Panjshir braces for Taliban onslaught after negotiations fail

New Afghan government might be unveiled on Friday, according to sources


Shahabullah Yousafzai September 01, 2021

KABUL:

Panjshir Valley, which has become a symbol of defiance against the Taliban since the fall of Kabul, is bracing for the full fury of the militia after a senior Taliban leader slammed the door on negotiations with “rebels” on Wednesday.

On the political front, the Taliban Shura is said to have completed consultation on a new inclusive government which, according to sources, is likely to be unveiled on the “auspicious day of Friday”.

Northeastern Panjshir is the only province among Afghanistan’s 34 provinces which has yet to fall to the Taliban. Ahmed Massoud, the son of anti-Soviet resistance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, and Amrullah Saleh, the former first vice president of Afghanistan, have refused to submit to the Taliban.

The pair seeks to revive the defunct Northern Alliance, a coalition of ethnic Uzbek and Tajik forces, in Panjshir to challenge the Taliban.

The Taliban took over most major cities, including the capital Kabul, with lightning speed and mostly without a fight as they encouraged the Afghan government forces to surrender. The militia also engaged Massoud and Saleh in negotiations to “avoid bloodshed”.

However, negotiations appear to have failed. Mullah Amir Khan Motaqi, the head of Taliban’s commission for guidance and encouragement, has said that negotiations with tribal elders and leaders of Panjshir “went in vain."

Read Veteran Afghan strongmen to form new front for negotiating with Taliban

"My brothers, we tried our best to solve the Panjshir problem with talks and negotiations... but unfortunately all in vain," Muttaqi said in an audio message posted on Twitter.

He blamed the leaders of Panjshir for the breakdown of negotiations, saying there were still some people in the valley who didn’t want the problems to be solved peacefully. “Now it is up to you to talk to them," Muttaqi said in the message to the people of Panjshir. "Those who want to fight, tell them it is enough."

“If they (Northern Alliance) could do nothing [against Taliban] with the support of the US and its NATO allies during the past 20 years, they can do nothing now,” he said, promising to adhere to the general amnesty for all.

Muttaqi was referring to talks held in Parwan province between the Taliban and politicians from Panjshir to break the impasse.

Former deputy speaker of the Senate Mohammad Alam Izdiar, who hails from Panjshir, said in a statement last Thursday that a 12-member delegation of the “Panjshir Resistance Front,” headed by Mohammad Almas Zahed, “a jihadi commander,” met with a Taliban delegation in Charikar, Parwan.

Panjshir Valley has been under siege from all four sides, while the Taliban have sent fresh reinforcements to the northern pocket of defiance where the elder Massoud had led a fabled fight against the Soviets in the 1980s, earning the title of “lion of Panjshir”.

The Taliban marched from Badakhshan, Baghlan, Parvan, Nuristan and Kunar provinces using uncharted and unfrequented routes to lay siege to Panjshir.

Maulvi Fasihuddin, a Tajik Taliban commander, has been leading the Panjshir campaign, according to sources. The elite Taliban special forces, the “Badri 313 unit”, are said to be on the forefront.

Various pro-Taliban social media accounts have claimed that the southern Shotul district of the province, located 125 kilometres from the capital Kabul, has been captured. They further claimed fierce fighting has been ongoing and the Taliban fighters are advancing.

A spokesman for the anti-Taliban “Resistance 2.0” group in Panjshir, Fahim Dashti, however, claimed on Tuesday that a major Taliban attack had been repulsed. In an audio statement, Dashti said “heavy casualties” had been inflicted on the Taliban.

Dmitry Zhirnov, the Russian ambassador in Kabul, has reportedly warned that the Taliban could capture Panjshir in “a few hours”, but they were showing restraint because they “want to avoid unnecessary bloodshed”.

Govt formation

Taliban leaders, including Anas Haqqani, have held several rounds of talks with Afghan leaders, among them former president Hamid Karzai and former vice president Abdullah Abdullah, in an effort to cobble up an inclusive government.

Read more Taliban call for peaceful solution of Panjshir standoff

Several Taliban sources have confirmed to The Express Tribune that the makeup of the new government have almost been finalised. According to Anamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, supreme leader Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada, will be the leader of the new government.

“There is no doubt about the presence of the commander of the faithful (Akhunzada) in the government. He will be the leader of the government and there should be no question on this,” he was quoted by ToloNews as saying.

Some sources told The Express Tribune that the new government might be unveiled “Friday afternoon” and that there could also be a prime minister post in the new set-up.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s chief negotiator and deputy chief of the group’s political office in Qatar, told BBC Pashto on Wednesday that the new government would be unveiled “within three days”.

He said that the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would have representation from all ethnic groups and would enjoy national and international support. “Pious and educated people would make up the new government which would have fair share of women,” he said. However, he added that those who had been associated with the government in any way during the last 20 years would not be given any role in the new set-up.

The Taliban has already appointed governors, police chiefs and police commanders for provinces and districts.

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