Afghan resistance alliance seeks to loosen Taliban grip

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Resistance forces in Afghanistan are challenging the country’s Taliban leaders, urging them to send reinforcements to the northeast.

The anti-Taliban National Resistance Front promises to “liberate” the country from the “doctrinaire regime” of the Taliban and employs guerrilla tactics, particularly in the Panjshir Valley region about 100 km northeast of Kabul. While experts say the loosely knit group has had little success so far, they see it making life harder for the Taliban. A recent UN Security Council report says the Taliban sees the NRF as a bigger threat than ISIS-K – the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group – according to a member state – although it acknowledges that it is under debate.

The NRF, an armed coalition of several militias and former Afghan soldiers, was formed after the Taliban took over Kabul last August. The alliance is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legendary anti-Taliban fighter, who used the Panjshir Valley as a base to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. Panjshir is a predominantly ethnic Tajik region, while the Taliban is dominated by Pashtuns.

In May, the NRF announced that it was launching a new offensive against the Taliban. Contrary to the Taliban’s insistence that “there is no fighting at all”, local residents reported regular attacks on Taliban checkpoints, dozens of casualties and mass arrests of civilians. However, gathering accurate information from the ground is difficult as local media have either shut down or been strictly censored by the Taliban.

Musa Khalil, a 40-year-old farmer who fled his home in Panjshir’s Shutol district and moved to Kabul, said heavy fighting between the Taliban and the NRF forced residents to leave. “The Taliban forcibly occupied several houses and made them their security posts,” Khalil told Nikkei Asia in a phone interview.

The April UN report said NRF forces had stepped up operations in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Panjshir, Takhar and Samangan provinces. He also said the emergence of the NRF led the Taliban to “adopt aggressive measures against populations suspected of supporting anti-Taliban elements”.

Besides the NRF, there are several other small resistance groups that focus their war efforts against the Taliban in their respective areas of influence. In mid-May, former Afghan vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum met in Ankara with around 40 exiled political figures and former warlords, including Massoud of the NRF, where they agreed to form the High Council of National Resistance. against the Taliban. This aims to bring together all the armed groups under a single entity.

Ahmad Massoud, son of slain anti-Soviet resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, is seen in Panjshir in 2019. © Reuters

The NRF also attracted a large number of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) officers and personnel. After the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the country last year, the ANDSF collapsed, while President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Since then, the Taliban have executed and forcibly disappeared scores of former ANDSF members after their surrender, according to rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

Experts said the NRF had advocated for its uprising, citing the poor economic situation during the Taliban regime’s nine-month rule, as well as the authorities’ failure to develop an ethnically inclusive system. “But the NRF is itself a dispersed resistance alliance with no international support and overall has yet to achieve tangible success, such as capturing quantifiable territory in the form of a provincial capital, against the Taliban,” Abdul Jabbar, a former ANDSF official familiar with the anti-Taliban resistance in the past, told Nikkei Asia.

Yet Jabbar believes that, like ISIS-K, NRF attacks will continue to challenge the Taliban regime in the country.

Leveraging the US Withdrawal Agreement with the Taliban to position itself as Afghanistan’s last jihadist movement, ISIS has destabilized both the new Taliban regime in Kabul and neighboring countries, including China. , Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan, by their terrorist attacks.

For their part, since driving the NRF out of the Panjshir Valley last September, the Taliban have largely dismissed the resistance as opposition propaganda. “There is no fighting and some journalists and leaders based abroad through their false propaganda are trying to show the Taliban regime a failed state,” said a spokesman for Maulwi Dad Mohammad Batar, head of Panjshir Taliban Police.

Yet the Taliban are known to have tried to reach out to the NRF to negotiate. In late January, a Taliban delegation led by acting foreign minister Aamir Khan Mutaqqi met with NRF leaders in Tehran, but the talks ended without a positive result.

Taliban leaders in Kabul have appointed a Pashtun from Helmand province as governor of Panjshir province, replacing a Tajik, over the reluctance of Taliban Panjshiri members to fight the uprising, it reported on Wednesday. the Daily Hasht-e-Subh newspaper, citing local sources.

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