Taliban forces may take full control of Panjshir valley within the next 24 hours. Sources close to Taliban have told GVS. Fighting may even conclude in the night of Sunday, bringing clarity to the whole world.
Earlier claims and counter claims by Taliban and Ahmed Massoud
Taliban had earlier claimed on Sept 4, that they have captured four of the seven districts of Panjshir Valley, the last Afghan province out of country’s 34 provinces, holding out against the force that took control of Kabul on 15th August. The speed with which district after district surrendered to the Taliban surprised United States and the whole world. On Sept 3, there were celebratory fires in Kabul by Taliban who claimed that Panjshir had fallen.
Panjshir falls to Taliban, claims to control 34 districts – GVS
However, leaders of the National Resistance headed by Ahmed Massoud and ex-vice president Amrullah Saleh rejected Taliban claims with their counter claims of killing hundreds of Taliban fighters and arresting hundreds more.
National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, grouping forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud (son of legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud) had said it surrounded “thousands of terrorists” in Khawak pass and the Taliban had abandoned vehicles and equipment in the Dashte Rewak area.
Panjshir resistance leader says ready for talks with Taliban- Al Jazeera
Front spokesman Fahim Dashti added “heavy clashes” were going on. In a Facebook post, Massoud insisted Panjshir “continues to stand strongly”. Praising “our honourable sisters”, he said demonstrations by women in the western city of Herat calling for their rights showed Afghans had not given up demands for justice and “they fear no threats”.
Taliban admitted resistance and slow progress
Taliban spokesperson Bilal Karimi had claimed on Sept 4, that the districts of Khinj and Unabah had been taken, giving Taliban forces control of four of the province’s seven districts. “The Mujahideen (Taliban fighters) are advancing towards the centre (of the province),” he declared on Twitter.
Earlier, another Taliban source had admitted that their advance was slowed by landmines placed on the road to the provincial capital, Bazarak. But on Sept 5, Taliban sources insisted that they now control almost all of Panjshir valley except the capital, Bazarak.
These claims got credence from the reports pouring out from aid workers on the ground. Emergency, an Italian medical aid organisation, confirmed that during Friday night, Taliban forces had pushed further into the Panjshir Valley, reaching the village of Anabah where the group maintains a surgical centre and a maternity ward. “We have received a small number of wounded people at the Anabah Surgical Centre,” Emergency said in a statement, adding that many people fled from local villages in recent days.
Why Panjshir’s myth may soon collapse?
Panjshir valley had earned the reputation of defiance since the days of Soviet occupation of 1979. Ahmed Shah Massoud emerged as its legendary leader who kept defeating attacks by the Russian forces. It then maintained its autonomy from other war lards in the days of civil war that broke out after the fall of Najib Ullah government in 1991. And the Taliban movement that emerged in 1993 and gradually started controlling most parts of Afghanistan were never able to enter the valley. They did not control Panjshir even when they last ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001.
Panjshir has seven districts and 512 villages. It is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, located in the north-eastern part of the country not very far from Kabul. It has an area of more than three thousand kilometres, but its population is less than 200,000. National Resistance claims to have more than 10,00 trained fighters and media sources claim that remnants of Afghan National Army (ANA) have also joined Ahmed Massoud. Ex-Vice President, Amrullah Saleh who claims himself to be the rightful constitutional president after the exit of Ashraf Ghani is also in Panjshir and has been tweeting from there making bold claims of unending resistance.
But the circumstances have changed. Panjshir is bordered by Baghlan and Takhar in the north, Badakhshan and Nuristan in the east, Laghman and Kapisa in the south, and Parwan in the west. In the past when Ahmed Shah Massoud developed his legend, Panjshir could hold out because one or the other of these adjacent areas were not in any one’s firm control.
Russians faced resistance across large territory of Afghanistan (Area: 652,000 sq. Km) and were not particularly pushed for a relatively small area of resistance like Panjshir (around 3,600 sq. Km). During the initial rise of Taliban, after 1993, Ahmed Shah Massoud was able to establish lines of communication with Tajikistan and was being supported by western and Indian sources through advanced weapons and Taliban were struggling against odds. All these circumstances have changed.
Taliban now appear determined that no such pockets of resistance will be allowed to fester that can provide entry points of support to the outside forces. They have secured all surrounding areas; their initial advances were in the North before they moved on to Kabul. They repeatedly offered dialogue to Ahmed Massoud, and negotiations happened but Massoud kept asking for more concessions expecting help from abroad.
Though western media pundits keep harping on the theme of resistance from Panjshir and recent statements of Gen. Mark Milley have created some sensation but the United States on the whole looks far less interested. Russian and Central Asian help is unlikely, and Iran is dealing with Taliban to secure its own regional interests.
Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s DG ISI, who was in Kabul on Saturday on an unannounced visit to meet top Afghan leadership was cautious with is comments but even then, he hinted that “things will be all right soon”. Even New Delhi is now desperate to court Taliban as the real power that is set to rule Afghanistan for some time. Fate of Panjshir appears sealed. Taliban may announce a new government within 48 hours – most probably after taking full control of Panjshir.
GVS International Desk with additional input from News Desk.