Panchir: the end of an impregnable fortress?

Resistance forces to the Afghan regime in the Panchir Valley (Afghanistan), 2 September 2021. (AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN / AFP)

“With this victory, our country is completely out of the doldrums of war”. In a statement released on the morning of Monday, September 6, Zabihullah Mujahid, the main spokesman for the Taliban regime, announces that the control of Panchir is “full”, three weeks after the Taliban’s capture of Kabul.

The insurgents were killed and the rest fled. The respectable population of Panchir was rescued from the kidnappers. We assure (him) that no one will be discriminated against. They are all our brothers and we will work together for a country and a goal.

Zabihullah Moujahid, Taliban Spokesperson

At the same time, images broadcast on social media by the Afghan government’s official news agency show the Taliban raising the Islamic Emirate’s flag in front of the provincial governor’s headquarters in Panchir province, a few meters from the portrait of the charismatic leader, murdered by Al- Qaeda on September 9, 2001, Ahmed Shah Massoud.

So it’s done, the Taliban is in place. But do they occupy you completely? The National Resistance Front (FNR) in turn promises to continue the fight. In its Twitter account, the movement led by Commander Massoud’s son, Ahmad Massoud, claims to have “strategic positions”.

The fight against the Taliban and their partners will continue.

National Resistance Front

Last resistance or tactical retreat? It is very difficult to know exactly what is happening in this landlocked, difficult-to-access valley, located just 80 kilometers from the capital Kabul, but nestled in the heart of the Hindu Kush massif. There are no journalists there, very few NGOs and communications are cut off.

The capture of Panchir Valley is a big gamble for the new regime, in the first place because it is the last pocket of resistance to Taliban control over the country. A few thousand men, mostly former members of the Afghan security forces, gathered around Ahmad Massoud, son of the legendary Lion of Panchir, and Amrullah Saleh, a former Afghan vice president, one of the few members of the ousted government to neither fled abroad nor surrendered. During a press conference in Kabul on the morning of September 6, Zabihullah Mujahid warned them: “The Islamic Emirate is very sensitive to insurgencies. Anyone who tries to create an insurgency will be severely repressed “.

Afghan forces formed over the past twenty years will be called upon to join the security services on the side of the Taliban. The war is over, the country is coming out of the crisis. Now is the time for peace and reconstruction. We need the support of the people.

The gamble is also symbolic: neither the Soviets in the 1980s nor the Taliban in the following decade (1996-2001) managed to subjugate the Panchir valley, considered impregnable. In 1984, Ahmed Shah Massoud withdrew from the Soviets who had invaded, before regaining lost ground.

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Is your son Ahmad in a position to do the same? Its logistical and human resources seem limited, and the Taliban’s encirclement of the valley cuts off any possibility of supplying Tajikistan. Also, the personality of Massoud’s son is intriguing. He was educated at King’s College London and the Royal Academy of Sandhurst, British St. Cyr. He lived 15 years in the UK and then Iran before returning to Afghanistan in 2016. At 32, does he live in the shadows and in his father’s name? Or can you incorporate a renovation?

The province of the “Five Lions” – a translation of the Persian “Panchir” – has in any case fed the Western imagination for 40 years. To present it would obviously constitute a very strong symbolic victory for the Taliban regime.

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