1 of 9 | Taliban fighters stand guard in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday before a news conference by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. Photo by Bashir Darwish/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 18 (UPI) -- One day after telling the world that they are no longer the brutal militant force that ruled Afghanistan during the 1990s, the Taliban on Wednesday moved to quell a protest in the country that opposed their takeover.
Taliban fighters fired into the crowd of demonstrators in Jalalabad in one of the first glimpses of how the fundamentalist group may handle dissent going forward. Jalalabad is Afghanistan's fifth-largest city.
Activists at the rally held the national flag of Afghanistan in the streets of Jalalabad to voice disapproval of the Taliban's swift and surprising takeover in the capital of Kabul this week.
Witnesses said members of the group, who have been patrolling virtually the entire city of Kabul and provinces throughout the country this week, attempted to break up the show of opposition by first firing into the air and then into the crowd when they refused to disperse.
Part of the event included raising the Afghan national flag to commemorate Afghanistan's independence from British rule in 1919, and lowering the Taliban flag.
Al Jazeera reported that at least two people were killed in the fracas and several were hurt.
The show of force came less than a day after Taliban leaders sought to present a new image to the world in a news conference from the presidential palace on Tuesday.
While President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Taliban had agreed to provide "safe passage" for civilians to leave Afghanistan, there were increasing reports of Afghan nationals being beaten, intimidated and at least one being shot at various checkpoints leading to Kabul's airport, the Washington Post reported.
The Taliban has quickly created checkpoints around Kabul and near the entrance of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. One Afghan interpreter who worked for the Australian army was shot by a Taliban fighter while others who attempted to reach the airport were beaten.
The United Arab Emirates confirmed Wednesday that former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in their country after fleeing his home country over the weekend.
"The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds," the UAE said in a statement.
A State Department release co-signed by several countries called on Taliban leaders to protect the rights and freedoms of the women and girls in the country, particularly their right to work, to be educated and to have freedom of movement.
"Afghan women and girls, as all Afghan people, deserve to live in safety, security and dignity," the statement said. "Any form of discrimination and abuse should be prevented. We in the international community stand ready to assist them with humanitarian aid and support, to ensure that their voices can be heard."
The European Union along with Australia, Britain and Canada signed the statement with several other countries.
During the conference, the group was asked about how they will treat women and girls under their rule and whether they plan to allow radical terrorist factions a safe haven as they did during their last rule between 1996 and when U.S. forces forced them out in 2001.
During the last Taliban reign, women and girls were not allowed to go to school, not allowed to hold jobs and required a male escort just to go outside.
"[Women] are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us, and the international community," a spokesman told reporters. "If they have concerns, we would like to assure them that there is not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have."
"I would like to assure the international community, including the U.S., that nobody will be harmed in Afghanistan," he added. "You will not be harmed from our soil."
The group also promised "amnesty" for opponents who have fought the Taliban over the past 20 years, as long as they give up their arms.
Some policy analysts and terror experts have responded to the new Taliban promises with skepticism.
Pakistan has opened both of its major border crossings to let in Afghan nationals with Pakistani visas, including the crossing at Torkham, which is typically the busiest.
Pakistani interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said he's not seen large numbers of refugees trying to enter the country so far.
"No refugees have entered Pakistan yet," Ahmed told CNN, adding that the crossing has remained "peaceful and calm."
Also Wednesday, Taliban leaders led by Anas Haqqani of the Haqqani network met with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the government transition. The United States has designated the Haqqani network a terrorist group.
A spokesman for Karzai, Afghanistan's president between 2001 and 2014, said the meeting was to facilitate further negotiations with the Taliban.
Former Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh claimed this week to be the lead caretaker of the Afghan government during the transition. Saleh, who remarked previously that he will not concede to the Taliban, said the Afghan constitution grants him such authority.
Opposition figures are said to be gathering in a province north of Kabul, which is the only province in Afghanistan that has yet to fall to Taliban forces.