Taliban resistance once again lies in the hands of Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley

Taliban resistance once again lies in the hands of Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley

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The Taliban’s virtually unopposed march into Kabul completed their 20-year struggle against the United States and its Afghan partners in retaking the country they lost in December 2001. While the central government led by President Ashraf Ghani fled in fear and the military crumbled with little support, a nascent resistance movement against the Taliban’s rule is already underway.

Pockets of resistance have already sprung up in the Panjshir Valley, which is not yet under Taliban control. Leaders there are attempting to rally support among the population to resist what many believe will be a return to the Taliban’s brutal and oppressive rule prior to 2001.

Among the resistance leaders is Ahmad Massoud, son of Afghan Mujahideen hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al Qaeda days before the 9/11 terror attacks. Shah Massoud was integral to the Mujahideen rebels who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and became a leading figure in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that resisted the Taliban’s reign from 1996 to 2001. 

The Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, was a hotbed of anti-Taliban sentiment prior to 2001. Rebels in the strategically important valley provided U.S. special forces and the CIA with critical intelligence which helped launch the invasion of Afghanistan and ultimately drove the Taliban from power within two months. Now, 20 years later, it might once again become the center of the latest iteration of the resistance movement.

Taliban fighters pose for photograph in Wazir Akbar Khan in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. The Taliban declared an "amnesty" across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Ethnic Tajiks from the Afghan security forces, long opposed to the ethnically Pashtun Taliban, have allegedly arrived in the Panjshir Valley with arms and ammunition ready to join Massoud and others to spearhead the fight against the Taliban, according to a report from Stratfor, RANE’s geopolitical intelligence platform. Massoud, in a call to arms, penned a Washington Post op-ed and announced his intention to follow in his late father’s footsteps and join other Mujahideen rebels to take the fight to the Taliban.

Massoud is also calling on the United States and the west to supply his rebels with arms and ammunition. At this point, there is no indication from the Biden administration or NATO allies that the U.S. and its partners have any appetite for such a proxy war. A proxy war fueled by external powers would further destabilize Afghanistan and would create and even greater environment for transnational terrorist organizations to flourish. Afghanistan still has no functioning government, and the Taliban are focused on providing security and stability in the interim while they form a coherent governing body.

The current Taliban leadership is in negotiations with various Afghan leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai, and will likely agree to some form of governing arrangement with representation across ethnic and tribal lines and will need the bureaucratic know-how of Afghan leaders of the past.

Despite the best efforts of Massoud and his comrades’ ambitions in Panjshir, the Taliban have asserted control over most of Afghanistan and what remains of the anti-Taliban resistance movement is weak. “The Afghan republic’s collapse was total, so there aren’t many anti-Taliban political leaders in the fight anymore,” Asfandyar Mir, affiliate at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, told Fox News. Mir cautions that the budding opposition to Taliban rule is in its very beginning stages and concentrated mostly in Panjshir Valley, while most Afghan opposition figures are outside the country and looking for help from the international community to be included in an inclusive power-sharing Taliban-led government as opposed to taking up arms.

Although Massoud’s name and family legacy carries hefty weight among those who oppose the Taliban in Afghanistan and is a link to the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and anti-Taliban resistance of the 1990s, it is not yet a revival of the old Mujahideen or a Northern Alliance 2.0, according to Stratfor SVP of strategic analysis, Rodger Baker. At the moment, “the nascent resistance is seeking to delegitimize any Taliban-arranged government,” Baker told Fox News. 

Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War who served in Kabul from 2010 to 2012 working for commanders of the International Security Assistance Force, agreed that it’s too early to tell whether this anti-Taliban formation will be strong enough to mount real opposition, but she is confident it will be important to watch over the coming months.

“It’s not clear how much combat power the nascent opposition has, how organized it is, or how much money it has. Will it form an armed opposition or try to negotiate with the Taliban in some way to become part of some sort of political order or to gain some form of protection? But make no mistake: There will be an armed resistance to the Taliban – I have no doubt of that,” Kagen told Fox News.

If the Panjshir resistance want any hope for external support, they may receive it from anti-Taliban sympathizers in neighboring Tajikistan. The Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan, Zahir Aghbar, rejects Taliban rule and said Panjshir Valley will serve as a resistance stronghold led by Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s First Vice President who declared himself the legitimate caretaker president of Afghanistan in Panjshir after former President Ghani fled the country. Aghbar said the Taliban must refrain from violence against innocent civilians and show that they respect the Afghan constitution, respect women and ethnic minority rights, and adhere to international human rights standards if they wish to be formally recognized. Otherwise, Aghbar warned, there will be a risk of a renewed civil war. 

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