A Valley Of Resistance
Panjshir knows how to fight back! And, Russia is well aware of this fact (since the Soviet Era). Hence, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov recently said: “The Taliban doesn’t control the whole territory of Afghanistan. There are reports of the situation in the Panjshir Valley where the resistance of Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud (the son of a famed anti-Taliban fighter) is concentrated.”
This is a fact that Panjshir Valley, 150km north of Kabul near the Hindu Kush Mountain range, has never bowed its head to unwanted power! No foreign forces have managed to take control of the Valley even after occupying the entire Afghanistan, so far. The former Soviet Army failed to take control of this region. The US Forces, too, failed to do so. Even the Taliban did not succeed until August 19, 2021. The Valley – which is home to more than 100,000 people, including Afghanistan’s largest concentration of ethnic Tajiks – has always been an impregnable fortress for foreign invaders and the Taliban fighters.
Nature and its geographical location have always protected Panjshir. The dream of the Soviet and US Forces, and the Taliban fighters to occupy the Panjshir Valley has remained elusive due to the freezing temperature in extremely inaccessible Hindu Kush Mountain. The Tajik people, living in this Valley, also deserve credit, as they have repeatedly waged wars against Authoritarian invaders (from the 1980s to the 2010s)!
In 2021, the Taliban fighters reached the Presidential Palace in Kabul on August 15 after conquering one province after another from the northern part of Afghanistan without facing any resistance. Just before their arrival in Kabul, the ousted President, Ashraf Ghani, left the country for the UAE. However, the Taliban is yet to capture Ghani’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh. On Twitter, Saleh has confirmed that he is still in Afghanistan. He has also said that he, as an Acting President, would fight against the Taliban. According to sources close to Saleh, he is in Panjshir.
Experts on Afghan Politics have said that the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) has always resisted the Authoritarian Regime, be it foreign invaders or the Taliban, from Panjshir. The NRFA is also known as Second Resistance or Panjshir Resistance or Northern Alliance. Noted political personalities, like Ahmad Massoud, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Amrullah Saleh have led the NRFA. The ethnic Tajik population of Panjshir had successfully resisted the former Soviet Forces in the 1980s. During the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Panjshir put up a memorable resistance against the Deobandi Islamist religious-political movement and military outfit. At that period of time, the Tajiks of Panjshir joined hands with other peoples in the northern part of the country to form the Northern Alliance in order to fight against the Taliban. The Alliance was led by fighters, like Ahmad Shah Massoud, Amrullah Saleh, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Karim Khalili, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdullah Abdullah, Abdul Qadir, Muhammad Asif Mohsen and Muhammad Mohaqiq. The Tajiks have stockpiled weapons for the past four decades to fight foreign invaders and the Taliban.
The naming of Panjshir still carries the Legacy of Resistance. The Panjshir Valley (also spelled Panjsheer or Panjsher) literally means the ‘Valley of Five Lions‘! It is said that during the time when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (November 2, 971 – April 30, 1030) used to rule Afghanistan in the 10th Century, the entire Valley of Panjshir used to get washed away by the terrible floods. Five brothers of the Valley built a huge dam in order to save Panjshir from devastating floods. In remembrance of the courage of five brothers, the name of the valley was changed to Panjshir!
The Panjshir Resistance, also known as the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan and the Second Resistance, is a military alliance of former Northern Alliance members and anti-Taliban fighters, who refers themselves to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, created after the 2021 Taliban offensive, under the leadership of the Afghan politician and military leader Ahmad Massoud and the first Vice President of Afghanistan Amrullah Saleh, born in Panjshir.
The Northern Alliance exercises De Facto control over the Panjshir Valley that is largely contiguous with Panjshir Province and, as of August 24, 2021, is “the only region out of the Taliban’s hands“. The alliance constitutes the only organised resistance to the Taliban in the war-ravaged country, and is possibly planning an anti-Taliban guerilla struggle. The resistance has called for an inclusive government of Afghanistan, as one of their objectives is speculated to be a stake in the new Afghan Government.
On August 17, 2021, Saleh – citing provisions of the Constitution of Afghanistan – declared himself Acting President of the country from the base of operations in the Panjshir Valley, saying that he would continue Military Operations against the Taliban from there. His claim to the Presidency was endorsed by Massoud and former Afghan Minister of Defence Bismillah Mohammadi, along with the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan and its Ambassador Mohammad Zahir Aghbar.
A mountainous region, Panjshir was a formidable base of operations for the original Northern Alliance, and for anti-Soviet fighters. It was the birthplace of Ahmad Shah Massoud, and his son Ahmad Massoud is widely seen as his successor.
In July 2021, the remnants of the Northern Alliance started remobilising under an umbrella, called Resistance II. Ahmad Massoud wrote in an op-ed to the Washington Post on August 18, 2021, calling for the rest of the world to help them, as he admitted that ammunition and supplies would run out unless Panjshir could be supplied. As of August 24, the Panjshir Valley was “under siege on all sides”, but had not come under direct attack.
According to anonymous former American and British soldiers (some of whom were formerly Afghan-based contractors), numerous Afghans living abroad have been working together to raise money in order to assist the Panjshir-based fighters. Following the Fall of Kabul, anti-Taliban forces, including former Vice President Saleh, moved into the Panjshir Valley, the only area of Afghanistan not controlled by the Taliban, in order to create a new resistance front.
On August 17, 2021, former ethnic Tajik soldiers of the Afghan Army began to arrive in Panjshir Valley, with tanks and personnel carriers, in support of the resistance. They regrouped in Andarab District, Baghlan after they escaped Kunduz, Badakhshan, Takhar, and Baghlan before moving to the safety of Panjshir.
According to unconfirmed reports, Saleh’s command managed to recapture Charikar, the capital of Parwan Province, which had been held by the Taliban since August 15, and that fighting began in Panjshir. At around the same time, unconfirmed reports stated that remnants of the Afghan National Army (ANA) began massing in the Panjshir Valley at the request of Massoud, along with the Minister of Defence Bismillah Mohammadi and provincial commanders. Local civilians also responded to his calls to be mobilised.
The Panjshir Resistance also claimed to have the support of Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Nur on August 18, 2021, while it was reported that members of Dostum’s group, which had retreated into Uzbekistan, announced that 10,000 of their soldiers could join the Panjshir Resistance, creating a combined force of 15,000 or more. On the same day, Afghan Embassy employees in Tajikistan replaced photos of Ghani in the embassy building with those of Saleh.
The significance of that naming has been proved yet again in the message of Vice President Saleh, who has written on his Twitter Account: “Nations must respect the Rule of Law, not violence. Afghanistan is too big for Pakistan to swallow and too big for Talibs to govern. Don’t let your histories have a chapter on humiliation and bowing to terror groups.”
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