Taliban fighters paraded through a northwest Afghan city in a show of strength at the weekend, days after reinforcements were sent to quell unrest over the detention of a popular commander.
Protests erupted last week in Maymana, capital of Faryab province, after an Uzbek Taliban commander was detained for alleged links to a kidnapping plot.
The unrest sparked fears of tensions between Uzbek and Pashtun civilians and Taliban fighters, with unconfirmed reports that members of both ethnic groups had been killed in isolated clashes.
“We deployed hundreds of forces from neighbouring provinces and the situation is under control now,” Latifullah Hakimi, a senior defence ministry official, told AFP at the weekend.
Sunday’s parade included columns of masked fighters clad in matching white shalwar kameez tunics, khaki combat vests, and headscarves inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith.
Dozens more heavily armed fighters in jungle camouflage rode on the back of pick-up trucks and armoured vehicles, seized from Afghan government and US forces during the Taliban’s lightning-fast summer takeover.
Residents of Maymana lined the route, many stony-faced as they filmed the parade with their phone cameras.
“Two days ago the situation was not good because of the demonstration, but now the situation is normal,” said Rohullah, a 20-year-old shopkeeper.
“The only problem we have is that people don’t have jobs… but they are very happy with the security.”
The show of force comes as Afghanistan’s new rulers struggle to evolve from an insurgency to a governing power in a country on the brink of economic collapse, with the United Nations estimating more than half the population is facing acute hunger.
Discipline among the rank and file – particularly in remote areas – is becoming a problem, with local commanders ignoring edicts from Kabul or implementing orders to their own whim.
Promising a softer rule than their 1996-2001 regime, the Taliban have launched a commission to identify members flouting regulations – dismissing almost 3,000 people.
“We had a military parade in the city to assure the people that we will not let anyone interrupt security,” said Jaweed, a Maymana commander who like many goes by only one name.