For several days in the Panjshir Valley, there have been fights between the Taliban and the National Defense Front fighters gathered around Ahmad Masud. The fate of the last province not controlled by the Taliban remains unclear. The Taliban maintain that they have taken control of the entire region as a result of the fighting, while the mujahideen insist that they are continuing the resistance. What is the Panjshir Valley and what fate may await its defenders?
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Monday that the last region of Afghanistan remaining outside Taliban control – the Panjshir Valley – had been captured. – Thanks to this victory, our country was completely freed from the turmoil of war – said Mujahid. Videos of the Taliban hoisting their flag on a flagpole in the Panjshir Valley have been published on social media. Dozens of Taliban vehicles driving into the Valley were also seen on Sunday evening, the AP agency reported.
Meanwhile, fighters from the National Defense Front (NFR) declared that they were continuing the fighting and withdrew to hard-to-reach areas in the mountains. “This is not true, the Taliban did not take control of Panjshir, their declarations are unfounded,” GFR spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told the BBC on Monday. NFR leader Ahmad Masud called for a “national uprising” against the Taliban. – Wherever you are, in the country or outside of it, I am calling you to a national uprising for the dignity, freedom and prosperity of our state – he said.
Panjshir, a rugged, mountainous valley has in the past been the center of the Afghan resistance. In the 1980s, the Soviet army succumbed to the mujahideen in the valley, and less than a decade later, during its first rule, also the Taliban. What is the Panjshir Valley and what fate may await its defenders?
Pandjshir Valley inaccessible
Located north of Kabul, Panjshir is one of the smallest of the 34 Afghan provinces. The Reuters Agency drew attention to the strategic location of the region through which routes run from the Afghan capital to the northern cities of the country such as Mazar-i Sharif and Kunduz.
Panjshir is inhabited by 150-200,000 people, and a significant part of the population are Tajiks, one of the Afghan ethnic minorities. Reuters recalled that the Taliban come mainly from the most numerous ethnic group in the country – the Pashtuns.
The mountainous and harsh terrain, divided by a deep valley, gives the defenders a significant advantage over opponents trying to conquer Panjshir. The attackers are forced to overcome steep mountain passes or to launch an attack from the mouth of the valley, where they are exposed to resistance from mujahideen operating from higher-lying areas.
Land of the Lion
Soldiers of the Soviet army faced such difficulties in the 1980s. At that time, Panjshir was a key site of anti-Soviet resistance. The fierce battles conducted during the occupation of the USSR are evidenced by the burnt wrecks of Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers that still lie at the bottom of the valley – the Reuters agency pointed out.
Less than a decade later, Panjshir once again became the center of the resistance movement. The Mujahideen under the command of Ahmad Shah Masud, known as the Lion of Panjshir, then faced the Taliban, who took power in Afghanistan for the first time in 1996. Masud, whose son Ahmad Masud is now the leader of the anti-Taliban National Defense Front, was killed in a suicide terrorist attack by al-Qaeda two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Two months after the death of Lion Panjshir, his Northern Alliance fighters, with strong support from the American air force, overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul.
Fighting the Taliban
Twenty years later, on August 15 this year, the Taliban, taking advantage of the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan, recaptured Kabul, sealing the success of their swift offensive in the country. After the collapse of the capital, thousands of Afghan troops and members of the Afghan special forces took refuge in the Panjshir Valley, joining the National Defense Front in the fight against the Taliban. Alongside Ahmad Masud, the vice president also found his place in the ousted government of Amarullah Saleh.
After taking power in Kabul, the Taliban directed their forces to the Pandjshir Valley. The Mujahideen, who have helicopters among other things, refused to surrender, although their leader called on the Taliban for peace talks aimed at creating autonomy for Panjshir. The talks did not bring results, and clashes between the NFR and the Taliban have been taking place for several days.
After the Taliban announced that they had taken control of the Valley, Ahmad Masud tweeted that he was safe without revealing his whereabouts. The whereabouts of the former Vice President Seleh are also unknown.
What awaits the defenders of Panjshir
Reuters believe that the capture of Panjshir would be a significant achievement for the Taliban, who had never previously captured the Valley. However, the agency stressed that it is unclear how much of the province they control, and while they shared recordings from the region’s capital, Bazarak, much of the region is made up of smaller valleys where mujahideen forces can regroup.
The future of the resistance movement remains unclear for another reason as well. Masud’s father, Lev Panjshir, owed much of his strength to the control of Takhar Province, which allowed him access to neighboring Tajikistan and, consequently, the possibility of supplying himself outside Afghanistan. Currently, however, Takhar remains in Taliban hands.
Main photo source: Reza / Getty Images