Fighting between the National Front and the Taliban has intensified, causing casualties on both sides. Panjshir was already the centre of resistance against the Taliban between 1996 and 2001

Taliban maintain offensive against Panjshir, the last bastion of resistance

photo_camera AFP/ AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN - Afghan gunmen supporting Afghan security forces against the Taliban stand with their weapons and Humvee vehicles in the Parakh area of Bazarak in Panjshir province.

The new Taliban regime has not yet been able to conquer the Panjshir Valley, the focus of resistance against the insurgents. In recent days, the north-eastern region has seen heavy fighting between the National Resistance Front (NRF) and the Taliban, who have claimed to have killed 34 NRF members, including two commanders. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the movement, told the Russian agency Sputnik that they now control 11 checkpoints in the province. "We have now reached the main Panjshir road and captured the Shital district," he added. 

For its part, the FNR has reported on its Twitter account that 350 people have been reported killed, 287 wounded and 35 arrested on the Taliban side. They have also destroyed four of their convoys and two heavy weapons. Fahim Dashti, a spokesman for the resistance movement, said that the Taliban had launched multiple offensives in recent hours "from various directions and areas in the neighbouring provinces of Parwan and Baghlan but their attacks were repulsed and unsuccessful". 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has urged the Taliban to stop fighting in the region. Lavrov has expressed support for possible talks to find a solution to the conflict. However, Mullah Amir Khan Mutaqui, one of the leaders of the Taliban movement, said the talks had failed and called on the people of Panjshir to "join the Islamic Emirate" to avoid further fighting. "They couldn't resist while they were supported by the US and NATO, how can they do anything now," he said. The Panjshir Valley is a region that, because of its geographical location among the Hindu Kush mountains, has been able to resist the Taliban for years. The province was also the centre of resistance against the Emirate between 1996 and 2001.

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The FNR has shown no intention to talk with the Taliban to stop the fighting. Ahmad Masud, leader of the resistance and son of the famous 'Lion of Panjshir', has indicated that he is "not considering" negotiating with the Taliban. Amrullah Salé, who has proclaimed himself president after the flight of Ashraf Ghani, reaffirms Masud's statements and calls on the whole country to join the resistance, the only hope to oppose "cruelty, plunder, revenge and discrimination". Andarab, a district in Baghlan province, neighbouring Panjshir, also continues to resist the Taliban offensive. 

The Taliban are holding the region under siege, cutting off supply routes and disconnecting telephone and internet services. They have also released videos showing a large line of Taliban military vehicles heading towards Panjshir. Some of these armoured vehicles are MRAP International MaxxPro and BTR M-1117, both of US origin. Since the Taliban offensive began, the insurgents have acquired a large US-made arsenal that was intended for Afghan national forces. Some of these troops are now fighting with the FNR, which is also composed of local fighters.

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New government in Kabul

This Friday, Taliban leaders are expected to announce the formation of the new government, which will not include members of the previous government. Nor are there expected to be women, as Mohamad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy head of the Taliban's political bureau, has reported. Stanikzai, in a BBC interview, said that women will be able to continue their jobs, but "may not" hold senior positions in the new administration.

Hazaras targeted by the Taliban

In addition to the FNR members, the Taliban are also on a crusade against the Hazaras. This Shia minority has historically been persecuted in Afghanistan, suffering ethnic cleansing and forced displacement. Now, with the Taliban coming to power, the Hazaras fear a repeat of the tragic episodes of the past.

A few days after taking Kabul, Taliban fighters murdered nine Hazara men in the Ghazni region. Three of the men died as a result of torture. Also, the statue of Abdul Ali Mazari, a prominent Hazara figure, was destroyed in Bamiyan province, the same place where the Taliban detonated the famous Buddhas in 2001.

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Against this backdrop, many Hazaras have opted to leave the country for Pakistan, although they are not safe there either. Pakistani Sunni groups, as in Afghanistan, have persecuted the Shia minority for decades. According to a 2019 report by the National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 509 Hazaras have been killed for their religion since 2013. Earlier this year, members of the Islamic State killed 10 Hazaras from Baluchistan.