Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
With the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021, the Taliban claimed victory in the whole of Afghanistan, after a two-decade-long war. But one region is still, arguably, resisting the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan – Panjshir.
Panjshir, last holdout against the Taliban, has shown resistance to enemy power for over four decades.
But in early September 2021, the glorious history of Panjshir started to take a beating when the Taliban gunmen hoisted their flag at Panjshir governor's house claiming to have finally conquered the valley.
But What Makes Panjshir Such a Crucial Point of Contention?
In order to understand Panjshir's significance, we will have to go back to the days of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Just over 100 km north of the capital Kabul, the geographically advantageous valley of Panjshir was a formidable base of operations for the anti-Soviet fighters or the mujahideen. The fight against the USSR in Panjshir, literally the valley of five lions, was led by guerrilla resistance built by the 'lion of Panjshir' – Ahmad Shah Massoud.
After the Soviets, when the Taliban took control of Kabul, Massoud formed the Northern Alliance, a broad coalition of anti-Taliban warlords. Their collective established control in northern Afghanistan, including Panjshir Valley and Badakhshan and Takhar provinces.
The Northern Alliance dominated the territory bordering Central Asia, which allowed them to sustain resistance against the Taliban. They also received support from other regional players, such as India and Iran.
After the 9/11 Attacks
The Northern Alliance partnered with the US to fight the Taliban in their 'War against Terror'. The Northern Alliance offered northern Afghanistan
as a staging ground for the US forces.
After the withdrawal of the US troops, when the fall of Kabul seemed inevitable, the anti-Taliban forces started mobilising in Panjshir, once again, the only Afghan territory to hold out against Taliban.
Northern Resistance Forces
The Northern Resistance Forces or the NRF, formed as the successor to the old Northern Alliance, comprised of thousands of former Afghan army soldiers led by former Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, tribal force led by Ahmad Shah Massoud's son Ahmad Massoud, and other smaller tribal leaders. The NRF has been trying to gain international support to fight the Taliban.
Where Does the Panjshir Resistance Stand Now?
In the following days, both sides claimed of causing heavy casualties to each other but there are little credible means to verify these claims. But this time, the odds were against the resistance from the very beginning.
Just after the final set of US-led international troops began leaving Afghanistan in early 2021, the Taliban strategically targeted northern provinces to thwart any rebellion from brewing.
Districts by districts, they took over areas around Panjshir that were part of the Northern Alliance’s stronghold. This left Panjshir as an isolated island surrounded by the Taliban with no direct access by land to neighbouring countries.
Soon, vehicles carrying the Taliban ammunitions and reinforcement surrounded Panjshir and choked the supplies to the NRF. Internet services in the valley were also snapped by the Taliban.
Taliban now claims full acquisition of Panjshir but the NRF says their guerrillas hold strategic locations and that the fight is not yet over. However, the whereabouts of Saleh and Massoud are unknown.
What's the Current Situation in Panjshir
Panjshir is staring at a humanitarian crisis as water, medicine, and food supplies have been restricted by the Taliban.
Also, the ban on journalists has restricted independent reporting from the region.