Even as the Taliban took their first steps to create a functioning government, they faced the first street protests on Wednesday against their takeover of Afghanistan, with demonstrations in at least two cities.
A public display of dissent in the northeastern city of Jalalabad was met by an overwhelming use of force. Taliban soldiers fired into the crowd and beat protesters and journalists.
The Taliban had taken control of the city, a commercial hub east of Kabul near the main border crossing with Pakistan, four days earlier without much of a fight after a deal was negotiated with local leaders.
This week, the Taliban have been out in large numbers, patrolling the city in pickup trucks seized from the now defunct police force.
Despite the risks, hundreds of protesters marched through the main shopping street, whistling, shouting and bearing large flags of the Afghan Republic. Taliban fighters fired in the air to break up the crowd, but the protesters did not disperse, video aired by local news media outlets showed.
When that failed, the fighters resorted to violence. It was unclear how many people were injured or whether anyone was killed.
The demonstration and the response threatened to undermine efforts by the Taliban leadership to present themselves as responsible stewards of the government.
In Khost, in the southeastern part of the country, there were also demonstrations, with dramatic photos and video showing hundreds of people taking to the streets.
The outpouring of public anger came as the Taliban prepared to offer details on the shape of their government, naming ministers and filling key positions.
“We don’t want Afghanistan to be a battlefield anymore,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime chief spokesman, said in a news conference on Tuesday. “From today onward, war is over.”
While many were skeptical of those assurances, in Kabul the rhythms of daily life started to return — but they were in many ways circumscribed.
There were noticeably fewer women on the streets. Some of those who ventured out did not cover up in the traditional burqa, the full-length shroud that covers the face that were required the last time the Taliban ruled. At homes and businesses, a knock on the door could stir fear.
It remains to be seen whether the pragmatic needs of a nation of 38 million will continue to temper the ideological fanaticism that defined the group’s rule from 1996 to 2001. But the country the Taliban now control is vastly changed from two decades ago.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
The progress of women — from the millions of girls in school and women in critical roles in civil society — is the most visible example. But years of Western investment in the country have also helped rebuild a nation that was in a state of ruin when the Taliban first emerged.
The protests offered early signs that many Afghans will not simply accept Taliban rule.
The public has a certain expectation that basic needs will be met, and the Afghan government’s failure to meet those needs helped fuel support for the Taliban. That allowed them to sweep across the country swiftly — often not by military force, but by negotiation with frustrated local leaders.
On Wednesday, at a riverside market in Kabul, Jawed was selling apples. Born the year the Taliban were ousted from power, he was not old enough to remember their brutal reign.
His concern this week was getting supplies of fruit from Pakistan. That was now easier, he said.
“The roads are clear now, they are quiet,” said Jawed, who goes by one name. For now, the Taliban meant more order in the traffic, and wholesale prices had dropped. But business was not better.
“The people are afraid right now — they’re not buying,” he said. “But at least it is better than yesterday. Things will slowly improve. The mullahs have arrived.”
The arrival of the Taliban mullahs — a reference to group’s religious leaders — also set off widespread fear.
Tens of thousands are still trying to escape. People lined up early at the banks, worried that there wouldn’t be money to feed their families. And the deployment of soldiers at checkpoints across Kabul made it clear that Taliban have a monopoly on the use of force and would decide how and when to use it.