Fresh fighting was reported on September 4 between the Taliban and resistance forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, as the hardline Islamists finalise a new government that will set the tone for their rule.
Facing the challenge of morphing from insurgents to rulers, the Taliban appear determined to snuff out the Panjshir resistance before announcing who will lead the country in the aftermath of August 30’s US troop withdrawal, which was supposed to end two decades of war.
But Panjshir, which held out for nearly a decade against the Soviet Union’s occupation and also the Taliban’s first rule from 1996-2001, is stubbornly holding out.
Fighters from the so-called National Resistance Front (NRF) – made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces – are understood to have stockpiled a significant armoury in the valley, around 80km north of Kabul and guarded by a narrow gorge.
Celebratory gunfire rang out in the capital Kabul overnight as rumours spread that the valley had fallen, but the Taliban made no official claim on September 4 and a resident told AFP by phone that the reports were false.
The Emergency Hospital in Kabul said two people were killed and 20 wounded by the salvos, as the Taliban tweeted a stern admonishment and warned its fighters to stop.
“Avoid firing in the air and thank God instead,” said chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, tipped to become the new regime’s information minister. “The weapons and bullets given to you are public property. No one has the right to waste them. The bullets can also harm civilians, don’t shoot in vain.”
In Panjshir, former vice-president Amrullah Saleh, holed out alongside Ahmad Massoud – the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, admitted the perilous position of the NRF.
“The situation is difficult, we have been under invasion,” Saleh said in a video message.
Usually known for his sharp Western suits, Saleh was filmed wearing a traditional shalwar kameez tunic and a flat woollen pakol cap favoured by Panjshiris.
“The resistance is continuing and will continue,” he added.
Taliban and resistance tweets suggested the key district of Paryan had changed hands several times in the last few days, but that also could not be independently verified.
Away from the valley, the international community was coming to terms with having to deal with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.
Pakistan’s intelligence chief Faiz Hameed was in Kabul, reportedly to be briefed by his country’s ambassador but is also likely to meet top Taliban officials with whom Islamabad has historically had very close relations.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres is set to convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan in Swiss diplomatic hub Geneva on September 13, to focus on humanitarian assistance for the country.
The UN has already restarted humanitarian flights to parts of Afghanistan, while the country’s flag carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines resumed domestic trips on September 3 and the UAE sent a plane carrying “urgent medical and food aid”.
Western Union and Moneygram, meanwhile, said they were restarting cash transfers, which many Afghans rely on from relatives abroad to survive.
China has already confirmed it will keep its embassy in Kabul open.
Meanwhile in Kabul, dozens of women protested for a second day on September 4 to demand the right to work and inclusion in the government.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have made repeated declarations that women will have access to education and some employment – though they are unlikely to be included at the top levels of government.
Social media clips showed Taliban fighters and officials attempting to disperse the demonstrators and stopping people from filming with mobile phones.