Deadly protest in Jalalabad against removal of Afghan flag

At least two reportedly killed and 12 others wounded after shots fired at protest against removal of Afghan flag in Jalalabad.

Firing was also reported from a central square in Daronta district, just outside Jalalabad [File: AFP]

At least two people have been killed and 12 wounded after gunmen fired into a crowd of people who had taken down an Afghan Taliban flag in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, sources say.

A black-on-white Taliban flag that was waving at a roundabout in Jalalabad, located about 115km east of the capital Kabul, was removed and replaced with the black, red and green flag of the previous Afghan government on Wednesday morning.

Video circulating on social media showed the crowd at the city’s Pashtunistan Square dispersing as the sound of gunshots rang out across the busy traffic intersection.

In a second video, dozens of protesters could be seen waving Afghan flags as they walked down a street, with bystanders whistling their support.

Jalalabad is the traditional hub of annual independence day celebrations in Afghanistan, which take place every year on August 19 to commemorate the date when the British government recognised Afghan independence in 1919, ending the third Anglo-Afghan war.

Firing was also reported from a central square in Daronta district, just outside Jalalabad, when people there also replaced a Taliban flag.

Reporting from Kabul, Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride said that despite the transition from the previous government to one controlled by the Taliban taking place without a major battle in the capital, the situation in Afghanistan remained tense.

“We are getting reports of very serious disturbances in Jalalabad,” he said, stressing the importance of the city as a main trading hub with Afghanistan’s eastern neighbour Pakistan.

“Since we have seen the arrival of the Taliban, they have gradually been removing Afghanistan’s national flags and replacing them with the Taliban flag. We have seen that in Kabul. A lot of people are not happy with that, but by and large they had to put up with [it].

“In Jalalabad, they have not put up with that. There have been resistance to that by a fairly sizeable part of the community there.”

Reporting from Kabul, Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis said that the protests have expanded beyond Jalalabad to several other provinces.

“People are very upset that the flag was taken down and that the Taliban flag has been raised,” said Bellis.

She added: “That isn’t the only flashpoint in Afghanistan today. There is ongoing chaos at the airport where the Taliban is still trying to hold people off from reaching the airport, breaching the security perimeter and having a repeat of what happened on Monday when thousands of people made their way onto the tarmac and disrupted evacuation flights.”

Video circulating on social media showed the crowd at the city’s Pashtunistan Square dispersing [Screengrab/Social media video]

Statue toppled in Bamiyan

Also on Wednesday, a statue of a prominent Shia Muslim militia leader who fought against the Taliban during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s was destroyed in central Bamiyan province, according to photographs circulating on social media.

The statue depicted Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed by the Taliban in 1995, when the group seized power from rival militias.

Mazari was a champion of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara minority, who are members of the Shia sect of Islam and were persecuted under the Taliban’s earlier rule. The Taliban belongs to Afghanistan’s majority Sunni Muslim sect.

The statue stood in central Bamiyan province, where the Taliban blew up two massive 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in 2001, shortly before the US-led invasion that drove them from power.

The Taliban claimed the Buddhas violated Islam’s ban on idolatry.

Ali M Latifi contributed from Kabul.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies