The fightback begins: Resistance to Taliban starts but chance of success is low

The National Resistance Front for Afghanistan has said it is prepared to fight on, reports Kim Sengupta in Kabul

Kim Sengupta
Friday 20 August 2021 18:01 BST
Taliban propaganda reporter 'interviews' Kabul residents in propaganda video
Leer en Español

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Ahmad Massoud, sitting under a photograph of his father Ahmad Shah Massoud, the renowned mujahideen leader, and Amrullah Saleh, vice-president of the recently defeated Afghan government, have declared an armed resistance has begun against the Taliban.

General Bismillah Khan Mohammedi, the former defence minister, is another commander in the fightback against the Islamists and Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord, may, it is claimed, also join.

Whether the National Resistance Front for Afghanistan, based in the Panjshir Valley, the traditional stronghold of the Northern Alliance, and the last area unconquered by the Taliban, turns into a viable force remains to be seen.

It faces a number of formidable obstacles to do so, surrounded as it is by enemy occupied territory, outnumbered as well as being outgunned, with the Taliban now in possession of vast quantities of western weaponry, including artillery and aircraft either captured from government forces or handed over to them.

But to the opponents of the Taliban, still reeling with shock at how quickly the group seized power sweeping all before them, and distraught at the prospect of extremist rule, any such opposition is a silver lining, albeit a thin one, in a very dark cloud.

There was a boost for the opposition when Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, spoke of the forming of the group and stressed that the “Taliban does not control the whole territory of Afghanistan”.

His government is studying “reports of the situation in the Panjshir Valley where the resistance of Afghanistan’s vice president Mr Saleh and Ahmad Massoud is concentrated”, said Russia’s foreign minister.

Mr Lavrov also wanted to stress that Moscow wanted an “inclusive dialogue” involving all political players in Afghanistan for the formation of a “representative government”.

This is a change of tune from the Kremlin. Russia has long been building relations with the Taliban, and indeed has been accused by Washington of paying bounty to the group for killing US soldiers.

Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said after the Taiban takeover: “I have long since decided that the Taliban is much more able to reach agreements than the puppet government in Kabul.”

One reason for Moscow’s cultivation of the Taliban was Russia’s own Islamist terrorist problem in the former Soviet Central Asian republics. The Taliban, the narrative read, would keep Isis and al-Qaeda in check.

There haven’t been any obvious acts by these two groups, but there have been some worrying promotions of militancy. The Afghan Taiban handed over five districts inside the country to the Jamaat Ansarullah, aka the Tajik Taliban, which is banned as a terrorist organisation in Tajikistan, a close ally of Russia.

In response the government in Dushanbe rushed 20,000 troops to the border and asked for Russian help. The Kremlin sent a thousand troops for an exercise with the armed forces of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and said it would send urgent defence supplies to Tajikistan.

The comprehensive Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has worried a number of states in the region and beyond, with apprehension that without any need to bring in other political factions the government which emerges will be aggressively hardline and may end up by promoting jihad.

Mr Saleh, who has declared himself leader of the country with President Ashraf Ghani having fled abroad, has built up extensive international links when vice president and also in his previous post of the chief of the intelligence service the NDS ( National Directorate of Security).

Ahmed Massoud, who read War Studies at King’s College London, will benefit from the veneration in which is father, murdered by al-Qaeda in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, was held among the supporters of the Northern Alliance.

In a comment piece in the Washington Post , the 32 year old Mr Massoud said members of the Afghan military including some from the special forces units supported the resistance and asked the west for help.

“We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come,” he said. “If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us.”

Extensive footage has been posted in the social media of columns of armoured cars and trucks of the Afghan security forces moving to the Panjshir. Some soldiers have said they withdrew from battles they were losing to fight in the Taliban offensive to fight another day on ground of their choice.

There have been messages among former American and British military, many of whom had deployed in Afghanistan while in service, or later as private security contractors, about Afghans abroad allegedly starting to raise funds for private forces to be raised to fight the Taliban.

But any hope of the resistance taking on the Taliban would depend on support at home; how unpopular the Islamist regime becomes, and how far people are prepared to go to stand up to them.

On Thursday, on the anniversary of Afghan Independence, rallies were held in a number of towns and cities across the country, including Kabul, with people carrying the national flag. The Taliban, who have replaced it with their white banner, broke up the marches, in one town, Asadabad in Kunar, opening fire and killing two people.

In their first press conference since seizing power, the Taliban claimed, among other things, that they did not want revenge on those who opposed them, people who worked for foreign governments and institutions had nothing to fear, and women would have rights under sharia law.

But, since then there have been raids and arrests of opponents as well as assassinations, including one of a relative of a journalist in Herat. At the same time, fighters coming into Kabul from other parts of the country appeared to have brought a markedly harsher attitude with them towards the population.

Jamal Abdullah Wardak, a former soldier who left the army three years ago, believed that the Taliban would become increasingly brutal and that could well lead to an armed struggle in response.

Afghan embassy staff in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, hang a portrait of Amrullah Saleh who has declared himself the ‘legitimate caretaker president’
Afghan embassy staff in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, hang a portrait of Amrullah Saleh who has declared himself the ‘legitimate caretaker president’ (Reuters)

“I don’t think I’ll be able to go to a foreign country to get away from here at the moment, I have an ill elderly mother and I do not want to leave her”, said Mr Wardak, 38.

“I have no doubt that once the American and British forces leave the Taliban will start hunting the people they hate. I was a soldier and I would be on their list. So what am I supposed to do ? Wait for them to come and then kill me like a dog? No, I have already moved out with my family, and if I have to I’ll do what I have been trained to do, fight for Afghanistan.”

In Herat in the west of the country, Saifdullah, who had joined a volunteer force raised by the veteran 75-year-old mujahideen commander, Ismail Khan, to fight the militants held that the true face of The Taliban has been quickly exposed.

The 33-year-old engineer, who did not want his family name publicised, feels that he, too, is a marked man. “When they came into Herat City they said they wanted peace, and we would be alright if we just gave up our guns.

“But they started arresting people and now people are being killed. Now we know they haven’t changed, we must prepare to face them again. I don’t think people will be going all the way to Panjshir to fight, but here, and in other areas, we will have to organise ourselves and defend ourselves, that is becoming clear.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in