Taliban have yet to appoint a government as resistance in Panjshir Valley holds
Kabul, Afghanistan (AFP) – New fighting was reported on Saturday between the Taliban and resistance forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, even as die-hard Islamists finalize a new government that will set the tone for their regime.
Faced with the challenge of turning insurgents into rulers, the Taliban appear determined to quell Panjshir resistance before announcing who will rule the country following Monday’s US troop withdrawal, which was supposed to end two decades of war.
But the Panjshir, which for nearly a decade resisted the occupation of the Soviet Union and also the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, is stubbornly holding on.
Fighters from the so-called National Resistance Front (NRF) – made up of anti-Taliban militias and former Afghan security forces – are said to have stored a large armory in the valley, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Kabul and guarded by a narrow gorge.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in the capital Kabul overnight as rumors spread that the valley had fallen, but the Taliban made no official statement on Saturday and a resident told AFP by phone that the information was false.
Kabul emergency hospital said two people were killed and 20 injured in the gunfire, as the Taliban tweeted a stern warning warning its fighters to stop.
“Avoid shooting in the air and thank God instead,” said chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who is called to become the information minister of the new regime.
“The weapons and bullets delivered to you are public property. No one has the right to waste them. Bullets can injure civilians too, do not shoot in vain.
In Panjshir, former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, who stepped aside alongside Ahmad Massoud – the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud – acknowledged the perilous position of the NRF.
“The situation is difficult, we have suffered an invasion,” Saleh said in a video message.
Usually known for his sharp Western costumes, Saleh was filmed wearing a traditional shalwar kameez tunic and a Panjshiris favorite pakol woolen flat cap.
“The resistance continues and will continue,” he added.
Tweets from the Taliban and the resistance suggested that the key neighborhood of Paryan had changed hands several times over the past few days, but this also could not be independently verified.
Far from the valley, the international community was beginning to accept to face the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due in Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga and seat of the Taliban political bureau, on Sunday, although there are no plans to meet with the militants.
He will then travel to Germany to lead a virtual 20-country ministerial meeting on Afghanistan alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also expected to convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan in Geneva on September 13, to focus on humanitarian assistance to the country.
The United Nations has already restarted humanitarian flights to parts of Afghanistan, while the national airline Ariana Afghan Airlines resumed domestic flights on Friday and the United Arab Emirates sent a plane carrying “medical and food aid to the United Nations. ’emergency”.
Western Union and Moneygram, meanwhile, have said they are resuming money transfers, on which many Afghans depend on loved ones overseas to survive.
China has already confirmed that it will keep its embassy in Kabul open.
The new Afghan rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during their first term in power, which also came after years of conflict – first the Soviet invasion of 1979, then a bloody civil war.
This regime was known for its blunt interpretation of Islamic law and its treatment of women, who were forced into entry and denied access to school and work.
This time around, the Taliban have repeatedly said that they will not carry out revenge attacks on opponents and that women will have access to education and some jobs.
They promised a more “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup – though women are unlikely to be included at the highest levels.
In Kabul, around 30 women took to the streets on Friday to demand the right to work and inclusion in government – a day after dozens of them staged a similar protest in the town of Herat, in the west of the country.