Anti-Taliban fighters take back three districts as resistance builds up in Panjshir Valley, but experts cast doubts

Surrounded by the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, the Panjshir has long had a reputation as a bastion of resistance -- legendary military commander Ahmad Shah Massoud successfully defended it during the Soviet-Afghan War and the civil war.

FP Staff August 21, 2021 15:45:25 IST
Anti-Taliban fighters take back three districts as resistance builds up in Panjshir Valley, but experts cast doubts

Representational image. AP

Anti-Taliban fighters who are trying to form a resistance took back three districts from the insurgents in northern Baghlan province, local media reported on Friday.

"Today Taliban...went to villages and were questioning people. That (caused) people to uprise," former interior minister Masoud Andarabi, who has fled the country, told AFP.

A resistance movement was forming in the Panjshir Valley, led by deposed vice-president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of Afghanistan's most famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Saleh declared himself as the caretaker President of Afghanistan and vowed not to bow before the Taliban, who he suggested were being backed by Pakistan.

"Nations must respect the rule of law, not violence. Afghanistan is too big for Pakistan to swallow and too big for Talibs to govern. Don't let your histories have a chapter on humiliation and bowing to terror groups," he said on Twitter.

Ahmad Massoud said he was "ready to follow in his father's footsteps". "But we need more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies," he wrote in the Washington Post.

It was not clear how serious a threat they posed given that Taliban fighters overran nearly the entire country in a matter of days with little resistance from Afghan forces that faced a stunning collapse. The Sunni hardliners took Kabul on 15 August, the final prize for their lightning offensive that seized all major Afghan provinces in less than two weeks.

Analysts said the fighters gathered in the Panjshir Valley will struggle if the Islamist hardliners launch a full-scale attack.

"Too much hype about Panjshir resistance. The problem of the West is many don't know how to accept defeat gracefully. 2021 Taliban is not the same as the 2001 Taliban. Saleh is not a Massoud. The fall of Panjshir depends upon the Taliban - if and when it decides to use force," academic Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University, tweeted.

Still, Twitter has been flooded with posts on the resistance in the Panjshir Valley north of capital Kabul -- the final major centre of opposition against the Taliban.

Surrounded by the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, the Panjshir has long had a reputation as a bastion of resistance -- legendary military commander Ahmad Shah Massoud successfully defended it during the Soviet-Afghan War and the civil war.

"The resistance for the moment is just verbal because the Taliban have not yet tried to enter the Panjshir," Afghan specialist Gilles Dorronsoro from Sorbonne University in Paris told AFP.

"The Taliban only need to lock down the Panjshir, they don't even have to go in there."

On Friday, former top government official Abdullah Abdullah posted photos on Facebook of him and former president Hamid Karzai meeting with elders and resistance commanders in the province -- just days after the pair met with Taliban leaders.

Small, isolated protests have also been held in cities in Afghanistan this week, with Afghans waving the country's black, red and green flags.

Taliban fighters fired guns to disperse dozens of Afghans in Jalalabad who waved the flag on Wednesday, killing at least one person. Another person was seriously wounded at a protest a day later in Nangarhar province.

The demonstrations have come to the capital as well. On Thursday, a procession of cars and people near Kabul's airport carried long black, red and green banners in honour of the Afghan flag — a banner that is becoming a symbol of defiance.

With agency inputs

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