At least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, witnesses said, as the militant group tried to set up a government and Western countries stepped up evacuations of diplomats and civilians.
More than a dozen people were injured after Taliban militants opened fire on protesters in the eastern city, two witnesses and a former police official said.
The Taliban have promised peace following their sweep into Kabul, saying they will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.
The witnesses said the deaths took place when local residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in Jalalabad, some 150 km (90 miles) from the capital on the main road to Pakistan.
As the Taliban consolidated power, one of their leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years. A Taliban official said leaders would show themselves to the world, unlike in the past when they lived in secret.
“Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders,” the senior Taliban official said. “There will be no shadow of secrecy.”
But thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped U.S.-led foreign forces over two decades, are desperate to leave the country.
About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours, a Western official said on Wednesday.
The evacuations by military flights will continue around the clock, he said, adding that clearing the chaos outside the airport was a challenge.
“It’s absolutely hectic and chaos out there.” the official said.
The Taliban held their first news briefing since their return to Kabul on Tuesday, suggesting they would impose their laws more softly than during their harsh 1996-2001 rule.
“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, told reporters.
Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”, he said.
During their rule, also guided by sharia religious law, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, echoing leaders of other Western countries, said the Taliban would be judged on their actions.
“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education,” Johnson told parliament.
Many Afghans are sceptical of the Taliban promises. Some said they could only wait and see.
“My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed but only time will tell and it’s going to become clear very soon,” said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.
Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for ex-soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.
“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said, adding that there was a “huge difference” between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.
The Taliban, who have fought to expel foreign forces since they were overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001, seized Kabul on Sunday as Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.
U.S. President Joe Biden, who has faced a barrage of criticism about the withdrawal, has said he had had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal of his predecessor Donald Trump.
Washington was blocking the Taliban from accessing any Afghan government funds held in the United States, a Biden administration official said.
U.S. forces running the airport had to stop flights on Monday after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the airfield looking for a flight out. Flights resumed on Tuesday as the situation came under control.
Seventeen people were wounded on Wednesday in a stampede at a gate to the airport, a NATO security official said, adding that civilians seeking to leave had been told not to gather unless they had a passport and visa to travel.
Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan said his team had evacuated about 700 people on Tuesday and hoped to scale up the operation in coming days.
When asked whether Britain hoped to take 1,000 people out of Afghanistan a day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said they were aiming to operate at that capacity.
Germany has flown 130 people out, France said it had moved out 25 of its nationals and 184 Afghans, and Australia said 26 people had arrived on its first flight back from Kabul.
“Everyone wants out,” said one Afghan man who arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday with his wife and son on a flight via Tashkent. “We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”