The Taliban have blown up the statue of a Shiite militia leader who fought against them during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, according to photos circulating on Wednesday, sowing further doubt about their claims to have become more moderate.
The insurgents' every action in their sudden sweep to power is being watched closely. They insist they have changed and won’t impose the same draconian restrictions they did when they last ruled Afghanistan, all but eliminating women’s rights, carrying out public executions and banning television and music.
They also promised not to seek revenge against those who have opposed them.
But many Afghans remain deeply skeptical, and thousands are racing to the airport and borders to flee the country. Many others are hiding inside their homes, fearful after prisons and armories were emptied during the insurgents’ blitz across the country.
On Wednesday, groups of fighters carrying long guns patrolled a well-to-do neighborhood of the capital, Kabul, that is home to many embassies as well as mansions of the Afghan elite. The Taliban have promised to maintain security, but many Afghans are as afraid of them as they are of potential chaos.
In a rare, early show of dissent, dozens of people gathered in the eastern city of Jalalabad and raised the Afghan national flag in an anti-Taliban demonstration, according to Salim Ahmad, a local resident. He said the Taliban fired in the air to disperse the crowd. There were no immediate reports of any casualties.
The insurgents have raised their own flag — a white banner with Islamic inscriptions — in the territories they have seized.
As Afghans and the international community look to see if the Taliban will make good on their promises, photos circulated on social media of the destroyed statue. It depicted Abdul Ali Mazari, a militia leader killed by the Taliban in 1996, when the Islamic militants seized power from rival warlords. Mazari was a champion of Afghanistan'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 massive 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in 2001, shortly before the U.S.-led invasion that drove them from power. The Taliban claimed the Buddhas violated Islam's prohibition on idolatry.
Another Taliban promise being closely watched 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 American troops, the last of whom are supposed to leave at the end of the month.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.