Taliban rapidly occupied the hubs of Afghanistan including the capital Kabul with minimal resistance. However, one important province still remains unconquered and defiant against the dominance of the Taliban. Panjshir Valley is located in the Hindu Kush Mountain Range, North of Kabul and is known as the valley of resistance. It has long been the ultimate resistance against the Afghan military and now it has fully become an anti-Taliban force.
According to reports, the Taliban has surrounded the area with plans to put it under siege as well if they are unable to reach a peace deal. When the militant group ousted the government, the vice-president Amrullah Salah fled to Panjshir. Reportedly, some Afghan military soldiers have also joined the resistance after the army gave up.
The Taliban has reportedly captured 33 out of 34 provinces and Panjshir is the only one remaining. The Taliban has been rounding up and targeting everyone who worked with the US and NATO alliance. They demanded Amrullah Saleh be handed over to them as well. Reportedly, the resistance refused to give up Salah which led the Taliban to dispatch its forces towards the valley.
Panjshir Valley is a Home to Resistance forces
The Panjshir region has successfully defended itself against invasions from Soviet forces in the Soviet-Afghan war (1979 to 1989), and the Taliban during the 1990s. The multi-ethnic alliance National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) emerged as the most prominent opposition group against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the Taliban as well. It is currently led by Afghan politician and military leader Ahmad Massoud who has also reportedly appointed Amrullah Salah to an important leadership position.
According to the latest reports, the Taliban are closing in on Panjshir Valley each day. NRF warned that it wanted peaceful negotiations but in case of failure, it was not going to accept any aggression. The group is formed of militia fighters and ex-government operatives who have taken a defensive position against possible invasion by the Taliban. Reportedly, they have fortified their bases with sandbags, mounted machine guns, mortars, and surveillance posts.
Under Massoud’s father Ahmad Shah Massoud’s leadership, NRF has foiled the waves of Soviet attacks on the region between 1980-1985. After the Soviet withdrawal and government collapse, the Taliban came forwarded to take over Afghanistan which plunged the region into war once again. The Taliban were unable to defeat Massoud’s forces from 1996 to 2001. Then Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated reportedly by al-Qaeda just a few days before the 9/11 attacks in the US. The subsequent US invasion put the group out of power.
Now after the US withdrawal and government collapse, Massoud’s son told the media that he was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps against the Taliban. He assured that the group had an arsenal of equipment and ammunition which it has collected since his father’s time in order to prepare for exactly these kinds of times.
A Natural Fortress
One of the major reasons why resistance forces were able to successfully defend Panjshir Valley was its geography. Panjshir is a long and narrow valley encircled by steep mountains. There are only two main points of entry and exit in Panjshir. One is the Khawak Pass connecting with Baghlan province and the second one is Anjuman pass with Badakhshan province. There is a third route as well, through Jabul Siraj province, but is not an ideal choice route for a large army.
The other two passes are also strategically in favor of defense forces and present a challenge for attackers to resupply their forces. The attacking forces would have to cross a canyon of big and steep rocks with the river running through. Even a small army take can out thousands coming in from all these paths. The place acts as a natural fortress for defenders to systematically take out the attacking forces.
During the Soviet-Afghan war, the group waited patiently to let the Soviet forces enter the valley. When they entered, the alliance welcomed harassing fire from the mountains above and crippled them. In 1984, more than 30,000 Soviet soldiers tried to enter the valley but only 12,000 Afghans confronted and defeated them out of which 2000 were non-militants. Apart from this, the resistance fought off more than 400 aircraft and 160 tanks. It also managed to save the civilians from collateral damage by evacuating them to safer areas. They kept ambushing the attackers to delay their advance towards the valley and ultimately drove them to give up.
Saving Afghanistan from Flawed Politics
At first, the Taliban offered Ahmad Massoud a position in their new government with Hamid Karzai if he gave up Salah. After obvious refusal from Massoud, the Taliban started to march in. As they have acquired military-grade equipment, vehicles, and aircraft left abandoned by the US and Afghan military in a confusing exit. Even Massoud admitted that they were ready for battle in any case but they can only defeat the Taliban if there is help from the rest of the world. Just like attackers, restocking for Panjshir defenders is also challenging because of the region’s isolation from the outside world. It is understandable how the Taliban can enhance their defenses if Panjshir Valley falls.
According to the reports, the Taliban sent around 1500 forces through the Khawak pass but a small resistance group drove them back. There are small groups placed in the directions from where the enemy is anticipated. However, NRF claims to prefer peace negotiations instead of war. It said that its goal was to help establish decentralized governance in the country and highlight the underlying problems of the country.
Leader Ahmad Massoud explained that Afghanistan was a country full of ethnic minorities and no one was a majority. He said that it was a multicultural state so everyone should have an equal amount of power. The leader aimed to make a power-sharing deal where no one was considered superior to one another on the basis of ethnicity, caste, gender, color, or wealth. Massoud further said that if one group kept dominating the politics then internal conflicts would never end.
The resistance vowed to keep fighting but also informed that they would need more supplies including guns and ammunition. Massoud suggested that the US and its allies can help in other ways if they do not want to fight anymore. For the sake of shared ideals and struggles against the Taliban, Massoud urged that they can still aid their cause of freedom.