▲ At least four planes chartered to evacuate hundreds of people who want to flee Afghanistan have not been able to take off for days, after which contradictory versions emerged about the reason. A local official said that those who wish to board do not have a passport or visa, and therefore cannot leave the country. However, Republican Michael McCaul, of the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Representatives, maintained that there are Americans in the group, and the Taliban does not allow them to leave, holding them hostage. It did not indicate where that information came from. So far it has not been possible to reconcile both versions. In the picture, a Taliban patrol at the Kabul air terminal.Photo Ap

Kim sengupta

The Independent

La Jornada newspaper
Monday, September 6, 2021, p. 26

Kabul. The latest battle in the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is taking place in the Panjshir Valley, with an accelerated pace of fighting, and time becomes a crucial factor in what is to come. Celebratory shots in Kabul late Friday left at least 17 dead and at least 40 wounded after the Taliban claimed to have captured Panjshir. But the valley had not fallen, and the opposition insisted shortly after that it had repelled the attackers and regained territory.

Claims and refutations of alleged victories continue on both sides. A Taliban spokesman, Belal Kareemi, claimed yesterday that all areas of the Panjshir had been captured, except for the capital, Bazarak, and another district, Rokha. The version of the opposition National Resistance Front (FNR) was: we have intentionally allowed the Taliban to enter the valley and now they are trapped. It is a tactic from our tactics book that we have used since the 1980s, when the Soviets entered the valley. The FNR is all over the Panjshir and the Taliban have suffered severe losses.

Until very recently, the Taliban have been saying that they would prefer a deal negotiated in the Panjshir, similar to how they have taken over the rest of the country. As it approaches international recognition as Afghanistan’s new government, it does not want a large-scale bloodbath that undermines the discourse that it seeks stability and not conflict.

A senior Taliban official told The Independent: We have managed to avoid a long civil war with many deaths, like the ones after the Russians left. We believe that other countries recognize it, even the Americans, and it shows that today we want peace in Afghanistan, not more war. We have peaceful deliveries throughout the country; that should also happen in the Panjshir.

However, the negotiations so far have gone nowhere. The Taliban claim that the opposition has rejected their offers; The resistance claims that they do not trust the Islamist group and that the terms offered amount to a surrender. Meanwhile, the fighting has intensified. Some factions of the Taliban now seek victory as quickly as possible, while the FNR wants to hold the valley in the belief that time will gain their support.

There are several factors at play. The Taliban are having trouble forming a government. Capturing the last territory in the hands of the enemy would strengthen their position of uncontested dominance, inside and outside the country, and, according to hard-line militants, would end the need to attract moderate figures. The head of the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI), Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, arrived in Kabul at the weekend, and it is said that his presence could play a key role in what happens in the Panjshir.

Pakistan Adversaries

Resistance leaders, especially former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who was once the head of the Afghan intelligence service (NDS), are relentless adversaries of Pakistan, which they blame for what happened in Afghanistan in almost every ad they make. have made.

The ISI has been accused of being linked to the Taliban and other insurgent groups, such as the Haqqani network. One of Hameed’s tasks, it is claimed, is to help establish a government that would reflect the entire insurgent spectrum, including the Haqqanis and others. Their presence is considered of particular importance because Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader, has had a turbulent relationship with the Pakistani security apparatus in the past, including arrest and jail time in that country. Mariam Solaimankhil, head of international relations coordination in former President Ashraf Ghani’s office, tweeted: From what I have heard, the head of the ISI has come to Kabul to make sure that Baradar does not head the government and Haqqani has. There are many disagreements between the Taliban factions, and Baradar has ordered his men not to attack Panjshir.

In reality, it is highly unlikely that Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, will replace Baradar as head of the new government. Pakistani officials deny that Hameed is involved in the campaign in Panjshir. But what happens there appears to be a divisive issue between the Taliban and its allies, and may delay decisive military action.

Such a delay would benefit the resistance. If it manages to contain the Taliban for a month, winter will ensue, and it will be very difficult to sustain military operations on the Panjshir field for the next five months. The Valley of the Five Lions, surrounded by mountains, has in the past been a tough nut to crack. The Russians failed to capture him during the war. And, as a stronghold of the Northern Alliance, it resisted attacks by the Taliban and other Islamist groups during the long and bloody civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

The hope in the opposition is that the internal struggles of the Islamists will surface during the winter break, that discontent and defiance against the Taliban will grow in other parts of the country, and that the resistance will begin to receive foreign support, which until now has been difficult. to obtain. There have been accounts among former US and British military personnel, many of whom served in Afghanistan, or later became private security contractors, that Afghans abroad are beginning to raise funds to integrate private forces to fight the Taliban. But so far none of that has emerged.

It is also clear from talks with US diplomats that such actions would not receive support from the Joe Biden government, which is now on the way to establishing a relationship with the Taliban. There also appears to be little sympathy for Saleh or other FRN leaders among those diplomats, who fear that politicians from their country could drag him back into conflict by recruiting support for the armed opposition. Already, several Republican members of Congress have argued that the United States must side with the resistance.

A resistance leader, Ahmad Massoud, the 32-year-old son of renowned mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, wrote an article in the Washington Post requesting help before the fighting in the Panjshir raged. We have reserves of ammunition and weapons that we have patiently accumulated since my father’s time, because we knew that this day could come. If the Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will undoubtedly face fierce opposition from us, he said.

The resistance is evident in the fighters, made up of Tajik militias and members of the Afghan security forces. Yet it faces formidable obstacles, surrounded by enemy territory, outnumbered and outgunned, with the Taliban currently in possession of vast amounts of Western weaponry, including artillery and aircraft captured from the military or surrendered when Allied forces withdrew.

But even if the Biden government washes its hands of the opposition, there is the possibility that other regional powers, taken by surprise by the collapse of the Ghani government and the triumph of the Taliban, will begin to support the resistance, as they did. with the Northern Alliance against the Islamists.

Salej is now the public face of the resistance, broadcasting a continuous stream of defiant messages from the Panjshir. He affirms that there has been intense fighting, with casualties on both sides, and acknowledges: “there is no doubt that we are in a difficult situation – we are under invasion by the Taliban – but we are sustained on the ground, we have resisted.”

The opposition resents the way the United States and its allies have drifted away. “The West’s betrayal of Afghanistan is colossal… The scenes at the Kabul airport in recent days represented the humiliation of humanity, an embarrassment to any nation that has been involved in Afghanistan since the Taliban was defeated by the state-led coalition. United after the atrocity of 9/11, ”Saleh said.

Not only is it embarrassing for President Biden; it is shameful for all Western civilization, he declared.

Saleh says he knew, ever since he left for the Panjshir, that it could be a fight to the death. Speaking with writer Kapil Komireddi, he described how he asked his chief bodyguard to swear on the Qur’an that he would carry out his last order: I told him: we are going to Panjshir and the path is already taken. We will fight our way, we will fight together. But if they hurt me, I have a request to make. Shoot me twice in the head. I don’t want to surrender to the Taliban. Never.

© The Independent

Translation: Jorge Anaya