Anti-Taliban protests grew for a second day in Afghanistan and spread to the streets of Kabul for the first time since the militant group seized the country’s capital, where tense crowds of Afghans gathered on Thursday to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence from British control more than a century ago.
Taliban commanders have struggled to contain the protests, which have threatened to devolve into violence in the capital and in several other Afghan cities, as throngs of demonstrators rally amid fears the militants are preparing to reimpose harsh Islamist rule over the country.
There were reports of demonstrators killed in at least one city Thursday, although it was not clear if the deaths were a result of a crackdown by Taliban fighters or from a stampede caused by tense crowds.
Videos circulating online showed demonstrators in Kabul waving the Afghan national flag. There were also reports of protesters in other cities tearing down Taliban flags. Reuters reported that several people were killed in the city of Asadabad, the capital of the eastern province of Kunar.
“Hundreds of people came out on the streets … at first I was scared and didn’t want to go, but when I saw one of my neighbors joined in, I took out the flag I have at home,” the news agency was told by Mohammed Salim, a witness in Asadabad, who added that “several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
The protests coincide with mounting international concern that the Taliban is preparing to crack down hard on dissent and target Afghans who worked against the group during the two decades of U.S. and NATO military occupation of Afghanistan that ended with the militants rolling back into power in Kabul last weekend.
While Taliban leaders have said they will give “amnesty” to all Afghans, fears are soaring that the group is preparing to bring back the hard-line Islamist government and theocratic police state it imposed on Afghans during its previous reign from 1996 to 2001 — a reign that ended when U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan.
A confidential United Nations document warned Thursday that Taliban militants are intensifying their search for people they believe worked with U.S. and NATO forces and have threatened to kill or arrest their family members if they cannot find them, according to a report by The New York Times.
The newspaper reported that the document, from a Norwegian U.N. threat-assessment adviser, directly contradicts the Taliban‘s public assurances that it would not seek revenge on members and supporters of the toppled government.
The document cited reports of Taliban fighters going door to door and “arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender themselves to the Taliban.”