The Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan – the last resistance to the Taliban regime
After a surprisingly rapid offensive, the Taliban occupied Kabul with minimal resistance and are consolidate its power across Afghanistan. But one unconquered area remains – The province of Panjshir, in the north-west of the country, which has shown itself – for more than four decades – stubbornly resistant to outside interference and remains suspicious of the domination of the Taliban.
On August 15, as the Taliban moved closer to Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani – who had previously promised to “fight to the death”- quietly fled the country, which precipitated the fall of the government. Its vice president, Amrullah Saleh – a fierce critic of the Taliban – decided to stay and move to his hometown, Panjshir.
The Panjshir Valley, nearly 150 km north of Kabul, is home to a predominantly Tajik population and, during four decades of civil war and Taliban insurgency, has been a center of resistance. Panjshir resisted the soviet invasion in the 1980s and the Taliban regime in the late 1990s. For the past 20 years, it was the only province that the predominantly ethnic Pashtun Taliban seemed unable to penetrate.
The Panjshir elites played an important role in the post-2001 political order established by the intervention led by the United States. It is a stronghold of all the main opposition presidential candidates since 2004, including Abdallah Abdallah, senior official in the deposed government. But the widespread fraud allegations after the 2014 and 2019 elections shaken the confidence of local populations in the leadership of Kabul, making them suspicious of central government interventions.
The shape of the resistance
Panjshir resistance mobilizes behind Ahmad Massoud, the 32-year-old son of the charismatic leader Ahmad Shah Massoud – nicknamed the “Afghan napoleon”In a recent biography of veteran British journalist Sandy Gall. Massoud led the resistance campaign against the Russians, but was assassinated in 2001 by Al Qaeda operatives posing as journalists – just two days before the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Massoud junior tries to mobilize local forces, but has yet to prove that he is an honest and competent leader to his support base. There is contempt among locals for some of the leaders of Panjshiri – including Saleh and Abdullah – who have held high-level government positions in Kabul but have done little to serve their communities.
But things have changed in a way that will challenge the resistance in Panjshir. The province’s supply lines have been narrowed and the Panjshir is effectively besieged. This has created the problem of how to get military and humanitarian supplies into the valley if hostilities escalate into open war.
There has also been a change in the political dynamics in the region that will help the Taliban. Importantly – and despite being a fundamentalist Sunni movement – the Taliban have improved his relationship with the Iranian theocratic regime, which once supported anti-Taliban forces.
But there are also opportunities. The ease of its capture of Kabul seems to have convinced the Taliban to re-impose their conception of an emirate led on a narrow and fundamentalist understanding of Islamic Sharia law. This might appeal to the Taliban support base in rural areas dominated by the Pashtuns. But that would have consequences for popular support in Afghanistan as well as the prospect of receiving foreign aid and international recognition from the new regime.
It would also create an opportunity for the resistance to present itself as a better and more popular alternative. Incidents such as the violence that greeted anti-Taliban and nationalist protests in the eastern city of Jalalabad recently can only help to unite the resistance movement.
Read also : The United States can count on the Taliban to fight the Islamic State. It’s a dangerous move
Is a settlement possible?
Both the Taliban and resistance leaders have called for negotiations to establish an “inclusive government” in Kabul. In this case, the challenge will be to reach a consensus on what “inclusive” means. Many interpret the Taliban calls for inclusiveness as an attempt to gain international recognition and access to aid.
But if this is the case – and inclusiveness functions as a tactical facade by co-opting a few weak political elites into the state apparatus – it is unlikely to provide stability. One need only look at the failures of the past 20 years to see their flaws. Rather, inclusiveness should mean exactly that, involving women, youth, and should adequately involve the many Afghan cultural groups to reflect the country’s complex ethnic-linguistic mosaic.
The speed of the advance and the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban makes a peace agreement less likely. He currently holds most of the currencies, making it difficult for an exhausted resistance to call for a democratic political system, decentralization and equal rights for all citizens. Why would the ruling Taliban leaders give in to such demands? But at the same time, for Massoud and his colleagues, negotiating what will effectively be a surrender is hard to imagine.
The world is watching
This is where the international community could play an important role. To avoid the outbreak of a possible civil war, the UN should negotiate a “non-war, non-peace agreementBetween the two parties in the sense of the Good Friday agreement, with the main objective of putting an end to any armed conflict and opening the way to a just and lasting political settlement.
The fate of Panjshir has consequences not only for the anti-Taliban resistance forces, but also for the stability and security of Afghanistan, the region and the west. If Panjshir falls into the hands of the Taliban, a setback in post-2001 gains seems inevitable, with all that this implies for the Afghan people.
For the rest of the world, meanwhile, this means losing the last force that can hold back an Islamic fundamentalist regime that has demonstrated in the past that it can pose a serious threat to global security.
Read also : How the United States Unattached in Afghanistan Could Help India Deal Better with Pakistan
Why the news media is in crisis and how to fix it
India is all the more in need of free, fair, uninhibited and questioning journalism as it is facing multiple crises.
But the news media are in a crisis of their own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, giving in to crass spectacle in prime time.
ThePrint employs the best young reporters, columnists and editors. Supporting journalism of this quality requires smart, thoughtful people like you to pay the price. Whether you live in India or abroad, you can do it here.
Support our journalism