Panjshir – The Valley Trying To Hold Off The Taliban

image sourceAFP

image captionResistance fighters have gathered in Panjshir province, just north of Kabul

The Taliban have swept through Afghanistan with remarkable speed.

But as they sit in Kabul planning their new government, there remains a large thorn in their side: a small valley of anti-Taliban resistance just north-east of the capital, refusing to give up despite being entirely surrounded.

Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi has called on the residents of the Panjshir Valley to lay down their weapons, but there is little sign of them complying. Dozens of Taliban fighters are said to have been killed in skirmishes along its borders since 15 August, when Kabul fell, and fighting is continuing.

So what exactly is happening in the Panjshir Valley – and should the Taliban be worried?

Who are the resistance fighters?

The valley in eastern Afghanistan has become the home of the National Resistance Front (NRF), a multi-ethnic group made up of militias and former Afghan security force members, reportedly numbering in the thousands.

Photos released this week show what appears to be an organised, well-armed and well-trained group.

image sourceAFP

image captionResistance fighters training in late August

The NRF has been joined by former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, but its leader is Ahmad Massoud, whose father was known as the “Lion of Panjshir”, and for good reason.

Ahmad Shah Massoud not only held off the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, but went on to keep the Taliban out in the 1990s, only to be killed by assassins two days before 9/11.

His son – a 32-year-old King’s College London and Sandhurst Military Academy graduate – is now determined to do the same and keep the Taliban out. And he is not just looking for support at home – earlier this year he met France’s President Emmanuel Macron, seemingly in a bid for international allies as the US withdrawal drew nearer.

image sourceReuters

image captionAhmad Massoud, pictured in 2019, is the leader of the resistance

In an interview with CNN, Massoud warned the militants had not changed – adding that he and his fighters believed “that democracy, the rights, and freedom of all citizens regardless of race and gender should be preserved”.

What do the Taliban want?

The militant group has been pushing the idea that the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is home for all Afghans”.

The Panjshir Valley’s resistance – right on the doorstep of the capital – is a blow to this particular image of unity.

On social media, hashtags voicing support for the resistance have begun to pop up.

The Taliban and the NRF have been negotiating but, although both sides say they are keen to avoid war, there has been no settlement reached, and it seems talks have given way to open fighting.

The Taliban say they have sent hundreds of fighters,

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