Taliban’s Waterloo moment is here. After an extraordinary offensive overrunning Afghanistan, the Taliban is facing an uphill task in wresting control of the Panjshir Valley. Taliban’s desperate attempts to negotiate with the Amrullah Saleh-led Northern Alliance that controls Panjshir Valley have failed, dozens of Taliban fighters have been killed in their recent attempt to take control of the region and now the Northern Alliance seems all set to expand its control beyond the Panjshir Valley.
Why is Panjshir important?
While the global media is reporting that the Taliban controls all of Afghanistan, the reports aren’t true. The Taliban still doesn’t control the Panjshir Valley which has become the hub of resistance against it. The region is extremely important because it has always remained unconquered. The Soviets couldn’t capture the Panjshir Valley despite multiple attempts. In the 1990s, the Taliban had failed to capture the region as the Northern Alliance, led by Ahmad Shah Massoud and supported by India, Russia, Iran and Tajikistan, had managed to put up tough resistance against the extremist group.
In 1990s, with support from Russia, Iran, Tajikistan and India, Panjshir Valley under Ahmad Shah Massoud (Northern Alliance) held out even after Taliban had captured 90 per cent of Afghanistan. For how long will they hold out now without outside help???
— Ved Malik (@Vedmalik1) August 25, 2021
Why is the Panjshir Valley difficult to conquer?
The difficult and treacherous terrain that defines the Panjshir Valley makes it difficult for any force, including the Taliban, to mount any effective offensive to grab the region. With only one major road passing through the Valley, an invader is always susceptible to deadly assaults by the defender.
The Panjshir Valley is actually riddled with many dead ends. The main arterial road running throughout the Valley has smaller roads that branch out in other directions, but they either end abruptly or lead to “killing grounds”.
The CIA had also helped the Afghans create an intricate network of large tunnels and underground complexes in the Panjshir Valley. These tunnels and underground complexes can help up to 50,000 Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces take shelter and withstand enormous assaults by Taliban fighters.
Why is the Taliban desperate?
The Taliban understands that it cannot be assured of complete domination over Afghanistan unless it can manage to capture the Pansjir Valley. Moreover, the Taliban understands that a huge resistance force is building up in the region.
Thousands of trained fighters, many of them Tajiks loyal to Ahmed Massoud and Amrullah Saleh who functions as the caretaker President of Afghanistan, are presently defending the Panjshir Valley. Moreover, thousands of fighters belonging to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have fallen back from various posts and have joined the Resistance from Panjshir.
Taliban is facing an imminent danger of losing more territories to the Resistance in Panjshir. Last month, the resistance fighters reportedly captured three districts- Banu, Pol-e-Hesar, and De Salah, in Afghanistan’s Baghlan province. 60 Taliban fighters had been reportedly killed in the process and the resistance fighters were said to be advancing to other districts.
Therefore, the Resistance in Panjshir could easily spill over into the rest of Afghanistan and pose a tough challenge to Taliban’s de facto control over the war-torn nation.
The Taliban wants legitimacy and acknowledgment and for this purpose, it has been trying to talk to the Northern Alliance, more commonly described as the resistance forces, into a surrender.
Taliban went as far as requesting Russia to convey its offer of a deal to the remaining pro-government holdouts in the Panjshir Valley. This also hinted at possible Russian support for the resistance forces. However, Russia itself hates the Taliban and is unlikely to offer its good offices for a mediation between the Taliban and the resistance forces. Instead, it is clear that Russian-backed Central Asian nations Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are giving logistics support to the resistance forces.
Meanwhile, talks between the Taliban and the resistance forces have repeatedly failed because the Taliban demanded that Amrullah Saleh be handed over to them. Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi too confirmed that talks between the two sides had failed so far.
An undeclared ceasefire between Taliban and the resistance forces was ultimately breached by an impatient Taliban, as the negotiations between the two sides seem to have failed for all practical purposes.
Taliban fighters killed
Resistance force spokesperson Ali Maisam Nazary claimed that the Taliban broke a “gentleman agreement” on Monday and tried to attack the Panjshir Valley. The resistance forces have however managed to inflict heavy losses on the Taliban and are claiming to have pushed the extremist group back into the Parwan Province.
The Northern Alliance tweeted, “So far from battle of Khavak last night, Taliban has 350 casualties, more than 40 captured & prisoned. NRF got many new American vehicles, weapons & ammunitions as a trophy. Commanded Defense of Khavak,Commander Munib Amiri.”
So far from battle of Khavak last night, taliban has 350 casualties, more than 40 captured & prisoned. NRF got many new American vehicles, weapons & ammunitions as a trophy. Commanded Defense of Khavak,Commander Munib Amiri 👏🏼#AhmadMassoud #Taliban #Panjshir #secondresistance pic.twitter.com/nSlFN47xL2
— Northern Alliance 🇭🇺 (@NA2NRF) September 1, 2021
Meanwhile, the Taliban did try to make up a new story. It claimed that an attack was launched by the resistance forces and that the extremist group only responded to the attack by Massoud’s supporters. However, when the resistance forces are safely ensconced in the Panjshir Valley, there is no reason why they would launch an all-out assault on the Taliban forces.
It is the Taliban, which was desperate to wrest control of the Panjshir Valley and therefore, the Taliban fighters must have attacked the resistance in all likelihood only in order to return with a bloody nose.
Taliban may have captured the rest of Afghanistan, but when it comes to Panjshir, the Lions of Panjshir are hunting Taliban’s hyenas left, right and centre.