With the fall of Kabul it seemed that what was left of the Afghan state had succumbed to the Taliban’s yoke. However, in the Panjshir valley around 6,000 men are gathering to resist the Taliban advance.
The National Resistance Front (NRF), as the forces in Panjshir have been named, is commanded by Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh. Ahmad Massoud is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the “lion” of Panjshir, who for years resisted both Soviet troops and the Taliban in the historic valley that resists being conquered by foreign invaders.
Massoud junior, 20 years after the death of his father in an attack perpetrated by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, has become the new symbol of resistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Salleh, on the other hand, is the former vice president of Afghanistan, a mujahideen commander who served under Massoud Sr. and who, after Ashraf Ghani fled, proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan, using articles 60 and 67 of the Constitution.
The Panjshir valley is a strategic place as it is only 150 kilometers from Kabul and is one of the few passable passes to reach the capital from the north of the country or from Tajikistan. In the 80’s the Soviets accepted the impossibility of taking the valley and negotiated a ceasefire with Massoud Padre, and in the 90’s the valley was the refuge of the Northern Alliance, where they resisted the Taliban and recovered the north of the country, until the arrival of the American troops in 2001.
Today there are doubts whether the FNR will be able to constitute an adversary as the Northern Alliance was for the Taliban. In a recent column in the Washington Post, Massoud admits that resistance will not be enough to stand up to the Taliban.
“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban. We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come.” writes Massoud.
According to Massoud, the FNR is filling its ranks with Afghan volunteers and former members of the Afghan Armed Forces disgusted with their commanders, and former commanders, ready to fight the Taliban.
The Panjshir valley is surrounded by Taliban forces
Despite preparations, Massoud admits that “that is not enough,” should the Taliban decide to launch a full offensive to retake the Panjshir Valley. The FNR forces could be destroyed unless “the West can find a way to supply us without delay.”
The reality is that the FNR is at a serious numerical disadvantage, with only 6,000 fighters, while conservative estimates project the Taliban to have between 50,000 to 60,000 men, a ratio of 10 to 1.
The Taliban have begun to encircle the valley, and despite the FNR’s progress in retaking control of certain provinces, it does not appear possible that the resistance can defeat the Taliban militarily. According to Salleh himself, the Taliban have begun restricting access of food and fuel to the region to stifle resistance.
Aware of being surrounded and outnumbered, on August 25, FNR representatives confirmed that the resistance entered into talks with the Taliban in a village in the neighboring region to negotiate peace.
According to a spokesman for the resistance, Salleh himself who vowed that he would never “submit to the Taliban” has participated in the talks along with Massoud. For the time being, a ceasefire has been agreed upon in the entire Panjshir valley.
Given Massoud’s column in the Post, it is likely that the FNR is negotiating out of desperation as without Western backing it is unlikely that the anti-Taliban resistance which needs “more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies” will be able to resist the advance of the Islamic State of Afghanistan for long.