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Taliban’s pledge of peaceful leadership is quickly coming undone amid reports of beatings, deaths

Taliban fighters patrol in Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

Rahmat Gul | AP

Reports of violence and repression by Taliban militants are surfacing around Afghanistan, despite pledges by the group’s representatives that their leadership would be conciliatory and peaceful.

At least 12 people have been killed in and around Kabul airport alone since Sunday, when the Taliban entered the Afghan capital, NATO and Taliban officials said Thursday, as cited by Reuters. The deaths may have been caused by gunfire or stampede.

Beatings by Taliban fighters left some adults and at least one child injured and bleeding, according to reporting and photographs from NBC News and the Los Angeles Times. The Taliban deny their members’ involvement in the violence.

“Their three-day old charm offensive is already cracking,” Bakhti Nishanov, a Central Asia expert at the nonpartisan International Republican Institute, wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

“I can’t even imagine what they will do once the world’s short attention span moves away from Afghanistan and the initial, however confused, hopefulness of change goes away.”

Wednesday saw nascent anti-Taliban protests spring up in different parts of the country, with groups of Afghans marching through streets holding the black, green and red national flag.

The Taliban used gunfire to disperse the demonstrators, which killed two people and injured several others, according reporting by The Wall Street Journal that CNBC has been unable to independently verify. The group has also been blocking passage to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, despite assurances from U.S. administration officials that the Taliban had agreed to allow evacuations.

The situation has deteriorated to the point that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has warned U.S. citizens in the country that it “cannot ensure safe passage” to the airport. That statement was followed on Wednesday by the Pentagon’s acknowledgement that it does not currently have the capability to safely escort Americans in Kabul to the airport for evacuation.

If history is any guide, pledges of reconciliation by the Taliban do not hold for long. A Taliban commander in 1996, when the group first took over the country, was quoted as saying, “Taliban will not take revenge. We have no personal rancor.”

The group also promised amnesty for all government officials and soldiers who surrendered.

Then-Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying that the Taliban would guarantee the lives and property of civilians in the country. What followed instead were years of brutal executions, amputations, beatings and repression. Mutilated bodies of former government leaders were hanged from lampposts for the public to see.

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