The Taliban, who are desperately trying to present a moderate face after sweeping into power in Afghanistan, have blown up the statue of a Shiite militia leader who had fought against them during the civil war in the 1990s.
When the Islamic militants seized power from rival warlords in 1996, they killed the militia leader, Abdul Ali Mazari — a champion of the country’s ethnic Hazara minority, Shiites who were persecuted under the Sunni Taliban’s earlier rule.
The statue stood in the central Bamyan province, where the Taliban infamously blew up two huge 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in 2001, claiming they violated Islam’s prohibition on idolatry.
The Taliban have been on a PR campaign since their quicksilver campaign to retake Afghanistan ended when they toppled the government in Kabul on Sunday.
They claim they have changed and won’t impose the same draconian restrictions they did when they last ruled with an iron first, all but eliminating women’s rights, carrying out public executions and banning television and music.
Notably, the insurgents also promised not to seek revenge against those who have opposed them, though many Afghans remain deeply skeptical.
Thousands have been racing to the airport and borders to flee the war-torn country, while others hunker down in their homes, fearful after prisons and armories were emptied during the extremists’ blitz across the country.
On Wednesday, groups of armed fighters patrolled an upscale neighborhood of the capital that is home to many embassies as well as mansions of the Afghan elite. The Taliban have promised to maintain security, but many citizens are as afraid of them as they are of potential chaos.
In a rare show of dissent, dozens of people gathered in the eastern city of Jalalabad and raised the national flag in an anti-Taliban demonstration, according to Salim Ahmad, a local resident.
He said the insurgents, who have raised their own flag, a white banner with Islamic inscriptions, fired in the air to disperse the crowd. There were no immediate reports of any casualties.
Another Taliban promise being eyed warily is their vow to prevent Afghanistan from again being used as a base for planning terrorist attacks.
That was enshrined in a 2020 peace deal with the Trump administration that paved the way for the drawdown of US troops, the last of whom are supposed to pull out by the end of the month.
When the Taliban were last in power they sheltered Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda while they planned the 9/11 attacks. American officials fear Al-Qaeda and other groups could reconstitute themselves in Afghanistan now that the Taliban are back in power.
The Taliban have vowed to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” and have been holding talks with former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the fallen government.
Images circulating online Wednesday showed the two men meeting with Anas Haqqani, a senior leader in a powerful Taliban faction. In 2012, the US branded the Haqqani network a terrorist group — and its involvement in a future government could prompt international sanctions.
With Post wires
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