What is the Panjshir Valley like, the only territory that resists the advance of the Taliban and that the group did not control either in the 1990s

150 kilometers northeast of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is the last stronghold of resistance against Taliban rule, a valley of rugged mountains that has not stepped on any invading force in more than 40 years.

The Panjshir Valley resisted the occupation of Soviet troops in the 1980s (1979-1989) and stood up to the Taliban in the 1990s (1996-2001), becoming a stronghold of opposition to the Islamist group.

“In contemporary Afghan history, Panjshir has never been conquered, neither by foreign forces nor by the Taliban“Says BBC Afghan service journalist Mariam Aman.

“In the last two decades it was considered the safest region in Afghanistan, as well as a zone of resistance for many Afghans,” explains Aman to BBC Mundo.

Today it is the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces that has not succumbed to Taliban control.

Map showing Taliban control of Afghanistan

The Panjshir Valley, in orange, resists the advance of the Taliban.

“We are ready to resist the Taliban for the second time,” the head of Panjshir’s Economics Department, Abdul Rahman, said this week.

Your message is seconded by Amrullah saleh, Vice President of Afghanistan, self-proclaimed on Tuesday “legitimate interim President of Afghanistan” in the absence of the president-elect Ashraf ghani, who is in exile.

Saleh, a former head of Afghanistan’s secret services, called on the Afghan people to join the resistance of the valley, which he considers an example for the rest of the country.

“I will never be under the same roof as the Taliban. NEVER”he wrote on Twitter.

That message of opposition to the Taliban appeals to the majority of Afghans, says journalist Mariam Aman.

Saleh is believed to be in Panjshir with the son of a famous guerrilla – Ahmad Masud, son of the mythical “Lion of Panjshir”– with whom he presumably leads an anti-Taliban front.

What are the keys to that front and how did Panjshir manage to stay out of reach of the Taliban?

Rubble in the Panjshir Valley from Russian tanks seized by the Mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Afghan-Soviet War.

Reza / Getty Images
Rubble in the Panjshir Valley from Russian tanks seized by the Mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Afghan-Soviet War.

A natural fortress

The towering cliffs and gorges of Panjshir turn the territory into a natural fortress, with a bottleneck entrance and towering mountains that make access difficult.

Crossed by the Panjshir River, the valley is very close to the mountain range of the Hindu Kush, a mountainous massif between Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.

It was an important passageway for the armies of Alexander the Great and Tamerlane, the last of the great nomadic conquerors of Central Asia.

In addition, it has several resources, such as emerald mines, hydroelectric dams and a wind farm. And the United States favored the construction of roads and a radio tower that receives signals from the capital.

Nevertheless, it is not an economically vital enclave.

Ahmad Shah Massoud's Mujahideen in the 1990s.

Patrick Robert / Getty Images
Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Mujahideen in the 1990s.

“It is a very suitable location for guerrilla warfare, but it is not strategic; It is not close to any important port, nor does it have an industry, nor does it especially add to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The most significant thing it has is a main road that passes nearby, called Salang Pass, ”Afghan journalist Haroon Shafiqi, from the BBC World Service, tells BBC Mundo.

“In 1997, the Taliban cut off all routes to Panjshir and those who lived there food was out of stockShafiqi adds.

However, the valley’s resistance continued.

The area currently has between 150,000 and 200,000 inhabitants, almost all of them speaking Persian and the ethnic group. tajik, which are about a quarter of the 38 million people living in Afghanistan.

It is a historically anti-Taliban population.

Ahmad Shah Massoud's mujahideen capture Bagram from the Taliban.  Bagram is located about 60 kilometers northwest of Kabul and is a key junction between the Panjshir Valley and Kabul.  nineteen ninety six

Patrick Robert – Corbis / Getty Images
Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Mujahideen between the Panjshir Valley and Kabul, 1996.

“Symbol of resistance”

A key anti-Taliban figure in the history of the Panjshir resistance is Ahmad Shah Massoud, a famous Mujahideen guerrilla who was assassinated by al Qaeda two days before 9/11 (2001) and who led the fight for autonomy in the region in the 1980s and 1990s.

Nicknamed as the “Lion of Panjshir” (Panjshir means “five lions”) his portrait can be found in many places in the Afghan capital, from monuments to billboards and shop windows, and throughout Panjshir province.

“Panjshir was used as a bastion by Ahmad Shah Massoud during the Afghan-Soviet war (in the 80s),” Aman explains to BBC Mundo.

“The valley became a resistance symbol then and also afterwards, in the war between the various factions of the Mujahideen and the Taliban, from the mid-1990s to 2001 (when the Taliban occupation ended) ”.

The journalist says that “since Massoud’s death in 2001, the region has maintained its legacy of resistance among the people of Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban.”

Afghan men mourn in Jangalak village, about 100 miles from Kabul, during Commander Ahmad Shah Masood's funeral ceremony on 16 September 2001. Assassinated Afghan opposition commander Ahmad Shah Masood, the "Panjshir Lion", was buried Sunday at a funeral attended by thousands of excited villagers in the Panjshir Valley.

The death of Ahmad Shah Masood was mourned by many Afghans in Panjshir. This photo was taken during a funeral ceremony in honor of the guerrilla on September 16, 2001.

Ahmad Shah Massoud is a revered warlord to many Afghans.

It was declared National hero by the president Hamid Karzai, and since 2012 each September 9 his death anniversary is commemorated as the Day of the Martyrs and of Ahmad Shah Masud.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh made his devotion to him clear.

“I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander, legend and guide. Under no circumstances will I bow down to the Taliban terrorists, ”he recently wrote on Twitter.

In fact, Saleh, a native of Panjshir and Tajik ethnicity, was part of the Northern Alliance, the front of warlords that fought the Taliban in the 1990s.

There are also voices that point to the Mujahideen leader as a war criminal.

According to a 2005 Human Rights Watch investigation, “Ahmad Sha Masud was implicated in many abuses” carried out by military forces under his command during the wars in Afghanistan.

A banner in the Panjshir Valley shows portraits of Ahmad Massoud and his father with the slogan "You dream of a free country, thanks to your army, Ahmad is by your side, may God protect you" on September 10, 2019.

Reza / Getty IMges
A banner in the Panjshir Valley features portraits of Ahmad Massoud and his father with the slogan: “You dream of a free country thanks to your army, Ahmad is by your side, may God protect you.” September 10, 2019.

“We knew that this day could come”

In any case, the one who has the relief of the resistance of the valley now is his son, Ahmad Massoud, 32 years old.

Saleh was apparently photographed and filmed on Monday, August 16 with Massoud in some images that seem to prove an alliance between them and that were distributed on social networks.

In an opinion piece published this Thursday in The Washington Post, the son of the “Lion of Panjshir” said that his fighters have the military support of members of the special forces and the Afghan army, and that they have “patiently stored ammunition and weapons” since the time of his father “because we knew that this day could come ”.

But ask for backup.

“The resistance of the Mujahideen to the Taliban begins now, but We need helpMassoud wrote.

“If the Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face stiff resistance from us. […] However, we know that our military forces and our logistics will not be enough. They will sell out quickly unless our friends in the West can find the way to supply ourselves without delay“.

Afghan security forces patrol Panjshir on August 17, 2021.

SAHEL ARMAN / Getty Images
Afghan security forces patrolling Panjshir on August 17, 2021.

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