The Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul — the only area in Afghanistan that has held out against the Islamic fundamentalist militant group — is still in the hands of its previous governors. But that may not be for long, as hundreds of Taliban fighters are even now making their way to the region.
Officials including Vice President Amrullah Saleh, and Ahmad Massoud, the son of famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, along with other members of the collapsed government of Afghanistan, are now in the region, holding out against the Islamist insurgency.
Ahmad Shah Massoud was killed just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants who were based in Afghanistan at that time.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking about the members of the resistance last Thursday at a press conference in Moscow, declared that “The Taliban doesn’t control the whole territory of Afghanistan.”
Panjshir now encircled by the Taliban — but not for the first time
The Russians are intimately familiar with the area themselves, having fought bitter battles to take over the Valley, as witnessed by the wreckage of Soviet tanks that were destroyed in the 1979 Russian invasion of the country.
Incredibly, the Panjshir also successfully resisted the Taliban after the Russians left in defeat, when they were in power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Now, the area is again the sole pocket of resistance to the powers that are running the country, as hundreds of officials and fighters have flocked to Panjshir to help shore up the local government and enable it to remain independent of the Taliban, who are now in control of the rest of the entire country outside the international airport in Kabul.
The narrow valley is now surrounded by all sides. It is unknown if the Panjshir can keep its proud tradition of independence alive against the Taliban, who now have materiel left over from the US and coalition forces.
Massoud has already said that he seeks “peaceful dialogue” with Taliban leaders. His forces, which he hopes witll number 9,000 men, will not be able to hold the province without help from the West, he added, appealing for support and logistical assistance from the United States, Britain and France. He added, “War will be inevitable if the Taliban refuse dialogue.”
The Proud History of the Panjshir Valley
The valley is home to more than 100,000 people, including Afghanistan’s largest concentration of ethnic Tajiks. In April of 2004, it became the heart of the new Panjshir Province, having previously been part of Parwan Province.
The scenic valley was the site of the Panjshir offensives fought by the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the Soviets against the mujahideen during the Soviet–Afghan War from 1980 to 1985, when local commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, a former university student in engineering, successfully defended the valley from being taken.
The valley again witnessed renewed fighting during the 1996–2001 civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance under the command of Massoud, where he again defended it from being overrun by the Taliban. The valley was considered one of Afghanistan’s safest regions during the era of the ISAF-backed government.
In the Middle Ages, Panjshir was famed for its silver mining and the Saffarids and Samanids minted their coins there. Famed also for its emeralds, crystals upwards of 190 carats (38 grams) in weight had been found there, rivaling those anywhere else in the world.
American reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan sparked a development boom in the valley with the construction of new modern roads and a new radio tower that allows valley residents to pick up radio signals from the Afghan capital.
The valley has the potential of being an energy hub for Afghanistan, through construction of several hydroelectric dams.
Alexander the Great, Tamerlane passed through Panjshir
The Panjshir has always been an important highway, even back as far as Alexander the Great.
Nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) long, the valley leads to two passes over the great Hindu Kush Mountains – the Khawak Pass, at 3,848 meters (12,625 feet) leading to the northern plains, and the Anjoman Pass, at 4,430 meters (14,534 feet) which crosses into Badakhshan.
This latter pass was the one used by the armies of Alexander the Great and Timur the Lame (Tamerlane).
Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Kabul University engineering student, the military leader who played a leading role in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan in 1980 and beyond, earned the nom de guerre “Lion of Panjshir.”
Fighting “for inclusivity and tolerance and acceptance and moderation”
Today, his son is following closely in his footsteps as civil order — kept in place for twenty years by the United States and coalition forces — has broken down yet again, leaving the country in a chaos fueled by Islamic fundamentalist radicals.
“We are not fighting a geography. We are not fighting (for) one province. We are defending the whole country in one province,” he stated in a video released to the public on Monday.
“That’s what’s happening. And we want to make the Taliban realize that the only way forward is through negotiation and talk and we are talking to them and we do not want war to break out,” he added. “We went the Taliban to realize that these values that I just mentioned are more important than anything else, than any sort of military victory.
“We asked the national community for reconciliation and help with the peace process for stopping this catastrophe and this problem. If it doesn’t happen, if the war breaks out, in that scenario of course the international community should take sides with Afghans and should not recognize an illegitimate government that is not in favor of Afghanistan, the region and the world,” Massoud urged.
Telling his backers that he was safe in his sanctuary in his stronghold in the Panjshir, he stated that “The people of the valley are very much united and they very much want to defend (it) and to fight. They want to resist against any totalitarian regime, any belief system that wants to force its own belief and ideology upon the people.”
Admitting that “The people here are just a small portion of the people of Afghanistan and the province of Panjshir is the smallest of all the provinces in Afghanistan,” he declared “What we are standing for here is the whole country, for sovereignty, for peace, for people, for inclusivity and tolerance and acceptance and moderation.”