Rajat Sharma

Afghanistan: All eyes on new Taliban govt now

Taliban has occupied 33 out of all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, with Panjshir valley being the exception. The resistance force fighters are using multiple rocket launchers inflicting heavy casualties on Taliban. Unverified sources reported Taliban casualties at more than 450, with several Taliban fighters captured by the rebels

akb Fierce fighting is going on between Taliban soldiers and Northern Alliance resistance forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley. Though Taliban has claimed that Panjshir has fallen, the resistance force leaders have rejected the claim. The Taliban is making a last-ditch attempt to occupy the last province yet to fall to its fighters.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, the long-awaited announcement of Taliban government on Friday was postponed with reports that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is going to lead the government. Taliban’s Ministry of Culture had put up big hoardings in Kabul and other cities about formation of a new government on Friday, but this did not materialize at the end of the day.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed videos of fierce fighting going on between Taliban and resistance forces in Panjshir valley. There are reports of Taliban facing heavy casualties. There was nightlong firing of mortars, machine guns and rocket launchers in the valley, with hundreds of families fleeing to safer places. The resistance force led by Ahmed Massoud has claimed that it has killed more than 500 Taliban fighters. On the other hand, Taliban has laid siege to the entire area with tanks, armoured vehicles and mortars and has cut off all supply lines to the valley.

Taliban has occupied 33 out of all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, with Panjshir valley being the exception. The resistance force fighters are using multiple rocket launchers inflicting heavy casualties on Taliban. Unverified sources reported Taliban casualties at more than 450, with several Taliban fighters captured by the rebels.

Taliban is using US-made tanks, artillery and rocket launchers, while Massoud’s men are replying with BM4 series rocket launchers and heavy machine guns. Fighting is going on in Parwan province, which lies to the west of Panjshir province. Parwan province has ten districts while the town of Charikar is the provincial capital. This 6,000 sq km area has a population of roughly 7.5 lakhs, out of which many have fled due to fighting. Charikar was captured in mid-August by Taliban, but Masooud’s fighters entered the provincial capital and removed Taliban’s white flag. The famous Bagram air base, which used to be the headquarter of US army, is in Parwan province. It lies to the north of Kabul.

Taliban fighters claim they have regained control over 20 per cent of Panjshir province and are trying to lay siege to Shutul and Parwan. Resistance forces have said that the claim of laying siege is false, as scores of Taliban fighters have been killed by rebels. Resistance force claimed to have killed 357 Taliban fighters and maimed 290 others. In a nutshell, the fighting at this moment is centred around Shutul and Parwan.

While Taliban claims that it has occupied 12 outposts including Shutul, the National Resistance Force led by Ahmed Massoud has rejected the claim. Resistance leaders say that Taliban is yet to enter Panjshir valley.

Resistance commanders posted images of their fighters destroying a Taliban armoured vehicle and capturing a Taliban tank. They claimed that when Taliban forces entered Jabal Shiraj hills and were trying to enter Shutul district, the resistance force completely neutralized them. Hundreds of Taliban fighters fled leaving behind their tanks and armoured vehicles. More than 40 bodies of Taliban fighters are lying unclaimed. Taliban have asked local elders to allow them to take away the bodies of their fighters.

Meanwhile, resistance force leader Amrullah Saleh has appealed to the UN to intervene. He alleged that Taliban was committing war crimes by using old men, women and children as human shields to cross the mines-laden areas in their bid to enter Panjshir valley. He also alleged that Taliban has blocked medical teams from entering the valley.

The Panjshir valley lies ensconced, surrounded by 10,000 feet high mountains from all sides. It is considered a death trap for any invader. Massoud’s fighters are manning the hill tops keeping a close watch on Taliban movement. There are 21 sub-valleys and on each such route, resistance fighters are keeping watch on Taliban.

Taliban is offering dialogue to resistance leaders because, Panjshir valley is close to Bagram air base and Kabul. It could be a thorn in the neck for Taliban government in future. But Amrullah Saleh and Ahmed Massoud have ruled out dialogue. They have demanded proportional representation for Tajiks in government, which Taliban leaders have rejected. Massoud has vowed to fight till his last blood.

Meanwhile, in Kabul, the announcement of Taliban government is being delayed because of infighting over portfolios. The Rehbar Shoora (guidance group) of Taliban is going to decide about the portfolios on Saturday. The picture will become clearer after the tension in Panjshir valley subsides.

Though the resistance force fighters have a upper hand in Panjshir valley at the moment, Taliban has snapped off all food supplies, electricity and internet to Panjshir valley in order to subdue the rebels. Amrullah Saleh has alleged Taliban is resorting to inhuman measures like starving the civilian population in Panjshir valley. Taliban spread the false news that Saleh has fled, but the resistance leader immediately tweeted to say that the lions are still there and shall remain there.

For Taliban, not only government formation, but also governance is going to become a big headache. With foreign funds for Afghan central bank switched off by IMF and World Bank, the country is now staring at food shortage and starvation due to drought and financial crisis. The beleaguered Taliban leadership has sought financial help from China, which is ready to oblige because it is eyeing a strategic territory in South Asia. China, too, desperately needs help from Taliban leaders in quelling the insurgency by Uyghur separatists in Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. The East Turkestan rebels are demanding independence from China in Xinjiang.

China also has its eyes on Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth and the prized asset called Bagram air base. If China gains control over Bagram, it could spell danger for India’s security. China is among a few countries which have kept their embassies open in Kabul. The Chinese government is maintaining close contact with Taliban leaders, and one should not be surprised if China becomes the first country to give recognition to the new Taliban government when it is announced.

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