Leaders in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley are defying the Taliban and calling for an inclusive authorities
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – Two prominent Afghans who do not recognize the Taliban as the rightful leaders of Afghanistan have begun challenging militants from a small but strategic area that the Taliban do not control, according to an Afghan diplomat and statements from leaders.
Although it is unclear how many followers they have with them or how many weapons they have, both men – the vice-president of the overthrown government and the son of a renowned mujahideen leader – enjoy the respect of many Afghans.
According to diplomat Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, who served as Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan, their demands are currently relatively cautious. If the Taliban are to avoid fighting and take control of their territory – the difficult-to-penetrate Panjshir Valley – they must form an inclusive government rather than trying to lead alone.
The emergence of even a small area of organized resistance against the Taliban increased the possibility of further fighting in the war-ravaged country and at least the risk of rebellion against the former insurgents who now control Kabul.
The overturned government’s vice-president Amrullah Saleh claimed in a post on Twitter that he held the title of president under the US-brokered 2004 constitution because he was staying on Afghan territory while President-elect Ashraf Ghani fled.
The other prominent holdout in the valley is Ahmad Massoud, the son of mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who successfully defended the Panjshir Valley in the years of fighting against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and against the Taliban in the 1990s.
Ahmad Shah Massoud’s position in the anti-Taliban resistance in the 1990s was so great that al-Qaeda took him two days before the United States’ 11 attacks.
The son, Ahmad Massoud, posted a video on Facebook Wednesday saying he was in the Panjshir Valley and had no plans to leave Afghanistan. “You can see that I am in Panjshir and with our people. For God’s sake I will stay here with our people, ”said Mr Massoud in the video.
“The people are ready to fight,” said Aghbar, ambassador and long-time ally of the Massoud family, in an interview in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The Panjshir Valley is home to ethnic Tajiks who have long opposed the Taliban.
Mr Aghbar, who said he spoke to both objectors, said that although Taliban units attacked Mr Saleh’s convoy en route from Kabul to the valley on Sunday, the Taliban had not attempted to enter the mountain gorge, a naturally defensible site . The valley is about 90 miles north of Kabul.
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputation and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here is more about their genesis and track record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who for years have been on the run, in hiding, in prison and dodged American drones. They are now emerging from the dark, but little is known about them or their government plans.
How did the Taliban gain control? See how the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and destroyed 20 years of defense in just a few months.
“If the Taliban in Doha and Pakistan agree to a settlement that accepts what the world demands and meets the needs of the Afghan people, we will have peace and stability,” said Aghbar.
When Kabul’s defenses collapsed on Sunday, Mr Aghbar said he spoke to Mr Saleh on the phone and learned of the plan to hold out in the Panjshir Valley. “I asked, ‘What’s your decision?’ He said, ‘I will fight.’ “
It is far from clear what external help could come or whether Saleh’s claim to government continuity under the Afghan constitution will gain momentum. The Afghan embassy in Tajikistan is linked to the matter; In the carpeted meeting rooms of the building, away from a dusty, taxi-clogged street in Dushanbe, the photos of Mr. Ghani came down and those of Mr. Saleh rose.
Farnaz Fassihi contributed the coverage from New York.