The Panjshir, “five lions” in Dari, is a spectacular valley in northern Afghanistan between mountains, steep rivers and a few impossible roads. It has always been the land of resistance as well. There could never rule the invading armies, from Babur to Alexander, from the British to the Soviets. Foreigners controlled Kabul, but they were never able to enter these gorges that become impenetrable fortresses. The Taliban also could not control that territory when they ruled between 1996 and 2001 and now they have there the first resistance since they took power again two weeks ago.
Fighters loyal to the local leader Ahmad Massoud they clashed this week in the Panjshir with Taliban forces who tried to advance. And as in all wars, here too the first victim is the truth. Each side has made conflicting claims about territorial gains and the number of victims. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said “we started operations after negotiations with the local armed group failed.” He added that his fighters had entered the valley and taken control of part of the territory: “They suffered great losses.” On the contrary, a spokesman for the rebel National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) assured that they had full control of all the steps and entrances to the Panjshir and that they had pushed back the Taliban who tried to take control of a strategic crossing. “The enemy made multiple attempts to enter Shotul from Jabul-Saraj and failed each time,” he said, referring to a city in neighboring Parwan province.
Ahmad Massoud, the top leader of the NRFA is endorsed by Amrullah Saleh, the first Afghan vice president to declare himself acting president of the country after Ashraf Ghani’s flight. “Our people will not allow the aggressors to invade their province nor are we going to submit to their rules“Massoud said in an interview with Foreign Policy this week. He left open the possibility of holding peace talks with the Taliban to reach a power-sharing agreement, but clarified that “It may already be too late.” There are no independent reports on how many fighters the resistance might have, but it is known that Hundreds of former US-trained Afghan Army officers are joining and that anti-Taliban forces from Herat and Kandahar also arrived. “They can probably raise a few thousand,” an intelligence source told The Guardian. “There are with them some elite forces trained by the Americans. But we don’t know if they could take with them sophisticated weaponry they need to resist, ”he explained.
Ahmad Massoud is a well-known figure throughout Afghanistan. Is son of Ahmad Shah “the lion of Panjshir” Massoud, a national hero who led the previous resistance to the Taliban and the Soviets in that same territory and who was assassinated by two agents of the terrorist network Al Qaeda posing as Jordanian journalists. The incident occurred on September 9, 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks and was part of the plot and attack against the United States. Massoud Sr. was not only a great military strategist, but ruled the Panjshir integrally with its 120,000 inhabitants spread over some 400 villages. He was personally in charge of supervising the infrastructure works and even wrote an instruction manual on how classes should be taught in schools under the most modern teaching methods and the space that each student had to have between desks. The first pro-Western president to take office at the end of 2001, Hamid Karzai, decreed September 9 as a national day and named it “Amer Sāhib-e Shahīd” (our martyred commander).
His son had an elite education in Great Britain. First at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and then graduated in War Studies from the prestigious King’s College, London. The MA in International Politics was completed at the City University of London. He is 32 years old and has an extreme resemblance to his father. In a ceremony attended by the chiefs of all the Panjshir tribes and held in front of his father’s mausoleum in November 2019, he was declared his official successor. The closest thing to a coronation in Afghan Pashtun tradition.
Speculation about the resistance’s true firepower has already started. No one believes that he can openly confront the Taliban, much less regain power in Kabul. But it does prevent Islamic extremists from taking control of the Panjshir. This area is strategic to form, for example, a beachhead for possible American or Western attacks against the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Something that could cause the United States and other great powers to begin discreetly offer some kind of support to Massoud, and give Western powers at least a small foothold in Afghanistan for the fight against terrorism in Central Asia.
The government of Joe Biden has not given any public signal on whether he will commit to the resistance front. Behind the scenes, US officials say it is too early to tell. Washington is still recovering from its chaotic evacuation operation. It is also waiting to see if the Taliban will deliver on their promises to form a more inclusive government that respects the rights of its citizens and does not give refuge to terrorist groups. Although there is great skepticism about this possibility.
Several congressmen from the Capitol are already pressing for the delivery of the aid that, as happened in the intervention of the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 80s and that He was portrayed in the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Directed by Mike Nichols. It told the story of Texas Representative Charlie Wilson and CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos, whose efforts led to the Operation Cyclone, a program to organize and support pro-Western fighters. The screenplay for the film was written by Aaron Sorkin, based on George Crile’s book “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.” Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts y Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in it.
As in that case, there is a group of Republican legislators who are petitioning the Biden Administration support Massoud as soon as possible. Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Michael Waltz called on the President to recognize opposition forces as legitimate representatives of Afghanistan and to support “Our friends from the Panjshir Valley, who will serve as a bulwark against regional terror.”
Still, military analysts believe that if there were to be any support it won’t be anything formal. Only some covert operation like the one Wilson and Avrakotos organized. And much will depend on whether Massoud can resist the Taliban offensive long enough and achieve the same respect that his father had earned around the world until he proves that he is. the new lion of the Panjshir.
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How the resistance against the Taliban led by the new “lion of Panjshir” works