in custody, but several local journalists have painted a heartbreaking picture of a local prison in Kabul.

When three colleagues from Nemat, the videographer detained on Wednesday, went to the station to request his release, they too were taken into police custody, they said.

“The police station barracks were full of prisoners,” said Aber, one of the reporters.

He said he saw a protester covered in blood after being severely beaten and seeing Taliban fighters mistreating prisoners. “They would laugh at us and say, ‘Do you want freedom? What freedom? ‘ “, he said.

The Etilaat-e Roz journalists were released after several hours by a Taliban official, who they said warned them not to cover “illegal protests”.

A New York Times reporter who interviewed them witnessed many types of bruises on their bodies that appeared to correspond to being hit with a cable or other blunt object.

“This is the first very serious incident involving journalists in Kabul, and if we are not united, much worse things can happen,” said Zaki Daryabi, editor of Etilaat-e Roz. “We have not received any response from Taliban officials, but we would like to know how we can file a complaint. “

The Taliban did not respond to a request for comment on the detention and assault of journalists.

The new government is also grappling with a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has traveled to Afghanistan in recent days to meet with Taliban leaders and tour the organization’s facilities.

While there are signs of a return to normal, with stores open and people going about their daily lives, the distress is evident everywhere.

The needs of some people are limited or even urgent. They are looking for missing family members or in need of urgent medical attention. But many simply fear for the future.

“There is, at present, still a deficit of confidence in major proportions in the Afghan society”, declared Wednesday Mr. Maurer.

Fear, he says, is everywhere.

“I was struck by the many new cemeteries that I saw by the side of the road,” said Maurer, testifying to the intense fighting in recent months.

Afghanistan’s problems run so deep, have lasted so long and are so serious that it is the collective responsibility of the entire international community to offer its assistance, he said.

However, the bulk of international aid is likely to be tied to the Taliban’s ability to keep their promise not to provide safe haven to international terrorists. This can be complicated by the jailbreaks that accompanied their rapid conquest of the country.

As the Taliban marched toward the Afghan capital last month, inmates at a prison facility at Bagram Airfield – about 30 miles north of Kabul – managed to escape with the help of supporters taking advantage chaos.

Mr Maurer said the Red Cross was still working to “understand” the number of people still detained in the country, but admitted that “many prisoners” had escaped.

Sami sahak, Wali Ariane, Dan Bilefsky, Michael crowley and Zia ur-Rehman contributed reports.

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