The Panjshir Valley is located in northeastern Afghanistan, 150 km from Kabul, close to the Hindu Kush mountain range. In this valley, the mujahideen took refuge in the ’80s to attack the Soviet convoys coming from the north to Kabul. From 1996 onwards, the Northern Alliance used it to organize their resistance against the Taliban, and today, 25 years later, the Panjshir Valley is once again the refuge of the resistance to the Taliban regime.
Like their fathers in the 1990s, the remnants of the Afghan resistance are congregating in Panjshir and have already begun to wrest territory from the Taliban. According to Russian intelligence, the Panjshir resistance seized the provincial capital of Charikar north of Kabul from the Taliban.
Hundreds of fighters rally in support of Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, a veteran mujahideen, who was also one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance. Dostum had to flee Mazar-e Sharif along with his colleague-in-arms Atta Muhammad Noor.
Noon is also a veteran of the civil war. After his escape from Mazar-e Sharif, he recently alleged that part of the Security Forces was co-opted by the Taliban, and the massive surrenders, as well as the delivery of weaponry, were negotiated by members of the Armed Forces. According to Noon, the plot also included handing him and Marshal Dostum over to the Taliban. At present, Noon and Dostum are taking refuge in Uzbekistan, but their forces are massing in the Panjshir Valley.
Former Northern Alliance leaders form new resistance to the Taliban
From 1996 to 2001 the Northern Alliance was the resistance group organized by former mujahideen leaders of the Soviet occupation to fight the Taliban. As in the present, one of the first areas of resistance to the Taliban advance was the Panjshir Valley, where Alliance forces took refuge under the command of the iconic commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, who was killed by the Taliban two days before the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The coalition of militias has also been joined by Massoud’s own son, Ahmad Massoud, who along with Afghanistan’s interim president, Amrullah Saleh, has called on all anti-Taliban fighters to join the resistance that is massing in Panjshir.
Saleh, on August 17, citing provisions of the Afghan Constitution, declared himself president of Afghanistan from a base still in control by Afghan Army remnants in the Panjshir Valley and vowed to continue military operations against the Taliban.
In the past, northern Afghanistan has served as a center for organizing resistance against the Taliban regime. Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara fighters, the predominant ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan, have conglomerated there to fight the Taliban who are predominantly Pashtun, the dominant ethnic group in southern Afghanistan.
Resistance to the Taliban is still far from being a new Northern Alliance
Despite the common hatred of the Taliban, the former Northern Alliance leaders may be unable to create an organized resistance as in the past.
The election battle between Ghani and one of the top northern leaders, Abdullah Abdullah, also helped to cloud relations between the government and northern Afghanistan.
Some former Alliance leaders are also more willing to engage in negotiations with the Taliban, as reported by Amir Khan Mutaqui, a Taliban leader, who said he would meet with former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah.
The other question that remains is how much international support the new resistance will receive. The Northern Alliance in the 1990s was supported by India, Russia, Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the United States. It is not clear how many international countries are willing to support the Panjshir resistance again.