- Lucía Blasco
- BBC News World
About 150 kilometers northeast of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, is the last stronghold of resistance against the advance of the Taliban in the country.
A rugged mountain valley that has been free from encroachment for over 40 years.
The Panjshir Valley resisted occupation by Soviet troops in the 1980s (1979-1989) and faced the Taliban in the 1990s (1996-2001), becoming a stronghold of opposition to the Islamic group.
“In the contemporary history of Afghanistan, Panjshir has never been conquered, neither by foreign forces nor by the Taliban,” says journalist Mariam Aman of the BBC’s Afghan service.
“For the past two decades, this has been considered the safest region in the country as well as a zone of resistance,” Aman explained to BBC Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language service.
Today, it is the only one among 34 provinces that has not succumbed to the advance of the Taliban.
“We are ready to resist the Taliban for the second time,” the head of the Panjshir Economics Department, Abdul Rahman, said last week.
The message was echoed by Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s vice president, who has declared himself a “legitimate interim president” since President-elect Ashraf Ghani left the country to flee into exile.
Saleh, a former head of the Afghan secret service, called on the people to join the resistance in the valley, which he sees as an example to the rest of the country.
“I will never be under the same roof as the Taliban. NEVER,” he wrote on Twitter.
Saleh is believed to be in Panjshir alongside the son of a famous guerrilla fighter — Ahmad Masud, whose father became known as the “Lion of Panjshir” — with whom he allegedly leads an anti-Taleban front.
a natural fortress
The high cliffs and gorges of Panjshir make the territory a natural fortress, with a very narrow entrance and surroundings punctuated by high mountains that make access difficult.
Cut by the Panjshir River, the valley is right next to the Hindu Kush Range, a mountain range on the border with northwestern Pakistan.
It was an important gateway for the armies of Alexander the Great and Tamerlane, the last of the great nomadic conquerors of Central Asia.
The region is rich in natural resources, with emerald mines, hydroelectric plants and a wind farm. During the 20 years of occupation of the United States, the infrastructure was improved with the construction of roads and a radio tower that receives signals from the capital.
It is not, however, a vital economic enclave.
“It is a place that works for guerrilla warfare, but it is not strategic. It is not close to any major port, it has no industries, it does not contribute much to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. What is most significant is a a nearby highway called Salang Pass,” says BBC World Service Afghan journalist Haroon Shafiqi.
“In 1997, the Taleban cut all routes to Panjshir and those who lived there were left without food,” he adds. Still, resistance remained in the valley.
The area currently has between 150,000 and 200,000 inhabitants, almost all of whom speak Persian and are of the Tajik ethnicity, which represents about a quarter of the 38 million people living in Afghanistan.
It is a historically anti-Taleban population.
‘Symbol of resistance’
A key figure in the history of the Panjshir resistance is Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famous mujahideen (US-backed rebels in the war against the Soviets) guerrilla who led the fight for autonomy in the region in the 1980s and 1990s and was assassinated by al-Qaeda two days before September 11, 2001.
Massoud’s portrait—which became known as the “Lion of Panjshir” (Panjshir means “five lions”)—is found to this day in many places in the Afghan capital, from monuments to billboards and shop windows, and throughout Panjshir province.
“Panjshir was used as a bastion by him during the Soviet-Afghan war (in the 1980s),” explains Aman.
“The valley became a symbol of resistance then and later, in the war between the various factions of the mujahideen and the Taleban, from the mid-1990s until 2001 (when the Taleban occupation ended in the wake of the American occupation). “
Since Massoud’s death in 2001, she says, the region has maintained its legacy of resistance among the people of Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban.
Massoud was declared a national hero by President Hamid Karzai.
Since 2012, his death anniversary has been celebrated on September 9th as Martyrs’ Day.
Part of the international community, however, even denounced war crimes committed by the commander. A 2005 investigation by Human Rights Watch listed his name among a number of characters involved in human rights violations who acted during the wars in Afghanistan.
Vice President Amrullah Saleh made clear his devotion to him.
“I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander, legend and guide. Under no circumstances will I bow to Taliban terrorists,” he recently wrote on Twitter.
A native of Panjshir and a member of the Tajik ethnicity, Saleh was part of the Northern Alliance, a front that fought the Taliban in the 1990s.
‘We knew this day could come’
Who today actively participates in the resistance is his son, Ahmad Massoud, 32 years old.
Images that circulated on social networks last August 16 supposedly show Saleh and Massoud together, in a sign of an alliance between the two.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, the son of the “Lion of Panjshir” said his fighters have military support from members of the Afghan army and special forces.
He also claimed that the group had patiently stockpiled ammunition and weapons since his father’s time “because we knew that day might come.” He asks, however, for reinforcements.
“Mujahideen resistance to the Taliban starts now, but we need help,” he wrote.
“If the Taliban launch an attack, they will certainly face strong resistance from us. […] However, we know that our military and logistical forces will not be enough. They will run out quickly unless our friends in the West find a way to supply us without delay.”
Have watched our new videos on YouTube? Subscribe to our channel!