On August 15th, although the Afghan Taliban controlled most of the country and took over the capital, Kabul, they still faced strong resistance in the Panjshir Valley. The Anti-Taliban Alliance formed the “Afghan National Resistance Front” in Panjshir Province, led by Ahmed Masood, son of the former “Northern Alliance” leader, and Vice President Saleh. On September 6, Atta stated that after fierce fighting, he had completely controlled Panjshir Province. However, the “Afghan National Resistance Front” denied this and stated that it would continue to insist on armed resistance. On September 7, Atta announced the plan for the formation of the “Interim Government”, and the current round of Panjshir’s armed resistance may be over.
“Spiritual Fortress” of the Resistance
The Panjshir Valley is a Tajik settlement. It is located about 150 kilometers northeast of Kabul. The valley extends from southwest to northeast for about 120 kilometers, with a width of only more than 10 kilometers, and the peaks on both sides are more than 3,000 meters high. The entrance of the valley is close to the Sarang Pass, and the Sarang Pass Tunnel is the main traffic road from Kabul to the northern towns of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif. The valley crosses the Hawak Pass at an altitude of more than 3,800 meters and the Anjuman Pass at an altitude of more than 4,400 meters to the northeast, and enters the Hindu Kush Mountains and Badakhshan. Panjshir means “five lions”, which seems to be an appropriate footnote to its strategic position that is easy to defend and difficult to attack.
In the 1980s, after the Soviet invasion, an anti-Soviet guerrilla war under the name of “jihad” broke out in Afghanistan. Ahmed Sha Masood is one of the most famous armed leaders. He repelled the Soviet siege several times in his hometown of Panjshir, and drove the situation of guerrilla operations throughout the country, making the Soviet army unable to attack and defend. , Caught in a dilemma, he himself has earned the reputation of “Lion of Panjshir”. With the withdrawal and disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Najibullah regime supported by the Soviet Union fell, and most of the former anti-Soviet “jihadist” warlords jointly formed a new government. Masood served as defense minister, but this did not extinguish the war among the warlords. When the Taliban invaded Kabul in 1996, Masood led his troops back to Panjshir, and united with the Tajik and other northern minorities, most of them transformed from the original anti-Soviet “jihadist” armed political forces to form the “Northern Alliance.” As the war raged on, many armed factions of the “Northern Alliance” retreated steadily and their leaders went into exile. Massoud used Panjshir to resist the Taliban offensive and achieved basic peace and stability in the controlled area. Masood also implemented a series of improvement policies, making Panjshir a bastion against the Taliban.
On September 9, 2001, Masood was killed by a suicide attack by a member of the Al-Qaida organization disguised as a reporter. Two days later, the 9.11 incident that changed history broke out. A month later, the US military invaded Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban regime with the assistance of the “Northern Alliance”.
Since May 2021, with the continuous withdrawal of US troops, the Atta offensive has once again swept across Afghanistan. On August 15, after Atta actually controlled most of the territory of Afghanistan except Panjshir Province, then First Vice President Saleh made an oath on social media that he would never live in the same room with Atta. On August 17, Saleh returned to his hometown of Panjshir and announced that he would act as president in accordance with the Constitution. He merged with the then Minister of Defense Bismila Khan Mohamedi, and the son of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the hero of the Arab resistance movement, and his fellow villagers, and attracted a group of old government army remnants dominated by Tajiks. Assembled there, erected the banner of the “Afghan National Resistance Front” and called for resistance to Atta.
The Panjshir Valley has been a legend in the history of war and has almost become a spiritual symbol of the armed resistance movement in Afghanistan. Saleh formed an alliance with the descendants of the “Lion of Panjshir” and once again raised a banner in the Panjshir Valley, unavoidably letting the outside world look back on the past and pay attention to whether the legend of Panjshir can be continued.
A “political war”
War is a continuation of politics, and Panjshir’s military strategic significance should not be exaggerated. The Panjshir Valley is dangerous, easy to defend and difficult to attack, but it also faces the weakness of difficult logistical supplies, and it is absolutely golden. In this round of armed confrontation, Ata, in addition to taking advantage of mountain operations and night operations, also adopted a comprehensive blockade tactic against the Panjshir Valley. Panjshir knew he was under siege on all sides, and difficulties in logistical supplies made it difficult to support a single tree. Historically, the Soviet army was not defeated by one Panjshir, but was dragged down by Panjshir who echoed one after another in guerrilla warfare. Losing the channel for exchanging logistical materials with the outside world and the environment of guerrilla warfare with extensive involvement of international forces, the Panjshir Valley can hardly stand on its own for a long time, achieving the effect of triggering a strategic turning point by delaying change.
In this round of armed confrontation around Panjshir, political implications are higher than military strategic significance. From the perspective of Afghan domestic politics, whether the Panjshir issue can be resolved peacefully is related to Ata’s political image. It can be vaguely observed that in the early days, Atta had hesitated to attack the Panjshir Valley. The local command organization was eager to attack, but the high-level officials frequently called for a “political solution.” In fact, on August 26, the two sides have implemented a temporary ceasefire and negotiated. Prior to this, Atta had hardly encountered fierce resistance, and there was a tendency of “what the people want” and “it depends” on it. If a large-scale war disaster is caused in Panjshir for a long time, it will inevitably lose a lot of points for its political legitimacy. Moreover, the current domestic and international communities generally expect Atta to implement “inclusive politics.” If the Panjshir issue cannot be resolved peacefully, it will not be conducive to its efforts to build political legitimacy and gain international recognition. From the perspective of international politics, Panjshir is also the “eye of the storm” in the international game. In the anti-Soviet war, the major Afghan resistance forces received a steady stream of funds, weapons, logistics, and even personnel support from the United States, Pakistan, and Middle Eastern countries. During the confrontation between the “Northern Alliance” and the Taliban in the 1990s, Panjshir also received support from neighboring countries. On August 18, Little Massoud wrote to the “Washington Post”, claiming that “millions of Afghan people agree with Western values” and calling on the West to assist Panjshir. In the end, Atta used political advantages to limit the rebound of domestic public opinion. At the same time, while the United States and the West were busy arranging the evacuation of personnel and had no time to take into account the Panjshir battle, he was able to resolve the Panjshir battle quickly before external forces intervened.
However, the challenge of Atta’s power has just begun, and the Panjshir issue is only a concentrated manifestation of the initial stage. From an internal point of view, the highly fragmented political situation in Afghanistan determines that Atta cannot ignore the interests of any party. In the wars of the past 40 years or so, Afghan domestic politics has become so fragmented that it has become “fragmented.” Panjshir is only one of the forces. Due to its special political and military role, Panjshir has become a relatively independent and important force within the Tajiks in Afghanistan. It is also because of this that Panjshir established a separate province in the process of post-war political reconstruction in 2004. Atta’s commitment to form an inclusive government requires proper handling of complex ethnic and political interests. This is probably not something that can be “passed” by asking a few old politicians to “decorate their appearance.” From an external point of view, if the new Afghan government cannot be accepted by the international community, especially by neighboring countries, then the ills of “proxy politics” in Afghanistan may recur, and internal armed conflicts may still break out, which may be the next thing. A “Legend of Panjshir” is written as the prologue.
Right now, the “interim government” announced by Atta has aroused widespread concern at home and abroad. Although Atta said that the “interim government” is of a transitional nature, how long the transition period will last and how the formal regime will be generated and constituted requires Atta to answer all kinds of questions with practical actions. If Atta can establish a broad and inclusive framework for Afghan political power and implement it, while avoiding “non-constructive” interference by external forces, then lasting peace and stability can be achieved in Afghanistan.