“Betrayed, but still standing. The “lion cub of Panjshir” fights on!
The Taliban’s quick seizure of Afghanistan is an exact replay of what happened there 25 years ago, albeit in a “quick view” mode. Just like then, radical Islamists have managed to gain control over the entire territory of the country, except for the Panjshir Valley and its environs. It was there that part of the army, who did not like the idea of living according to medieval rules imposed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, fell back to. And it is where the betrayed “lion cub of Panjshir” – Ahmad Massoud Jr., the son of the legendary leader of the Northern Alliance, is now fighting. Time will show if he can become a lion, just like his father.
The Panjshir Gorge is more than just Afghanistan’s gateway to China – it is also a zone predominantly populated by Afghan Tajiks. Afghanistan is an ethnic patchwork with Tajiks traditionally living in the North and Pashtuns – in the South. Until recently, many generations of Afghans peacefully coexisted for centuries. No longer. The Taliban are mostly ethnic Afghans or Pakistani Pashtuns. Many Arabic-speaking extremists from al-Qaeda and ISIS, who have arrived from Syria and Iraq, have joined forces with the Taliban. Supporters of Massoud and the part of the army that remains loyal to the democratic government of Afghanistan, led by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh who, after the flight of President Ghani on a plane laden with money, declared himself the country’s lawful new leader, are mostly Tajiks. There are many other people in Afghanistan, who do not want to live under the control of radical Islamists, however, but it is the Tajiks who have become the Taliban’s number one enemy.
Saleh and Massoud are both Tajiks, as are the indigenous inhabitants of Panjshir. The Taliban do not want to repeat the mistake they made 25 years ago, because it was from this mountain valley that the Northern Alliance troops launched an offensive against Kabul back in 2001, which, by the way, was captured with little ground support from the international coalition forces. This time, the leaders of the Taliban and their allies will try to clear out the rebel provinces no matter what. All the more so since the quick seizure of Panjshir would demonstrate to the whole world that the Taliban is capable of conducting complex and large-scale military operations instead of simply entering abandoned cities!
Why doesn’t Massoud give up and swallow the Taliban’s bait? It’s simple: he knows full well that radical Islamists are planning a total genocide of the recalcitrant valley. The Russians did not think about this when they fought the lion cub’s “father,” but for radical extremists this is normal behavior. Moreover, Panjshir is a relatively prosperous province, which has long been spared the horrors of war and so it could be an ideal place for Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns to settle in. Local residents would either die or flee to overpopulated and impoverished Tajikistan, leaving their homes to new owners. That is why Massoud’s people are fighting for their lives and their opponents are deploying their crack units to the valley. The Taliban’s military professionalism still leaves much to be desired though. But, according to some sources, following their first setbacks the radical movement turned to their Pakistani allies, who really want to fast track the creation of a direct corridor from China to Afghanistan. The military operation is now being coordinated by Pakistani advisers, and the Taliban “warriors of Islam” are being actively assisted by Pakistan’s regular special forces. How long can the National Salvation Front hold out against professionals and drones, given the Taliban’s virtually limitless arms stockpile and their numerical superiority?
Especially since Washington’s new policy vis-à-vis the Taliban is now a major problem for the defenders of Panjshir.
Indeed, by surrendering the country to the Islamists, the Americans recognized them as negotiable partners. The White House even described the Taliban as being “completely different” from the 2001 terrorists. The new rulers in Kabul are now counting on international recognition and are even ready to pretend that they seek a dialogue with all of the country’s political forces. Shooting musicians and killing former employees of US military bases point to the exact opposite though, but the West is ready to ignore this. After all, the Taliban allowed a peaceful evacuation from the Kabul airport. Therefore, the radical Islamist leaders offered Massoud Jr. and his supporters peace talks, declaring their readiness to give the National Salvation Front a couple of seats in the government.
If the defenders of Panjshir had agreed to such conditions, they would have been disarmed and eliminated. The Taliban leaders were well aware of how their proposal would be perceived. The only reason why they made the offer was to show everyone their desire to negotiate in order to achieve international recognition as soon as possible. In fact, the Haqqani Network, a Taliban ally, began fighting in Panjshir without even waiting for the ultimatum to expire despite the fact that Massoud and his supporters had not abandoned the negotiations and proposed their candidacies for the new government. This did not sit well with the Taliban, of course.
However, taking control over the Panjshir Gorge has never been an easy matter. Massoud fought back and even went on the offensive. His supporters in Andarab rebelled and seized a number of key points. By the morning of September 4, the advancing radical extremists had been cut off and trapped by the forces of the National Resistance Front with Massoud announcing the loss of 1,200 enemy fighters.
This did not prevent the Taliban from announcing the complete capture of the province just two days later, after having virtually cut off Panjshir province’s all links to the outside world. Whether this information is entirely true remain a big question, but such a statement allows the Taliban to solemnly take over the whole of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Tajiks are not the only ethnic minority ready to stand up to the Taliban. An equally unenviable fate awaits the Uzbeks, who account for almost ten percent of the country population. They even have their own leader, a combat general, and now Marshal Dostum, who, unlike Massoud Sr., studied in the Soviet Union and served in the government troops of the old republic. With the father of the “lion cub” they alternately fought each other or acted as allies, united by their hatred of the Taliban. The problem is, however, that in mid-August the old soldier suddenly fled to Uzbekistan along with his loyal units! Although a very controversial figure (suffice it to mention his alleged predilection for alcohol, which is taboo in a country with Islamic traditions), Dostum is very popular in the non-Pashtun north. Still, the onetime hero of the country’s liberation movement has disappeared from the media’s radar, although, together with Massoud Jr., he could try to protect the Uzbek regions of Afghanistan. Dostum has never been a coward, which he has more than once demonstrated on the battlefield. What made him, despite his high rank, flee the country with money and people loyal to him? Some US guarantees too?
Along with the “lion cub,” Vice President Abdullah Saleh, an ethnic Tajik, is the only one ready to share the fate of his people. Their National Resistance Front can hold out in the gorges of Panjshir for a very long time even in the conditions of modern war, though not indefinitely. The professional Pakistani military, air force and UAVs are able to significantly shorten the time of their resistance. However, with the defeat of the National Resistance Front the world would face a new unprecedented genocide, but the West will not know this. After all, the information blockade of Panjshir has already proved to be quite effective, allowing the Taliban to talk about their victories. Having cleansed the country from ethnic minorities and “rebels” the New, extremist Afghanistan will set their sights on their neighbors, because, despite its love of ethnic cleansing, radical Islamism knows no borders…
That said, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban all see their mission in the creation of a global Caliphate, while showing disdain for the religion and beliefs of Europeans and Americans. So, whoever negotiates with them, Afghanistan will become a haven for those who will gladly repeat the events of September 11, will kill free journalists, send out suicide bombers to schools and churches in still prosperous European countries!