The Taliban said Monday they had captured the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley, even as opposition fighters vowed to keep up their struggle against the hardline Islamists.
Following their lightning-fast rout of Afghanistan’s army last month and celebrations when the last US troops flew out after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fight the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.
“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
An image posted on social media by the Taliban showed its fighters at the governor’s office of Panjshir province.
However, the National Resistance Front (NRF) — made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces — said its fighters were still present in “strategic positions” across the valley, and that they were continuing the struggle.
“We assure the people of Afghanistan that the struggle against the Taliban and their partners will continue until justice and freedom prevails,” the NRF tweeted in English.
Late Sunday they had acknowledged suffering major battlefield losses in Panjshir and called for a ceasefire.
The NRF includes local fighters loyal to Ahmad Massoud — the son of the famous anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud — as well as remnants of the Afghan military that retreated to the Panjshir Valley.
The group said in a tweet Sunday that NRF spokesman Fahim Dashty — a well-known Afghan journalist — and General Abdul Wudod Zara, a prominent military commander, had been killed in the latest fighting.
The NRF had vowed to fight the Taliban but also said it was willing to negotiate with the Islamists. But initial contact did not lead to a breakthrough.
The Panjshir Valley is famed for being the site of resistance to Soviet forces in the 1980s and the Taliban in the late 1990s.
The Taliban are yet to finalise their new regime after rolling into Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the hardline Islamists themselves.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more “inclusive” than during their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict — first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.
They have promised a government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup — though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.
Women’s freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule.
This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban’s education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.
But female students must also wear an abaya (robe) and niqab (face-veil), as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban regime.
As the Taliban come to grips with their transition from insurgency to government they are facing a host of challenges, including humanitarian needs for which international assistance is critical.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths has arrived in Kabul for several days of meetings with the Taliban leadership, which has promised to help.
“The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that humanitarian workers — both men and women — will be guaranteed freedom of movement,” a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The Taliban spokesman tweeted that the group’s delegation assured the UN of cooperation.
Flurry of diplomacy
The international community is coming to terms with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due Monday in Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga.
Qatar, which hosts a major US military base, has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total evacuated by US-led forces after the Taliban takeover on August 15.
Blinken will also speak to the Qataris about efforts alongside Turkey to reopen Kabul’s airport, which is necessary for flying in badly needed humanitarian aid and evacuating remaining Afghans.
Blinken will then head Wednesday to the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the United States, from which he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.