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Protests in Nangarhar: Taliban use gunfire against demonstrators

On 9 May 2024, Kochi nomads protested against the Taliban's plans to demolish their homes on the Jalalabad-Torkham highway, leading to Taliban gunfire that caused several casualties, amid ongoing claims of land usurpation and forced displacements.


24 May 2024

On 9 May 2024, various Afghan news agencies reported a clash between armed Taliban and protesters in Nangarhar province. According to sources quoted by Amu TV, 8am Media, and Etilaatroz, the unrest started after Taliban officials ordered the demolition of houses belonging to the Kochi — Pashtun pastoral nomads who inhabit central and southern Afghanistan — in order to develop new customs buildings.

Arafat Mohajer, the local Taliban Director of Information and Culture, claimed the protesters closed the Jalalabad-Torkham highway, near the Baribak area, for hours to protest against the decision. 

Various news agencies and social media users shared footage of the confrontation. The videos showed hundreds of civilians, most of whom were adult men, protesting by blocking the road. A few young boys were also observed among the protesters. From these videos, it can be seen that the highway was covered in rocks and large logs, possibly to prevent Taliban vehicles from driving past. 

Tolo News spoke to Abdul Basir Zabali, the Taliban Spokesperson for the Nangarhar Police, who confirmed the building plans, and claimed that local residents had been given a deadline to evacuate their homes. Other Taliban officials who spoke to Tolo News after the clashes said the Kochi’s houses were built illegally on state-owned land. 

The figure below shows the location of the clashes between armed Taliban and nomads.

Figure: Geolocation of the highway where the local population clashed with armed Taliban [34.299657, 70.665830]

Although civilians were observed carrying large sticks, AW investigators did not identify any acts of violence towards the Taliban. In contrast, armed Taliban members reacted to the civilian protest by shooting in the direction of the demonstrators, injuring several people.

According to Zabali, the nomads attacked the Taliban security personnel with weapons, and during this confrontation two were killed, and four were injured. Mohajer noted that a Taliban fighter was also killed during the clash. Although local authorities confirmed the number of victims, they stated it was not clear who shot the protesters. 

AW investigators observed heavy gunfire being used against the protesters, as dozens of civilians, including children, were seen running and trying to take cover from the fire. 

A video, shared by Bilal Sarwary, an Afghan journalist in exile, showed a victim being carried away less than two minutes after the Taliban opened fire. Photos of two additional victims were also shared by a Facebook user, one of whom appeared to be deceased. 

One gunfire victim appeared to have been injured on his leg (right), while a second was likely shot on his back (left). The figure below shows they were both taken to the same wooden structure, by the side of the road, by other protesters. The location of the injuries on the visible victims suggests the Taliban shot in the direction of the demonstrators, and not into the air.

Figure: Victims of Taliban gunfire during protest at the Jalalabad-Torkham highway [34.299657, 70.665830].

The number of victims reported by Afghan news agencies’ sources varied. 8am Media claimed the Taliban confirmed three protesters were killed and several others were injured, while Tolo News reported that according to local officials, two protesters were killed, and four were injured. Meanwhile, a local source told Etilaatroz that only one civilian had been killed, while three were wounded, and sources told AmuTV that three civilians were killed in the clashes, while five were injured. AW verified one individual was killed and two were wounded, as a result of Taliban gunfire against the protesters.

Between August 2023 and 14 May 2024, AW recorded 75 claims of property acquisition or destruction, including land usurpation, and 48 claims of forced displacements. The most recent claim was shared on social media on 14 May 2024. Footage shared alongside the claim showed a group of men protesting in front of armed Taliban. The video was allegedly recorded in the Farkhar district of Takhar province, and claimed that the Taliban had forced people off their lands; these people were subsequently left with no place to go. In the footage, one of the men can be heard claiming that the Taliban was threatening the people, while a different individual addressed the armed Taliban members, saying: “Come shoot me. Have you done jihad for this [mistreat people] and to threaten people to death?”

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