Taliban fighters violently suppressed a women's protest on Saturday in Kabul, while 70 miles to the north ex-Afghan army and militia members battled the Islamist group in Panjshir province, as pockets of anti-Taliban resistance continued to flare up.
Several of the women, who were demanding inclusion in the yet-to-be named Taliban government, said they were beaten by Taliban fighters – some of the first concrete evidence of harsh treatment of women by the group.
Since they swept to power last month Taliban leaders have been on a “charm offensive” seeking to convince the world, aid groups and their own population that the harsh rule they imposed in their last stint in power, from 1996 to 2001, was a thing of the past. But there was little restraint in evidence at the Kabul protest.
A 24-year-old participant said in a telephone interview that the Taliban tried to rout the gathering of about 100 women using tear gas, rifle butts and metal clubs or tools. She said she received five stitches to close a head wound after she was knocked unconscious with a blow from one of the metal objects. “When I tried to resist and continue the march, one of the armed Taliban pushed me and hit me with a sharp metal device,” said the woman. “They pushed everybody away and forced us to leave while chasing us with their spray, weapons and metal devices,” she said. “The Taliban kept cursing, using abusive language.”
Video of the incident on Afghan news media outlets showed a bearded Taliban member, surrounded by gunmen, exhorting the women to disperse through a megaphone, which was then snatched from his hand by one of the women.
On Friday night, the Taliban pushed farther into the Panjshir Valley in an effort to crush resistance led by Ahmad Massoud, son of legendary resistance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who held off the Taliban 25 years ago.
Reports that the Panjshir Valley had fallen on Friday night touched off bursts of celebratory Taliban gunfire in the capital, killing at least two. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid later criticised the gunfire and called on fighters to "thank God instead". Mujahid is likely to be named information minister in a new Afghan government whose composition has been the subject of rumours for days.
The naming of the new ruling structure was delayed yet again on Saturday, but it appeared increasingly likely that it would include only figures from the Taliban movement. That would contradict early suggestions that the group would reach outside its ranks in an effort to appear inclusive. The local branch of Islamic State, Islamic State-Khorasan, or Isis-K, blamed for the deadly airport bombing in Kabul last month, continued to create problems for the Taliban.
A senior official of a prominent Western aid agency in Kunduz reported a number of killings of Taliban members in the last week of August, apparently by Isis-K members, and even the raising of an Isis-K flag, later taken down.
Pakistan, whose intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has provided funding and sanctuary to Taliban leadership for two decades, showed its hand at the weekend. Both the Afghan and Pakistani news media reported that the head of the ISI, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, flew into the Afghan capital for talks.
With Afghanistan's economy in free fall – nearly 80 per cent of the previous government's budget came from foreign aid that has been cut off – the United Nations has convened a "high-level ministerial humanitarian meeting" in Geneva on September 13th to appeal for aid. Nearly half the country is "malnourished," said the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov. Nearly half of all children under the age of five are predicted to be acutely malnourished in the next 12 months, the UN said.
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.