The Taliban claim to have seized full control of the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining Afghan province held by resistance fighters – but opposition forces insist they are continuing their "struggle" against the Taliban.
“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” chief Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid declared on Monday, following several days of heavy fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) over the weekend.
Panjshir has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban as they concluded their lightning-fast takeover of the rest of Afghanistan. Smaller protests for women's rights and with protesters holding Afghanistan’s red, black and green flag have been held across the country since the Taliban took over control of Kabul last month.
Pictures on social media showed Taliban fighters standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor's compound. Another photo showed the white flag of the Taliban hoisted and flying at full mast in the center of Panjshir. VICE World News could not verify the images, given the lack of internet access and scarcity of information being released from Panjshir.
In a lengthy audio statement posted on his YouTube and Facebook channels in Dari, NRF leader Ahmad Massoud said that his fighters were “resisting in every creek of the Hindu Kush mountains, in Panjshir, and Andarab.”
After claiming that “foreign fighters” were helping the Taliban in their offensive, Ahmad called on Afghans to launch a “general uprising” against Taliban rule. “We urge every brother and sister in any corner of our country to rise and resist in any form they can. Anyone who can join the armed struggle, we are beside you, and anyone who would protest, we will be your voice and we’ll protect you, and we’ll be beside you until the last moment for the salvation of our homeland,” said Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in Panjshir.
Earlier on Monday, the NRF’s Twitter page posted a statement insisting that the “Taliban’s claim of occupying Panjshir is false. The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight. We assure the ppl of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban & their partners will continue until justice & freedom prevails.”
The group did however acknowledge suffering major battlefield losses and called for a ceasefire, proposing in a statement “that the Taliban stop its military operations in Panjshir … and withdraw its forces.”
“In return, we will direct our forces to refrain from military action,” said the statement, according to a report by AFP.
The NRF has previously indicated that they are willing to negotiate with the Taliban and are open to peace talks. In a statement posted to his Facebook page on Sunday, Massoud said that “The National Resistance Front is ready to stop the war immediately in order to achieve stable peace, if the Taliban group ends its military attacks and movements in Panjshir and Andarab.”
Days earlier, however, Massoud had written in another post that “We never give up fighting for God, freedom and justice … Failure only happens when you stop fighting for your rights and get tired.”
Clashes on Sunday resulted in the deaths of two of the NRF's prominent leaders: Fahim Dashti, a well-known Afghan journalist and spokesperson for the group, and General Abdul Wudod Zara. The death of Dashti was confirmed by Massoud.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in Kabul on Monday. Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images
The rugged mountain valley of Panjshir, located just north of the Afghan capital of Kabul, is renowned for being the site of resistance to Soviet forces during the ‘80s and the Taliban in the late ‘90s. The province is home to between 150,000 and 200,000 people, and was the last remaining stronghold for anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan following the group’s lightning-fast takeover of the country last month.
Former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is holed out in Panjshir alongside Massoud, who has declared himself caretaker president of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country last month, has raised grave concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the people in Panjshir following a telecommunication and electricity blackout caused by the Taliban and other terrorist groups who, “equipped with recently acquired sophisticated weaponries of US/NATO, have unleashed a vicious attack against the province of Panjshir and other free areas of northern Afghanistan.”
In an appeal to the United Nations, Saleh suggested that the situation in Panjshir constituted a large-scale humanitarian crisis that could lead to “a full scale human rights … catastrophe including starvation and mass killing, even genocide” of the some 250,000 people currently residing in the valley who are trapped by the blockades.
“We call on the United Nations and the international community to do its utmost to prevent the Taliban's onslaught into Panjshir province and encourage negotiate a political solution to ensure thousands of displaced and hosting civilians are saved,” Saleh said in the letter.
In a tweet on Friday, Saleh claimed that the Taliban were preventing medicine from being brought into the province and using “military age men of Panjshir as mine clearance tools walking them on mine fields.”
In a message directed at the international community, Massoud used his audio statement on Monday to say that while the Taliban were trying “to show the world that they have changed… the Taliban have not changed at all, it has become more cruel, more apathetic, and more fanatical.”