Afghans Protest After Taliban Claim to Have Crushed Panjshir Resistance

Chants of “Freedom” and “Death to Taliban” rang out in Kabul and other Afghan cities.

September 7, 2021 (Foreign Policy)-Thousands of people, many of them women, took to the streets of Kabul and other cities across Afghanistan on Tuesday following a call by the leader of an anti-Taliban resistance movement to rise up against the new extremist rulers of the country, who a day earlier claimed to have snuffed out the last organized resistance in the Panjshir Valley.

Chanting “Freedom” and “Death to Taliban,” the crowds marched through the center of the capital until Taliban gunmen fired automatic weapons in the air to disperse the crowds. Video footage taken by protesters showed uniformed men beating women, and people running from gunfire. One protester said that some people were injured by falling bullets. Another protester, speaking on condition he not be identified, said he was beaten by Taliban gunmen who were confiscating cameras from people in the crowd, and he said some militants were filming the protesters.

The protests followed news that the Taliban, reportedly backed by Pakistan, had overrun the Panjshir Valley, hoisting their white flag over the provincial governor’s office on Monday. Some of the protesters in Kabul condemned the Taliban action in Panjshir, waving signs reading, “No one has the right to invade Panjshir, not Pakistan, not the Taliban,” witnesses said. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told media on Monday that the war was over, with the Panjshir “completely under the control of the Islamic emirate,” as the Taliban have relabeled the country.

But the National Resistance Front, which has been based in the Panjshir and claimed support across the country, said it had not been defeated and would continue the fight. In response to the Taliban’s claim of victory, National Resistance Front leader Ahmad Massoud called on Monday for a nationwide uprising against what he called “a crippling humiliation” imposed on Afghanistan by the Taliban and “foreigners,” a reference to the organization’s backers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

A spokesman for the National Resistance Front denied reports that Massoud and his fellow resistance leader, former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, had been forced into exile; their whereabouts are unknown. Despite Taliban advances in the valley, the resistance group denied that the insurgents had taken control of the entire province. 

“The Taliban have taken over the provincial center,” said Ali Maisam Nazary, the National Resistance Front spokesman. But the resistance still controls many villages and occupies the side valleys off the main north-south valley in the Panjshir, he said.

“This gives us a huge advantage. The Taliban will never be able to go into the side valleys,” he said. “The Soviets tried and failed [during their 1979-1989 occupation]. Our strategy will continue until we achieve justice and freedom for all Afghans.”

Michael Clarke, a distinguished fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the Taliban appear to “have the ability to move up and down, north to south, in the valley, but not into the sub-valleys,” belying their claim to have full control. But the group has other advantages including an edge in equipment, as well as likely access to Pakistani intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information, he said.

“We can assume the Taliban have a degree of control, but if there is a will to resist, that will make a difference,” Clarke said. However, after 40 years of war, people in the Panjshir Valley are weary and may have little appetite for further resistance at this stage, he said.

Massoud, the leader of the National Resistance Front, said in a speech released to supporters that the Taliban assault on the Panjshir was a foretaste of what was in store for Afghanistan’s future.

“That image will consist of an Afghanistan that is kept backward, ridden with obscurantism, bereft of civilization and art, devoid of unity and solidarity, and a country that is forced into economic and political isolation. A country that will be brought under crushing control, which will not have independent relations with the world, whose life will be monitored by foreigners,” a transcript of the speech sent to Foreign Policy quoted Massoud as saying.

“In no way military pressure on us and our territory will lessen our resolve to continue our fight, but only strengthen our firmness to stand in defense of our dignity, freedom, and the triumph of our people until the last moment,” he said.

Nazary, the National Resistance Front spokesman, said the resistance had been bolstered by members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, trained and armed by the United States, many of whom deserted during battles against the Taliban this summer. Although the Taliban captured huge stocks of U.S.-made vehicles and weapons, Nazary said the militants would be hard-pressed to maintain the equipment and vowed to carry on the fight.

“The nature of the resistance will change to irregular war. It might take more time. We will continue and endure, we have resilience to go against these forces of evil and aggression,” Nazary said of the Taliban.

The Taliban has had the valley surrounded for at least a week, after talks with the National Resistance Front leadership on inclusion in the Taliban’s government, yet to be announced, broke down. Nazary said his group had called for an “inclusive government” that would incorporate all ethnic, religious, and regional interests in a federal system. But he and other sources inside and outside the country said that the Taliban are unwilling or unable to understand inclusivity beyond offering sinecures to former leaders of ethnic groups or regional warlords.

The Taliban on Tuesday announced part of their caretaker government, which offered no signs of the promised inclusion. Mullah Hassan Akhund will be head of state, while Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be his deputy. Among other names, Sirajuddin Haqqani—wanted by the United States—was named interior minister.

In the meantime, since the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15, Afghanistan has been plunged into a humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by the fighting. Severe drought has led to food insecurity, exacerbated by Taliban border closures that halted food and fuel imports and sent inflation soaring. Economic activity has all but ceased, with banks, businesses, and shops closed, and with the sudden stoppage of international aid that provided the bulk of Afghan government revenues.

Many people associated with the former government live in fear of retribution, as door-to-door searches continue. Women who have protested in recent days for their constitutional rights have been beaten up, and many have already been forced to stop work and remain at home, in an echo of the misogynistic practices of the earlier Taliban regime.

“The substance of Taliban ideology has not changed one percentage point” since the group first took over Afghanistan in 1996, an advisor to a former warlord said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But they will do whatever it takes to get international recognition, and then they will implement their ideology.”