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Anti-Taliban resistance is rallying to the Panjshir Valley. Just because the Taliban are in Kabul doesn’t mean the fighting is over.
Kabul has fallen to the Taliban in spectacular fashion, with the group’s fighters streaming across the country seemingly unopposed and walking into the capital city to declare victory. The speed of their advance shocked all but the most cynical analysts. President Biden has stubbornly stuck to his decision to end America’s participation in the Afghan conflict, come hell or high water, as one former national security professional after another has come out in opposition by publicly stating we need to stick it out as long as it takes. Whether they are more interested in helping the Afghans or protecting their own legacy is an open question.
With President Ghani fleeing the country moments before Kabul fell, hordes of civilians fleeing to the airport to try and get on the last flight out of town, and China, Russia, and Pakistan moving in to claim their share of the spoils it seems like Afghanistan’s more than four decades of perpetual war are finally over. In the media we hear that the Taliban have won, all of America’s and her allies’ efforts were in vain, and all that is left to do is point fingers at each other while we watch the Taliban reassert their brutal form of theocratic tyranny on the powerless population.
But having possession of Kabul, and ruling Afghanistan are not the same thing. History has shown this to be true for invaders and would be kings alike in good turn, whether they where Alexander the Great, the British Empire, or the Iron Amir.
The Afghan National Army dissolved in the face of the Taliban’s fervorish advance, but the soldiers remain. The militias didn’t fight, but they remain. Warlords such as Abdul Rashid Dostum fled to sidestep being caught in the chaos, but they can return as they have done before to lead powerful rebellions. If there is one thing that is more common in Afghanistan’s history than failed occupation by outsiders, its rebellion against control from whoever claims to rule in Kabul. The seeds of one such rebellion are forming now in the Panjshir Valley.
For months now, Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed Northern Alliance Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud who fought the Taliban to a standstill in the 1990’s has been raising his own militia, the Second Resistance, which boasted several thousand fighters before the Taliban advance towards Kabul. He has gone to the Panjshir valley, an anti-Taliban stronghold less than 100 miles north of Kabul that has never been captured to begin a resistance movement. He has been joined by Amrullah Saleh, the former vice president who declared himself caretaker president after Ghani fled the country and has publicly vowed to never bow to the Taliban. Other former government officials, including Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi have begun to join them.
The Taliban may have been able to run roughshod over the country and seize Kabul, but new battle lines are already forming in Afghanistan’s constantly changing landscape of alliances and power structures. We’re a long way from seeing the day that the Taliban are overthrown, but it’s also too soon to declare the war over for its most important participants, the Afghan’s themselves. It has been disheartening to watch the dissolution of the military and state that America and her allies have invested so much blood and treasure in over the past twenty years, seemingly without a whisper of a fight. But the Afghans have always fought their own wars, their own ways, and by their own rules. Just because they didn’t fight back our way, doesn’t mean the country is completely lost, or all of our previous efforts were in vain. We’ve decided to let them determine their own destiny, for better or for worse, and it will be decided on their own terms and in their own time.