New fighting was reported on Saturday between the Taliban and resistance forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, even as hardened Islamists finalize a new government that will set the tone for their rule.
Faced with the challenge of turning from terrorists to rulers, the Taliban appear determined to crush the Panjshir resistance before announcing who will lead the country in the wake of Monday’s withdrawal of US troops, which will end would make two decades of war.
But Panjshir, which held out for nearly a decade against the occupation of the Soviet Union and also against the Taliban’s first rule of 1996-2001, is holding out stubbornly.
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 significant arsenal in the valley, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Kabul and guarded by a narrow gorge .
Festive gunfire rang out in the capital, Kabul, overnight as rumors circulated that the valley had fallen, but the Taliban made no official claim on Saturday and a resident told AFP by phone that the reports were false.
The emergency hospital in Kabul said two people were killed and 20 injured by the salvos when the Taliban tweeted a stern warning for their fighters to stop.
“Avoid firing into the air and thank God instead,” said chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, tipped to become the new regime’s information minister.
“The weapons and bullets you have been given are public property. No one has the right to waste them. The bullets can also harm civilians, do not shoot in vain.”
In Panjshir, former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, along with Ahmad Massoud — the son of the legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud — admitted the NRF’s dangerous position.
“The situation is difficult, we have had an 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 wool pakol hat favored by Panjshiris.
“The resistance continues and will continue,” he added.
Tweets from the Taliban and the resistance suggested that Paryan’s main district had changed hands several times in recent days, but that could not be independently verified either.
Outside the valley, the international community began dealing with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected in Qatar on Sunday, a key figure in the Afghan saga and the location of the Taliban’s political office, although he is not expected to meet the terrorists.
He will then travel to Germany to lead a virtual ministerial meeting of 20 countries on Afghanistan with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will also convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan in Geneva on September 13 to focus on humanitarian aid to the country.
The United Nations has already resumed humanitarian flights to parts of Afghanistan, while the country’s flag carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, resumed domestic flights on Friday and the United Arab Emirates sent a plane with “urgent medical and food assistance.”
Western Union and Moneygram, meanwhile, said they are restarting cash transfers, which many Afghans rely on from relatives abroad to survive.
China has already confirmed that it will keep its embassy in Kabul open.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more lenient than during their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict—first the Soviet invasion of 1979, then a bloody civil war.
That regime was notorious for its brutal interpretation of Islamic law and the treatment of women, who were forced inside and denied access to school and work.
This time, the Taliban have repeatedly stated that they will not retaliate against opponents, and that women will have access to education and some employment.
They have promised a more “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup – although women are unlikely to be at the top.
In Kabul, some 30 women took to the streets on Friday to demand the right to work and integration into the government – a day after dozens of women staged a similar protest in the western city of Herat.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)