Taliban say negotiations with Panjshir opposition are over, raising fears of war

Taliban say negotiations with Panjshir opposition are over, raising fears of war
Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi told the besieged valley’s 200,000 or so residents to part ways with the leaders of the country's final anti-Taliban opposition, with clashes reported in multiple districts.
4 min read
01 September, 2021
An audio message by a senior Taliban leader was obtained by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language edition [Getty - file photo]

A senior Taliban official has declared that all efforts to broker an agreement with anti-Taliban opposition forces have failed, sparking fears that a war on the besieged Afghan valley is imminent.

Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi warned the besieged valley’s 200,000 residents to part ways with the opposition leaders, who have grouped under the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF).

It contradicted earlier statements from a spokesperson for the movement who said a deal was still possible with the last hold-out of anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Muttaqi said: "We don't want the people of Panjshir to be stuck in difficulties or suffer the impact of war. We've tried countless times via intermediaries and religious scholars to solve the issue through dialogue, but unfortunately, these efforts have been in vain.

"Our forces are ready to settle the score once and for all."

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, an anti-Taliban resistance - composed of pro-government special forces, army remnants, as well as Tajik ethnic militias - has held out in the remote Panjshir Valley, around 30 miles from Kabul.

Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh joined their ranks immediately after the fall of Kabul. In the neighbouring province of Baghlan, there has been fighting between local militias and Taliban fighters.

Muttaqi offered guarantees for the valley's residents - most of whom are from the Tajik ethnic group - that they would be represented in a future government.

It comes despite signals from the Taliban leadership that an incoming government would exclude members of the previous administration - a move that effectively rules out most of the Panjshir resistance's leadership.

Earlier on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the group was committed to a peaceful resolution to the issue of Panjshir - a bastion against occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s and then, a decade later, the Taliban.

But local sources who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported clashes in the Shatila district of Panjshir, resulting in an unconfirmed number of casualties among Taliban and opposition ranks.

An NRF spokesman told Reuters the Taliban launched an offensive two days ago by attacking three of four areas in Panjshir, but were pushed back. They gave no details on casualties.

Skirmishes have spilled out into nearby provinces, including the district of Kohistan in Kapisa and Gulbahar, a district that straddles Kapisa and Parwan. Five anti-Taliban fighters were killed in Gulbahar, sources told Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary.

Speaking to The New Arab on Wednesday, the BBC World Service's Dr Dawood Azami, an expert on Afghanistan, said local uprising and small scale skirmishes - such as the ones seen in Parwan, Baghlan and Panjshir - was one of three forms of armed opposition and resistance that the Taliban now must confront.

He named the other two threats for the militants as the local Islamic State group affiliate (ISIS-KP) and targeted assassinations of the Taliban leadership.

The intensity of these challenges was tied to the "resolve and resilience" of the opposition, as well as the issues of external support and the Taliban's ability to accommodate and tolerate the demands of all sectors of Afghan society, Dr Azami explained.

Panjshir's winding valleys that stretch diagonally to the north of Kabul are surrounded by rugged mountains that reach thousands of metres above sea level, providing a strategic fortification for those living inside.

A single road through the valley runs parallel to the Panjshir Valley - the only route into the region.  The valley’s residents are mostly of Tajik ethnicity and speak Dari, something which has enabled them to carve out a local identity distinct from the notion of an Afghan national one, according to analysts.

This process, which has fuelled local politicians' demands for greater autonomy for their constituents, has been strengthened by external political realities.

Panjshir was promoted from the status of district to province after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, a decision that Afghanistan expert Dr Antoni Giustozzi described in analysis to the BBC as "controversial".

Panjshiri leaders were given top roles in previous administrations and the military, but only local individuals were appointed as governors, boosting autonomy aspirations.

The Panjshir Valley is also believed to contain massive weapons stockpiles from fighters who never handed over their arms to the central government

Ahmad Zia Massoud, the son of famed anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, is a figurehead of the current anti-Taliban force.

The young leader, who has studied in London and trained for a year at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, has his father's charm but is "untested" as a military leader, according to Dr Guistozzi.