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WION Exclusive: Afganistan ground report

Afghans throw stones towards security forces, during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan. June 2, 2017. Photograph: (Reuters)

WION Kabul, Afghanistan Jun 12, 2017, 08.59 AM (IST) Daniele Pagani

“We will stay here until the government will grant us our rights. We will stay here for one day, one week, one month or one year, whatever it takes,” says Hangeza Habibia, an Afghan woman in her thirties. She is one of the rare women found in the protest tents around Kabul.  

“Every woman who is willing to protest should come. You see that I am alone now, but normally 30 per cent of the people in this tent are women.” 

Demonstrators like Hangeza ask for increased safety in Kabul's streets. “We are coming here because in one day we had 600 people murdered or injured. We are coming here to protect our brothers and to avoid that their blood floods the street once again. Who will grant that we are not killed tomorrow? Who will grant that we can stay safe in our houses?” 

Demonstrators criticise both President Ashraf Ghani and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah, requesting they either resign or fire their topmost security advisers. 

The May 31 attack which killed more than a hundred people is where it all started, the source of the current bout of political instability throughout the city. To make things worse, suicide attackers targeted the funeral, killing another seven people and injuring 119.

People took to the street to demand more security.  

Police forces reacted aggressively: They started shooting against the crowd. Nine protestors died and many got injured. According to police sources, only two people died and their men started shooting because protesters were carrying weapons and started shooting first. 

“The Afghan national police shot against our chests. They killed people during demonstrations and this is why we put up these tents,” says 35-year-old Raheem Mukhtari. He has been part of the protests since the very beginning, and like many others has no intention of leaving. 

More than security

There are at least six tents across the city where people gather to rally and chant slogans throughout the day. The city’s security is no longer the sole cause of the protest; the protesters are bonded by a mix of anger and frustration stemming from the country’s brutal economy, its low job prospects and, of course, the increased violence. A feeling of mistrust towards the government has always accompanied President Ghani; The recent massive explosion functioned as an ignitor, transforming the general sentiment of mistrust into permanent protest. 

Many political groups and parties also feel sidelined, and would be happy to see Ghani’s presidency end. 

“I fought for this country, I spilled my own blood,” shouts a man in his forties from the tent's stage. “And for what? Now, wherever I stamp my foot I only see blood coming out from this soil.” 

Several tents display banners with a crossed-out picture of President Ghani. 

“We are asking to the government to resign, they did not deliver what they promised during the election and we want them to go. Every day we have martyrs and new killings. We want Abdullah Abdullah and Ghani to resign, we want a temporary government until they organise new elections,” says Ameen Ameni, a 24-year-old demonstrator. 

The tents are not very crowded and the protest does not seem capable of crossing the city’s boundaries.  

This does not mean that things are under control though. Kabul is a city full of weapons and informal political militias who are ready, and often willing, to enter in action if requested to. The capital is not the entire country but the crucial power centres are here, and that is where much of the country’s political and economical game is decided. 

Protesters say that they do not belong to any political party, but listening to the many informal conversations in and around the tents, it turns out many of them are sympathisers of the influential political party, Jamiat-e Islami, currently led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani. According to the non-profit research organisation Afghanistan Analyst Network, the party has not yet decided its position on whether or not they want street riots to end. So far, they have not said or done anything to stop or calm the people. 

Given recent events, the request for safety and stability is totally legitimate, but the political turn that the protest is taking could become dangerous. The Kabul "tent sit-ins", even if not visibly massive, contain all the ingredients to give rise to countrywide instability and a power vacuum; Both, possibly the last two things Afghanistan currently needs. 

Watch:

WIONs Daniele Pagani is in Kabul tracking the developments there. He brings this ground report on the mood on the streets of Kabul (WION)

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