‘Hundreds’ of Taliban fighters are moving to the Panjshir Valley, the last holdout of anti-Taliban forces headed by Ahmad Massoud, the son of legendary Tajik fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who died in a suicide blast two days before the 9/11 attacks on the US.
Since the Taliban took control of Kabul, thousands of people have made their way to Panjshir province, according to a spokesman for anti-Taliban forces.
Militias loyal to Ahmad Massoud seized Pol-e-Hesar, Deh Salah, and Qasaan districts in Baghlan province two days back from the Taliban. Local residents claim that dozens of Taliban soldiers were killed in the clashes.
Massoud said he had not organized the seizure of three districts of Baghlan bordering Panjshir last week, which he said had been done by local militia groups reacting to “brutality” in the area.
The Panjshir Valley – around 150 km north of Kabul, has emerged as the stronghold of anti-Taliban forces since the Islamist force seized power in Kabul on August 14-15.
Ahmad Massoud is supported by Amrullah Saleh, the Vice-President under Ashraf Ghani who fled hours ahead of the Taliban takeover of the Afghan capital. Several soldiers of the Afghan army under the Ghani government too have reportedly joined Massoud. Another Tajik leader, Rashid Dostum, has arrived in Baghlan to “lend a helping hand to anti-Taliban forces,” media reports said.
Ahmad Shah Massoud – also known as the ‘Lion of Panjshir Valley – headed the Northern Alliance in the nineties and never allowed Taliban to enter the northern areas of Afghanistan.
The Taliban said on Sunday (August 22): “Hundreds of Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are heading towards the state of Panjshir to control it after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully,” the group wrote on its Arabic Twitter account.
Ahmad Massoud has sought to assemble a force of around 9,000 people to counter the terrorists, the spokesman, Ali Maisam Nazary, said. Pictures taken by news agency AFP during training exercises show dozens of recruits performing fitness routines, and a handful of armoured Humvees driving across the valley northeast of Kabul.
“Government forces came to Panjshir from several Afghan provinces,” Massoud told Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya broadcaster on August 22. “The Taliban will not last long if it continues on this path. We are ready to defend Afghanistan and we warn of bloodshed.”
He said he hoped to hold peace talks with the Islamist Taliban, but that his forces were ready to fight. “We want to make the Taliban realize that the only way forward is through negotiation,” he told Reuters.
Massoud called for an inclusive, broad-based government in Kabul representing all of Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups and said a “totalitarian regime” should not be recognized by the international community.
He said his forces, which one aide said numbered more than 6,000, would need international support if it came to fighting. But he said they did not just come from Panjshir, a region of Persian-speaking Tajiks long at odds with the Pashtuns who form the core of the Taliban movement.
“I entreat Afghanistan’s friends in the West to intercede for us in Washington and in New York, with Congress and with the Biden administration. Intercede for us in London, where I completed my studies, and in Paris, where my father’s memory was honoured this spring by the naming of a pathway for him in the Champs-Élysées gardens,” Ahmad wrote in The Washington Post on August 18.
“Know that millions of Afghans share your values. We have fought for so long to have an open society, one where girls could become doctors, our press could report freely, our young people could dance and listen to music or attend soccer matches in the stadiums that were once used by the Taliban for public executions — and may soon be again,” Ahmad wrote.