Resolving anti-Taliban resistance in the Panjshir Valley

Resolving anti-Taliban resistance in the Panjshir Valley

Members of the Taliban patrol after entering the Panjshir Valley, the only province the group did not enter during its sweep in Afghanistan last month, September 6, 2021.

Syed Khodaibardi Sadat | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The situation in the Panjshir Valley in eastern Afghanistan remained uncertain on Tuesday, following statements by the Taliban that militants had taken the country’s last resisting province, even as resistance members anti-Taliban vowed to continue fighting.

If the claims of victory are true, it means that all of Afghanistan is now under the control of the Taliban, which, thanks to a series of surprise battlefield victories and Afghan military surrenders in July and early August, captured nearly 40 million of the country. . America has withdrawn its army.

It would also mean an unprecedented and deeply symbolic defeat for a province known for its hitherto undefeated fighters, who successfully resisted Taliban and Soviet offensives in recent decades, and who were important allies of the United States.

The fighting continued until late Tuesday, according to a member of the National Resistance Front who spoke to CNBC from Panjshir on condition of anonymity due to security risks. The NRF is a multi-ethnic group of Afghan tribes, militias and soldiers opposed to the Taliban.

The Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban insurgent forces participate in military training in the Abdullah Khil area of ​​Dara district of Panjshir province on August 24, 2021.

Ahmed Sahel Armaan | AFP | Getty Images

As the Taliban entered the historically important valley, there is no evidence that they took control of it, says Kamal Alam, a non-resident Atlantic Council senior researcher who was not in Panjshir. than last month.

“The Taliban claimed to have taken the Panjshir without proof. One thing is clear this time: they have definitely entered the Panjshir, ”Alam told CNBC on Tuesday. “Taking it in its entirety is another matter, and has yet to be proven. They only reduced part of it to the strict minimum, that’s for sure.

First Soviet, then Taliban: the legacy of resistance

Alam is a senior advisor to the Masood Foundation, an organization that promotes the legacy of anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmed Shah Masood, who was assassinated before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Masood’s son, Ahmed, is the leader of the National Resistance Front and CEO of the Masood Foundation. In a prepared statement posted to social media on Monday, Ahmed Masood pledged to fight the Taliban and sought to rally others to do the same.

“In no case will the military pressure on us and on our territory undermine our determination to continue our fight,” he declared.

“Wherever you are, whether inside or outside the country, we call on you to stand up for the dignity, integrity and freedom of our country. […] We, the NRF, will stand firmly by your side.

Ahmed Masood, son of Afghan anti-Soviet resistance hero Ahmed Shah Masood, arrives to attend a rally in Bajrak, Afghanistan’s Panjshir province, September 5, 2019.

Mohamed Ismail | Reuters

Ahmed Masood criticized the Taliban for failing to comply with a resolution made by the Council of Ulama of Afghanistan or by leading religious scholars who called for an end to hostilities.

“We took this as final and not violent, awaiting a response from the other side,” Ahmed Masood said in his statement on Monday. “However, the Taliban have revealed their true nature by rejecting the demand for a resolution with their offensive in Panjshir.”

Trained at Sandhurst Military Academy and King’s College London in the west, Ahmed Masood, 32, is committed to continuing his late father’s legacy.

Known as the “Lion of Panjshir,” Ahmed Shah Masood led the resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. Pahari Panjshir persisted as one of the only parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban were unable to capture during this period.

Afghans wave a flag over a portrait of the late Afghan commander Ahmed Shah Masood (right) in the Parian district of Panjshir province on August 23, 2021, as the Taliban said their fighters surrounded resistance forces in hiding in the valley, but they were looking instead to fight with them, talk to them.

Ahmed Sahel Armaan | AFP | Getty Images

Ahmed Shah Massoud worked with CIA paramilitary forces to inspire and train local tribes to counter the Taliban, but was killed by the group’s militants just two days before Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. was assassinated, leading to an American intervention in Afghanistan.

Taliban victory will be a “huge psychological defeat”

Alam said the implications and significance of losing the Panjshir to the Taliban would be enormous. “Not only for Afghanistan, but for the world – September 11, the end of the cold war and guerrilla folklore all clash with Panjshir. “

Alam said that over the past two and a half decades, “the Taliban have been repeatedly beaten, whenever they tried to enter the northeast, not just Panjshir.” “However, if God forbid the Panjshir is to fall now, it will be a major psychological and strategic defeat with a strategic shift for the future of Central Asia as well.”

Emily Winterbotham, director of the Terrorism and Conflict Group at the Royal United Services Institute in London, echoed the sentiment.

“If confirmed, the Taliban’s victory over the small province of Panjshir is deeply symbolic,” Winterbotham said. “This puts an end, at least for now, to the last point of Taliban resistance, a feat the regime first failed to achieve in the 1990s.”

It will also show how much stronger the Taliban are than they were 20 years ago. The Taliban have not only grown in size and in terms of support or acceptance in parts of the country; He now also has billions of dollars in American weapons and two decades of experience in fighting Western armies.

While the Taliban have said they intend to establish more inclusive and accommodating leadership than before, the behavior of its fighters in recent weeks tells a whole different story. Members of the Taliban killed and beat civilians – especially protesters – including women and children.

“There are growing fears that the Taliban are seeking revenge for the resistance against the inhabitants of the valley,” Winterbotham said. “The reaction of the Taliban is an indicator of how much the group has really changed.”

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