Kabul: The fate of Panjshir Valley - the final holdout against Taliban control in Afghanistan - hangs in the balance as heavy fighting continues. Even as the Taliban claimed it has captured Panjshir, the Resistance fighters denied this.
The Resistance includes former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, former Afghan security force members and local militias. Both sides are claiming to have gained the upper hand. Saleh has also dismissed claims that he had fled, but said the situation was "difficult", the BBC reported.
The Resistance - which includes former Afghan security force members and local militias - is led by local tribal leader Ahmad Massoud. His father successfully fought the Soviets who invaded in the 1980s, and the Taliban in the 1990s.
In a video message sent to the BBC, Saleh, a former vice-president of Afghanistan, said there had been casualties on both sides. "There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation. We are under invasion by the Taliban," he said. But he added: "We will not surrender, we are standing for Afghanistan." He said he was sharing the video to assure people that reports suggesting that he had left the country were false.
The fighting in Panjshir is reported to have left hundreds dead. The valley, north of the capital Kabul, is one of Afghanistan's smallest provinces and the only one not to have fallen to the Taliban. The traditional anti-Taliban stronghold is home to somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people, and is hidden behind mountain peaks.
One of the main entrance routes to Panjshir was blocked with containers and only locals of the neighbouring district were permitted movement, said Amrullah Saleh, one of the resistance leaders. However, there are many mountain trails that have been used by late Ahmad Shah Masoud’s guerrillas in the past to expand resistance to neighbouring districts.
Ali Nazari, a spokesperson for the National Resistance Front (NRF) fighters, told BBC World News that the rebels had pushed the Taliban on the back foot.
"There are well over a few hundred Taliban who are trapped. And they are running out of munitions and they are negotiating terms of surrender right now," he said.
But Taliban officials have been claiming victory in the area, with one commander telling a leading media outlet: "By the grace of Allah Almighty, we are in control of the entire Afghanistan. The troublemakers have been defeated and Panjshir is now under our command." The Taliban are now in control of the rest of the country, and are expected to announce a new government in the coming days.
The National Resistance Front, which also calls itself Resistance-2 have blocked humanitarian access to the valley and were using military age Tajik civilians as mine clearance tools, said Taliban as per a media report.
Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla met Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington on Thursday to discuss continued coordination on Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesmen Suhail Shaheen was also quoted as saying that the group would speak for Muslims in Kashmir but his superiors, Sher Mohammed Stanikzai and Anas Haqqani, have spoken of an amicable relationship with India with the latter specifically stating that “Kashmir is not part of our jurisdiction and interference is against the policy”.
The European Union and UK on Friday joined the US in saying they will deal with the Islamist group, but won't recognise them as Afghanistan's government. The EU also said it was planning to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Kabul to oversee evacuations and ensure that a new Afghan government fulfils commitments on issues including security and human rights.
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