Panjshir: A Long-Standing Flicker of Afghan Resistance, Now in Taliban's Grip

A history of unbeaten anti-Taliban opposition makes Panjshir's fall significant today. But what changed?

3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>The rocky mountainous region has been a long-standing bastion of anti-Taliban agitation for decades.</p></div>

Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, nexus of the National Resistance Front's (NRF) anti-Taliban movement and the final enduring flicker of resistance among 34 Afghan provinces, fell to the militant organisation on Monday, 6 September.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that it had 'completely captured' the north-eastern valley, dislodging all Northern Alliance forces governing the region.

Calling this 'false', the Ahmad Massoud-led NRF denied Taliban's seizure of the province.

Massoud, who is at the helm of NRF's anti-Taliban campaign in Panjshir, is the son and namesake of lionised Taliban opponent and leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The rocky mountainous region has been a long-standing bastion of anti-Taliban agitation for decades.

The Ahmad Shah-led resistance had stood firm in the face of Taliban's first rule from 1996 to 2001, preventing the valley's collapse at the hands of the militant organisation.

A history of unbeaten opposition against the Taliban makes Panjshir's fall significant today. But what changed?


The Legacy of 'Lion of Panjshir'

Led by Ahmad Massoud, the NRF had appealed for a ceasefire and welcomed negotiations with the Taliban a day before the seizure.

However, as per Mujahid, Massoud and former vice president Amrullah Saleh had fled to Tajikistan by Monday.

Even amid claims of Panjshir's collapse and Massoud's supposed escape, head of foreign relations at NRF, Ali Maisam Nazary said that Taliban’s claim of victory was false and opposition forces continued to fight.

In the 1990s and the early 2000s, Panjshir's strength was determined by mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is touted as one of the greatest guerrilla fighters of the last century and bears the title of 'Lion of Panjshir'.

The 'Lion of Panjshir' had led the Afghan battle against the Taliban, and before that, the Soviets' Red Army.

Today, the anti-Taliban resistance rests on the leadership of Ahmad Shah's son and Amrullah Saleh — the vice president of the previous Afghan government, who had declared himself as the 'caretaker president' amid Taliban's lightning conquest.

Saleh is also a former spy chief, with associations in the CIA and has presently reportedly left the crisis-ridden country, 'deferring' the fight against Taliban for another day.

US Exit & Diminished Foreign Support

Besides a resilient local leadership, the Northern Alliance reigned over the supply lines delivering ammunition, arms, food, fuel, etc from Tajikistan to the Panjshir valley in the 1990s.

In contrast, with all other northern provinces already conquered, the Taliban was able to surround the hilly region and eliminate all supply lines, The Indian Express reported.

The defeat was aided, and Taliban's conquest certainly exacerbated, by the United States' retreat from the war-ravaged region in August. Without the US and its allies supporting the Northern Alliance, the resistance lost key assistance in its battle against Taliban.

In an article published in The Washington Post last month, NRF's leader Ahmad Massoud had made an appeal to the United States, Britain, and France, calling for arms to support their agitation.

When the late Ahmad Shah Massoud presided over the movement against Taliban, he had received wide-ranging international support, with many foreign nations providing men and defence aid to support his cause, The Indian Express reported.

Ahmad Massoud had also sought support from French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year, Hindustan Times reported.

Meanwhile, with the US' abandonment of the Northern Alliance, the critical Indian support to Afghanistan has also faded in the last few months, The Indian Express reported.

Steve Coll’s seminal book, Directorate S underlines the aid – funds, materials – that Indians had offered the Alliance in the 1990s.

In 2001, Ahmad Shah had iterated, "We thank India for the assistance, which is extended from time to time in the fields of humanitarian assistance for Afghan migrants. We have good political relations and we consider it to be a positive step."

Pakistan's Contribution

Further, as per reports, Pakistan provided Taliban with arms, ammunition and even fighter jets to vanquish rival forces, fundamentally transforming the power balance between the militant organisation and its opposing forces.

As per the report by The Indian Express, the presence of the ISI chief in Kabul indicated Rawalpindi's central role in toppling the Afghan government.

(With inputs from The Indian Express and Hindustan Times)

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