Panjshir is flying a flag of resistance against Taliban, and minorities are fleeing there for shelter from the Taliban. Panjshir is a valley and a province which had formerly been part of the Parvan province.
The First Vice President of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, reached the Panshir valley and declared himself a President, as ordained by the Constitution in case of President’s escape, resignation or death. “I am currently inside my country and am the legitimate caretaker President. I am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support and consensus,” said Saleh, who has maybe 10 000 soldiers under his command, including several Afghan Special Forces units.
Ahmad Massoud and Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi have also promised to side with him. Ahmad is the son of the slain commander Ahmed Shah Masood, during whose lifetime the Taliban could not conquer Panjshir Valley from 1996 to 2001. The Valley and the Northern Alliance in general were a key in the fall of Taliban regime in 2001. Ahmad Massout arrived into the valley shortly after the fall of Kabul, promising to command the anti-Taliban resistance. Whether his training – he has read war studies at King’s College London and received military training from the British Army at Sandhurst – will be of any help is not clear.
Minority Shia Hazara families have walked as much as 200 kilometers to reach the Valley. Many of the Tajiks in the Afghan army have also arrived with their equipment, including armed personnel carriers and tanks, after withdrawing from the nearby frontlines.
Overall strategic situation is bad. Panjshir is locked and surrounded by the Taliban, and it does not border any country. Taliban hold the strategic territory, and Panjshir is surrounded. Washington has also made it clear it is abandoning Afghanistan, so Western support will not be forthcoming. Neighbouring states have already recognized the Taliban government and initiated talks. This means that support which helped Panjshir in the previous wars – from Iran, India and the West – will be limited. The Taliban have weapons taken from the now-defunct Afghan National Army, which range from old Soviet models to new hardware supplied by NATO. Thus, any sustained offensive may rapidly deplete Panjshir and Mujahedeen stocks. There are however bright spots. The Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan, 200 kilometers from Panjshir, holds and Indian detachment of helicopters. Panjshir resistance, which consists mostly of ethnic Tajik soldiers, also claimed to have the support of ethnic Uzbek militia leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, who could send up to 10 000 soldiers. In general, the Persian-speaking Tajiks of western and northern regions, including the Panjshir valley, have long been opposed to the southern and eastern Pashtuns who make up the core of the Taliban.
Panjshir valley was never conquered by any tyrant – neither the Taliban nor the foreign occupiers. Soviets in 1980s and Taliban in 1990s both failed to conquer it. Its geography makes it a natural fortress. There is only one road that leads to the province, and at the checkpoint it narrows to six meters wide. Mountains to the either side are over 600 meters tall, and provide plenty cover for snipers. This might explain why the Taliban have not attacked it yet. There is also a possibility that leaders of the resistance will negotiate with the Taliban to secure a stake in the new government. Taliban themselves have already worked to integrate elements of the fallen government into their own. Meanwhile, the position of Panjshir had never been more precarious, as their willingness to enter an inclusive government may be indicating.