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As Taliban crush dissent, new leaders face broader challenges

Only a day after the Taliban named a caretaker cabinet to lead the nation as he spent two decades trying to win, the daunting challenges that come with victory were coming to a sharp relief on Wednesday.

Tensions increased with neighboring Pakistan. Afghanistan’s long-standing humanitarian crisis has deepened. And the brutal crackdown on the militants’ dissent threatened to further undermine public confidence.

According to journalists, the Taliban, which witnessed several small protests across the country on Wednesday, is besieging scores of protesters and abusing them in overcrowded prisons. Daman followed a Taliban announcement on Tuesday that the protests would not be allowed without the government’s approval.

Several Afghan journalists said they were arrested and beaten in custody on Wednesday while covering a protest in front of a police station in Kabul – the first account of abuse of journalists since the Taliban came to power.

Nemat, a videographer for Etilat-e-Roz, a local newspaper, said he and his associates had just walked into the street, where several dozen women had gathered with placards and loudspeakers, when Taliban militants confiscated their cameras from the police station. Took and arrested.

“I told them I am a journalist and showed them my ID card, but they accused me of organizing the protest,” Nemat said. “They took me into a room, tied my hands with a scarf and started thrashing me with cables.”

Already facing international isolation, according to Taliban and Pakistan officials, the Taliban is also struggling to deal with longstanding tensions along the Afghan-Pakistan border, where Pakistani forces have raided suspected terrorist targets in recent days. has continued to open. At least four people, including a child, were injured in sporadic mortar attacks in the rugged areas of Kunar province in northeast Afghanistan last week, according to senior Taliban officials.

As complicated as border tensions are – for years, Pakistan has supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and accused the Afghan government of providing safe haven to a Pakistani branch of the Taliban they see as a direct threat – they are just a The problem is on the Taliban’s plate now that the group is in charge.

During its two-decade insurgency, the group took advantage of the Afghan people’s distrust of previous Afghan governments, and is well aware of the kind of issues that can ignite rebellions.

A former leader, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president who abruptly resigned in mid-August, still trying to salvage his bad reputation, issued a statement on Wednesday to deny that he had blamed the capital’s collapse. stole millions of dollars before escaping from Kabul a few hours before. .

He once again offered an apology, saying that his fate was the same as what had come before. “It is with deep and deep regret that my own chapter ended in the same tragedy as my predecessors – without ensuring stability and prosperity,” his statement said.

The new leadership was announced by the Taliban on Tuesday to unify the movement and formalize the functioning of the government, but it raised alarm in the West that the group’s earlier promises could prove hollow.

No women are included in the new cabinet; It was largely drawn from former leaders of the repressive Taliban regime of the 1990s. This reinforced both at home and abroad that the group was returning to the excesses of the past.

Speaking at a news conference at the US airport in Rammstein, Germany, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new Taliban government “does not meet the test of inclusivity” and includes “people with a very challenging track record”.

Blinken noted that the Taliban had identified their newly elected leaders as part of a “caretaker” cabinet, and added that any US support for the final government would “have to be earned.”

However, the Taliban announcement received cautious approval from Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday that China welcomed the new leadership.

According to a transcript posted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, “this has ended more than three weeks of chaos in Afghanistan and is a necessary step for the restoration of Afghanistan’s domestic order and post-war reconstruction.”

He said China urged the establishment of an “open and inclusive” government, but that it respects Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Inside the country, Afghanistan’s new leader faces several immediate crises, including attempts by those opposing his regime to ignite a national protest movement.

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

On Tuesday, the acting deputy information and culture minister, Zabiullah Mujahid, told a news conference that all protests had to be approved in advance by the Justice Ministry.

“The current protests are spontaneous and some people are instigating riots,” he said. He told reporters that he should not cover up the protests as they are “illegal”.

Yet, a day after the warning, protesters were once again taking to the streets.

The Taliban did not say how many protesters were in custody, but several local journalists drew a painful picture of a local prison in Kabul.

He said three accomplices of videographer Nemat, who were detained on Wednesday, were also taken into custody when they went to the police station for his release.

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

He said he saw a demonstrator who was covered in blood after being brutally beaten, and saw Taliban fighters mistreating prisoners. “They were making fun of us and saying, ‘You want freedom? What freedom?'” he said.

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

A New York Times reporter interviewed him found widespread patterns of injury on his body that appeared to correspond to attacks from a cable or other blunt object.

“This is the first very serious incident involving journalists in Kabul, and if we don’t stand together, worse things can happen,” said Zaki Daryabi, publisher of Etilat-e-Roz. “We have not received a response from Taliban officials, but would like to know how we can file a complaint.”

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

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

Peter Maurer, chairman of the International Committee of the Red Cross, traveled to Afghanistan in recent days to meet with the Taliban leadership and visit the organization’s facilities.

While there are signs of a return to normalcy, shops are open and people are going about their daily routines, the crisis is evident everywhere.

Some people have little, if urgent, needs; They are searching for missing family members or those in need of immediate medical care. But many simply fear for the future.

“At the present time, there is still a large proportion of trust deficit in Afghan society,” Maurer said on Wednesday.

He said, “Fear is rife.

“I was struck by the many new graveyards I saw on the side of the road,” Maurer said, testament to the intense fighting in recent months.

He said Afghanistan’s problems are so deep, so long and so dire that it is the collective responsibility of the entire international community to offer assistance.

 

Much of the international aid, however, is likely to be tied to the Taliban’s ability to deliver on a promise not to offer a safe haven for international terrorists. This may have been complicated by the jailbreaks that accompanied his lightning-quick conquest of the country.

As the Taliban marched towards the Afghan capital last month, prisoners from a prison facility at Bagram Airfield, about 30 miles north of Kabul, took advantage of the chaos to escape with the help of supporters.

Maurer said the Red Cross was still working to “get our heads around” about how many people are still being detained in the country, but acknowledged that “a lot of prisoners” fled. Were.

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