The Taliban on Friday claimed they had captured the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, after most of the frontline soldiers there laid down their arms, although a resistance leader denied that the last province of Afghanistan holding out against the militia had fallen.
The announcement from Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid triggered jubilation in the capital Kabul and elsewhere, as the group’s commanders congratulated each other for a “full sweep” across the country and bringing entire Afghanistan under their control.
Western media outlets also cited Taliban sources that Panjshir Valley had fallen. “By the grace of Allah Almighty, we are in control of the entire Afghanistan. The troublemakers have been defeated and Panjshir is now under our command,” a Taliban commander told Reuters.
Mujahid said that Taliban entered Panjshir from “unconventional routes” in the four directions. “The frontline consisted of young men, who were wiped out. the group’s fighters had blocked the main entry-exit point to the Valley and were advancing towards the central parts of the province,” he added.
However, a BBC World journalist posted a video clip on Twitter in which former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, one of the leaders of the opposition forces, said he was still in the Valley. His son Ebadullah also dismissed reports of the fall of Panjshir.
“There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation. We are under invasion by the Taliban,” Saleh said. “We have held the ground, we have resisted.”
He also tweeted to say: “The RESISTANCE is continuing and will continue. I am here with my soil, for my soil & defending its dignity.”
Panjshir was the stronghold of late Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who resisted the Taliban for years during their first government from 1995-2001. Massoud’s son, Ahmad Massoud said that the “news of Panjshir conquests… is a lie”.
Fahim Dashti, a leader of the Northern Resistance Alliance, also rejected the Taliban claim, stating Saleh was still in the valley along with Ahmed Massoud. Dashti claimed that Taliban faced fierce resistance in Panjshir as over 400 of their fighters had been killed, and 40 others arrested. “We stunned the Taliban with surprise attacks and they have been pushed back to their previous positions.”
Meanwhile, deafening volleys of celebratory gunfire resounded all over Kabul and Facebook accounts were full of mentions of the fall of Panjshir, while the Taliban congratulated each other for the final and full sweep across the country.
Taliban spokesperson Mujahid said that “we have captured the police headquarters and the Taliban fighters are strengthening their positions,” adding: “We entered via Badakhshan, Andarab Dara, Salang Dara, Jabal-e-Siraj areas and surprised the enemy forces.”
A Taliban commander, close to ground commander Qari Fasiuddin told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interaction, that the Taliban sent a jirga [delegation] to Ahmad Massoud for revolving the issues peacefully, but the talks failed.
“They put up demands, including a share in the government, which isn’t acceptable to the [Taliban] movement and we declined. They decided to fight and we were left with no other option but to take up arms against them. If they lay down their arms, we will reconsider our decision, he added.
The UK-based Reuters news agency quoted Taliban sources as saying that all the top Taliban leaders had arrived in Kabul, where preparations were in the final stages to announce a new government. the report said that the group's co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would lead a new Afghan government.
Citing three sources, the report added that Baradar would be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai in senior positions in the government set to be announced soon.
The government would comprise 25 ministries, with a Shura [consultative council] of 12 scholars, the source said. Taliban's Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada would focus on religious matters and governance, another Taliban source added.
Since the fall of Kabul on August 15, the Taliban officials have spoken of wanting to form a consensus government, but a source close to the movement said the interim government would consist solely of Taliban members.
Also being planned within six to eight months would be a Loya Jirga (grand assembly), bringing together representatives from across the Afghan society to discuss a constitution and the structure of the future government, the source said.
However, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that no names had been finalised yet, as he urged the people not to pay any heed to the rumours circulating on the social media. “We have considered names for the government but we haven’t finalised them. We would announce the names soon.”
The spokesperson stressed that Afghanistan could not stand alone in the world community, adding that the government would be required to establish diplomatic ties with Islamic and regional countries as well as the European Union (EU) and the United States.
“Afghanistan needs reconstruction, economic prosperity and development in all sectors. We would allow women in all sectors, including in economic activities, but within the light of the Islamic Sharia,” he continued.
Elaborating further, Mujahid said: “We would provide them [women] an environment free of mental and sexual harassment, as in the previous government we witnessed that women were harassed in all sectors,” adding: “We have similar plans for girls’ education.”
However, the Taliban spokesperson regretted that the world was not showing patience with them. “Now we request the world community to give us chance, so we could prove ourselves,” Zabihullah Mujahid added.
On the group’s relationship with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, the spokesperson said that they did not have any contacts with Al Qeada because their fighters had left for their home countries after the Arab spring.
About the (IS) he said that there no Syrian or other ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] members in Afghanistan, but the people “we have here are local Afghans” who had been “fascinated by IS ideologies”, however, he assured that they would be crushed.
(WITH INPUT FROM REUTERS)
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