Afghanistans famous Panjshir Valley seems to have fallen into the hands of the Taliban. At a press conference, the Taliban claimed to be in control of the area. Images at the BBC show how the extremist organization hoists a flag in the office of the Governor of Panjshir.
In fact, today, the Taliban owns the whole country. “It is a victory of great symbolic value for the Taliban, as the valley was the last place in Afghanistan where armed resistance took place against the new rulers,” says CCEIT correspondent Aletta André.
In the Panjshir Valley, less than a hundred kilometers from Kabul, 32-year-old resistance leader Ahmad Massoud had entrenched with some 6,000 local militia members and remnants of the Afghan government army. “I hear that many resistance fighters have now fled into the mountains and still fight from there, but its the question of how much they can reach from this position,” says André.
The battle for the Panjshir Valley is full of symbolism for the Afghans. It is a region that was never conquered at the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 80s and during the previous Taliban regime in the 90s. Where resistance in the region persisted for years, it now appears to have been defeated in a period of just a few weeks. What makes the situation so different?
“A difference between then and now is the size of the area alone. At the time, neighboring provinces were also involved in the resistance,” André says. But a more important difference in her opinion is the support that the resistance received from abroad at the time. The Americans, Pakistan and all neighboring countries except India supported the resistance against the Soviets and later against the Taliban.
“Massoud has now asked for support from abroad, but not received. It seems that countries prefer to have a good contact with the Taliban,” André says.
That is confirmed by Jorrit Kamminga, Afghanistan expert at Institute Clingendael. “International support for resistance in the valley was first due to the Cold War and later because of the war on terrorism. We have been deciding military support since 2010, politically it is difficult to support such a region.”
Less heroic reputation
Massoud tried to push the Taliban to achieve a diplomatic solution earlier. “However, the demands of the resistance would have been quite strong, they wanted to be able to hold elections and keep the weapons. The Taliban wanted a complete surrender,” André says.
“In addition, Massoud may be the son of legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud, but hes not the same man. The son has lived abroad for a long time and has a less heroic reputation than his father,” André says. Ahmad Shah Massoud has been dead for about twenty years; he was murdered in a suicide attack by al-Qaida.
“You also see that the resistance isnt quite going through the ethnic dividing lines that were there before. The Taliban is dominated by Pashtun and Tajiks resistance, but unlike the 90s, many Tajiks are now fighting on the side of the Taliban. This made it less easy for the resistance to mobilize fighters.”
Last week, a camera team from Kabul received permission to film for DecceIT in the Panjshir Valley. At the time, the Taliban had not yet moved into the area. Correspondent Aletta André with the images this report:
Whats going to happen in the valley now is hard to predict. “The Taliban sees it as captured and they say they have freed the population. But whether theyre going to pick up resistance members and who fall under it is unclear,” André says. “People who have family in Panjshir are very scared. Contact with them was not possible today, as the Taliban closed all communications.”
Kamminga also mentions the conquest of the valley especially symbolic. “Now we need to look at the areas where the Taliban was able to pass through very quickly. That was the result of negotiations with all sorts of local powers. They all need to see something back now.” He expects that if there is new resistance against the Taliban, it will come from one of these regions.