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Taliban hold victory rally outside Kabul as they consolidate rule

Taliban supporters and senior figures held their first mass rally outside Kabul on Sunday, in a show of strength as they consolidate their rule of Afghanistan.

A large crowd of Taliban supporters attended a rally in a vast field to the north of Kabul
A large crowd of Taliban supporters attended a rally in a vast field to the north of Kabul

No foreign government has yet recognised the Islamist former rebels’ rule, but their hold on power within the country is all but unchallenged seven weeks after they took the capital.

Earlier protests against the Taliban’s “interim government” — many led by women — have dwindled since a ban on unauthorised demonstrations, but Sunday’s official victory gathering in Kohdaman township in the hilly outskirts of the capital was attended by 1,500 men and boys.

“This is the day we waited for,” said Khalil Haqqani, the new minister for refugees who in 2011 was named as a designated terrorist by the United States with a $5 million bounty on his head. He is a prominent leader of the Haqqani militant network founded by his brother Jalaluddin.

“We have achieved our goal, but it requires protection,” he said, with his rifle leaning against the lectern, boasting that the country has a “bright future” despite being shunned by international donors.

“My advice to the world is that they leave Afghanistan to Afghanistan.”

Flanked by Taliban fighters in combat gear carrying assault rifles, leading Taliban officials and commanders addressed an audience sat in rows of chairs under awnings, celebrating victory over the United States and praising suicide bombers.

One speaker urged the crowd to “respect elders” because they were the “mujahids who fought against the Soviets” in the 1980s.

Another introduced as Rahmatullah, from nearby Mir Bacha Kot, said the Taliban’s victory was “the result of those youths who stood in queues to register for suicide attacks”.

– ‘America is defeated’ –

The United States, Europe and other powers that were major donors to the overthrown Afghan regime have warned they will not recognise the Taliban government, made up largely of hardliners and no women, unless it becomes more inclusive.

Afghanistan’s neighbour Pakistan has urged the world to engage with the Taliban, while stopping short of itself recognising the new regime.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who will be in Islamabad next week, has pressed for an inclusive government in Kabul, and said Washington looks to “Pakistan to play a critical role in enabling that outcome.”

At the rally, a procession of fighters carrying flags and weapons — including rocket launchers — paraded around the crowd, while unarmed supporters waved homemade posters.

Tribal elders watched cross-legged from the side of the stage.

As people arrived, music honouring the Taliban’s victories echoed around the site as dozens of heavily armed fighters in military combat fatigues stood guard.

“America is defeated, impossible, impossible — but possible!” one song said.

At the turn-off towards the township, about 10 armed fighters lined the road beneath a large banner honouring a deceased Taliban commander and professing the “support of the people of Kohdaman for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in the action of liberating the country”.

– Women’s protests –

But while hundreds turned out for Saturday’s rally, the Taliban have been loath to allow similar gatherings by those opposed to their rule.

Last Thursday, the Taliban violently cracked down on a small women’s rights demonstration in eastern Kabul, firing shots into the air to disperse protesters.

Gunmen then forced back the protesters as they tried to continue with the demonstration.

Isolated anti-Taliban rallies — with women at the forefront — were staged in cities around the country after the group seized power, including in the western city of Herat where two people were shot dead.

But protests have dwindled since the government issued an order banning demonstrations that did not have prior authorisation, warning of “severe legal action” for violators.

The handful that have gone ahead have been criticised as carefully orchestrated publicity stunts, including a rally at a Kabul university where hundreds of fully veiled women professed support for the new regime. AFP