Fighting in northern Afghanistan has intensified as an uprising against the Taliban takeover of the country is spreading from Panjshir. Earlier, this was the only province that was entirely outside the control of the Taliban-ruled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).
Remnants of the former government in Kabul led by its Vice President Amrullah Saleh had fled to Panjshir, alongside members of elite units from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). With the support of Ahmad Massoud, son of legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud who had successfully resisted the Taliban from his base in Panjshir in the late 1990s, Amrullah Saleh declared himself President of Afghanistan in the absence of Ashraf Ghani, who had fled the country.
With mountainous Panjshir as a defensible base in the Hindukush mountains, and estimates ranging currently from 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, the revitalized Northern Alliance based in Panjshir has set its sights on the neighbouring provinces of Baghlan and Parwan. From Panjshir, the Alliance forces can threaten access from Kabul northwards through the Salang Pass and Tunnel. If they were to succeed in controlling the Salang Tunnel, Alliance forces could potentially cut off Kabul from routes towards Pul-i-Khumri and Kunduz or Mazar-i-Sharif.
In their first advances, troops of the Northern Alliance seized three districts of Baghlan province: Banu, Pol-e-Hesar and Deh Salah. However, despite facing stiff resistance and heavy losses at the hands of the Alliance, it appears that over the past 24 hours, Taliban forces have regained the upper hand in these three districts of Baghlan province.
Taliban forces also claim to have secured their control over the Salang Pass and Tunnel. Moreover, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid has stated that the Emirate’s forces have now beseiged Panjshir itself, but are awaiting the surrender of the resistance led by Ahmad Massoud.
For his part, Massoud has stated that he is open to negotiations, but that he will never hand over control of Panjshir to anyone. Reports indicate continued fighting around Baghlan and the Salang Pass.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have been involved in ‘consultations’ with various political forces on the issue of setting up a new system of governance in the country, even as some Afghan leaders have expressed doubt that they are moving towards an inclusive new order.
“InshaAllah, there is hope for an announcement on the government soon,” noted Zabihullah Mujahid.