Conflict Alerts # 434, 8 September 2021
In the news
On 6 September, the Taliban claimed to have captured the Panjshir Valley, raising their flag over the last Afghan provincial capital which was not under their control. The Taliban's spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said: "Panjshir Province completely fell to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," adding, "with this victory and latest efforts our country has come out of the whirlpool of the war and our people will have a happy life in peace, liberty and freedom."
The opposition group, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), disputed that claim, stating that its forces were still positioned strategically across the Panjshir Valley and maintained that they would fight. NRFA commander Ahmad Massoud said: "We are in Panjshir and our Resistance will continue," he added, "the national resistance forces are ready to immediately stop the war to achieve a lasting peace if the Taliban cease their attacks and military operations in Panjshir and Andarab, and hope to hold a large meeting with scholars and reformers, and continue discussions and talks."
On 7 September, the Taliban announced an interim government declaring Afghanistan as an "Islamic Emirate." Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund was named to lead the council of ministers and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was named as the acting deputy leader of the council of ministers. Sirajuddin Haqqani was named as acting minister of the interior, while Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoob was named acting defence minister. Announcing the interim government, Mujahid said: "We're not a tribal force," adding, "We hope all countries in the world will recognize the legitimacy of our government and our Islamic regime."
Issues at large
First, the fall of Panjshir. Unlike in the 1990s, the Taliban had captured the provinces to the north of Panjshir, thus restricting the Northern Alliance to control of its supply line of arms, ammunition, fighters, food, and fuel to the resistance. Additionally, with the lack of support from the US and its allies, the resistance lost key assistance in its battle against the Taliban.
Second, resistance to continue. Although Panjshir remained the only holdout for the resistance forces, both Massoud and former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh have vowed to continue the resistance. Massoud previously stated: "The Taliban is not a problem for the Afghan people alone. Under Taliban control, Afghanistan will without doubt become ground zero of radical Islamist terrorism; plots against democracies will be hatched here once again." This comes after the failed talks were held between the Taliban and the resistance forces, seeking devolution of power to the provinces and inclusion of all ethnic groups in the new government. Meanwhile, peaceful protests by women, unconnected to the armed resistance in Panjshir, have taken place across the province.
Third, the Taliban's caretaker government. The formation of the new government comes after it was postponed twice because the group struggled to shape an inclusive administration acceptable both internally and externally. The initial names of the interim government did not include any non-Taliban, non-Haqqani Network stakeholders. Thus, though appearing to be a monolith while fighting the war, in the end, the most serious challenge for the Afghan Taliban will be to maintain unity within their ranks.
First, the last pocket of the resistance. The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent resistance to the Taliban, with the fall of Panjshir there remains no organized resistance in Afghanistan. If the Taliban manages to keep Panjshir under control, it would be a representation of the group's offensive and return to power. However, although the odds are against the resistance fighters, the battle has not been lost yet. Massoud along with the resistance forces will continue to fight back against the Taliban.
Second, the Taliban retreats to its old system. The Taliban's interim government highlights the fact that the group believes in a 'Taliban-led- Taliban-owned government.' Thus, proving that the group is still undecided on the idea of 'inclusion.' Additionally, the Taliban's path ahead is a challenging one as it grapples with a growing humanitarian and economic crisis following the takeover of Kabul.