Who are Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and what do they

Who are Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and what do they

While the Taliban has rapidly seized power in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of Nato troops and collapse of the national army, a small pocket of resistance is emerging in the northern province of Panjshir, where the flag of the Northern Alliance has reportedly again risen for the first time in two decades.

Although it remains unclear how great a threat they pose to the country’s new rulers, the rebirth of the group officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan is heavy with symbolism.

Lying in the Hindu Kush some 70 miles north of the capital Kabul, the natural fortress of Panjshir Valley has been a stronghold of resistance for decades – holding out first against the Soviets in the 1980s, and then against the Taliban during their five-year rule at the turn of the millennium.

Now, in the valley littered with the remnants of armoured vehicles and other military detritus from those years, a number of political and military leaders with connections to both the newly-ousted government and the resistance of old appear to be regrouping.

Among them are Afghanistan’s first vice president, Amrullah Saleh, who – in the wake of Ashraf Ghani’s flight to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday – has declared himself “the legitimate caretaker president” under the constitution brokered by the US in 2004.

Mr Saleh, who was born and trained to fight in Panjshir before eventually leading Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, is reportedly joined by 32-year-old Ahmad Massoud – the son of the Northern Alliance’s charismatic former leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by Al-Qaeda assassins two days prior to the 9/11 attacks but remains a legendary figures among the ethnic Tajiks who populate northern Afghanistan, who previously made up the bulk of the Alliance.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post on Wednesday, Mr Massoud called for Western support and arms to fight the Taliban. “I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban.”

But while back in 2001, the Northern Alliance in Panjshir provided US spies and special forces with a base from which to launch the invasion that eventually defeated the Taliban, it appears unlikely there will be many parallels with that chapter in history this time around.

Since the Islamist group swept bloodlessly into Kabul on Sunday, Western nations have indicated they no intention of militarily opposing the new Taliban rule, with talk now firmly in the realm of diplomacy and strategic pressure, and US president Joe Biden having told the Afghans to “fight for themselves”.

Furthermore, it remains unclear how significant any resistance might be from the Alliance, or whether the holdout is merely a prelude to a compromise with the Taliban.

Their route to any supply line across the border into Tajikstan is currently blocked by Taliban-held territory. And while the size of any force gathered in Panjshir is unclear, former Afghan officials have reportedly suggested the number of ex-army and US-trained special forces rumoured to be returning there does not yet exceed 2,500.

World news in pictures

Show all 50

1/50World news in pictures

World news in pictures

24 August 2021

People take pictures of fireworks outside the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo

Reuters

World news in pictures

23 August 2021

Staff members spraying disinfectant at a school ahead of the new semester in Bozhou, China’s eastern Anhui province

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

22 August 2021

A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan area in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan

AP

World news in pictures

21 August 2021

Mexican firefighters known as “Topos” work in the early morning hours in a search and rescue mission, amid the rubble from last week’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, in Les Cayes, Haiti

AP

World news in pictures

20 August 2021

Bangladeshi vendor sells a religious item during a Muharram event at the premises of Hussaini Dalan in Dhaka, Bangladesh

EPA

World news in pictures

19 August 2021

Law enforcement officers with rifles take position near the US Capitol building in Washington DC as police investigate a possible explosive device in a truck near the heart of American government

AP

World news in pictures

18 August 2021

A Taliban fighter patrols in Wazir Akbar Khan in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan

AP

World news in pictures

17 August 2021

Art students paint messages of solidarity with people at risk in Afghanistan’s crisis outside an art school in Mumbai

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

16 August 2021

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport

AFP via Getty

World news in pictures

15 August 2021

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar province in southwest Afghanistan

AP

World news in pictures

14 August 2021

A collapsed building is seen in Les Cayes, Haiti following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake which left at least 29 people dead

Reuters

World news in pictures

13 August 2021

Perseids are seen next to Milky Way during the annual Perseid meteor shower at Tres Mares peak, in Cantabria, northern Spain

EPA

World news in pictures

12 August 2021

A woman sits along the broken steps of a partially-collapsed building destroyed by bombardment during the May 2021 conflict between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City

AFP via Getty

World news in pictures

11 August 2021

People stranded at the Pakistani-Afghan border wait for its reopening after it was closed by the Talibans, who have taken over the control of the Afghan side of the border at Chaman, Pakistan

EPA

World news in pictures

10 August 2021

Supporters cheer outside French football club Paris Saint-Germain’s Parc des Princes stadium in Paris after Argentinian football player Lionel Messi landed in Le Bourget airport to sign for the club

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

9 August 2021

People perform a folk dance to traditional music as they celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in Mumbai, India

EPA

World news in pictures

8 August 2021

Thank you messages is displayed inside the stadium during the Olympic closing ceremony in Tokyo

Reuters

World news in pictures

7 August 2021

Pro-democracy protesters clash with police during a demonstration demanding Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-Ochas and King Maha Vajiralongkorn be held accountable for the governments failure to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, in Bangkok

AFP via Getty

World news in pictures

6 August 2021

Members of local NPO release paper lanterns on Motoyasu River in front of beside the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb attack

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

5 August 2021

The Men’s Decathletes pose for a photo following their competition on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan

Getty

World news in pictures

4 August 2021

Maronite clergymen pray near damaged grain silos at the port of Lebanon’s capital on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

3 August 2021

An underwater view shows France’s Charlotte and Laura Tremble during the women’s duet technical routine artistic swimming event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

2 August 2021

Germany compete in the women’s team pursuit qualifying event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Izu Velodrome

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

1 August 2021

enezuela’s Yulimar Rojas competes in the women’s triple jump final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Rojas took gold and broke the Olympic and World Record in the process

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

31 July 2021

Elaine Thompson-Herah celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the gold medal ahead of Jamaican teammate Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the women’s 100m final at the Tokyo Olympic Games

Reuters

World news in pictures

30 July 2021

Athletes compete during the men’s 3000m Steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympics

Reuters

World news in pictures

29 July 2021

Athletes compete in the BMX men’s Olympic quarter-finals run at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

28 July 2021

A picture taken with a drone shows researchers from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Utrecht University investigating a dead fin whale found in the harbor of Terneuzen, The Netherlands

EPA

World news in pictures

27 July 2021

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk past extra papers reporting on Japanese gold medalists at Tokyo Olympics

AP

World news in pictures

26 July 2021

The ball hits Thailand’s Orawan Paranang’s face as she competes against Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa during her women’s singles round 3 table tennis match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

AFP via Getty Images

World news in pictures

25 July 2021

A woman walks in the rubble after flooding due to heavy rains in Dinant, Belgium, a week after more than 30 people were killed in floods in the country

EPA

World news in pictures

24 July 2021

A firefighter uses a drip torch to light a backfire in an effort to stop the spread of the Dixie fire in Prattville, California

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

23 July 2021

An overview shows Japan’s tennis player Naomi Osaka lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo

AFP via Getty

World news in pictures

22 July 2021

People wade through a flooded street following a heavy rain in Zhengzhou, in China’s Henan province

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

21 July 2021

People celebrate in Brisbane, Australia, following an announcement by the International Olympic Committee that the city was picked to host the 2032 Olympics

AAP Image via AP

World news in pictures

20 July 2021

Muslims attending the Eid Al-Adha prayer at Skenderbej Square in Tirana

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

19 July 2021

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Reuters

World news in pictures

18 July 2021

People protest against the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan

Reuters

World news in pictures

17 July 2021

A long exposure photograph shows Muslim pilgrims circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca during the annual hajj pilgrimage

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

16 July 2021

A van crushed by the torrents is pressed against a tree after the floods caused major damage in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, western Germany

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

15 July 2021

A staff member sits at an interactive digital installation “Fire / Forest and Spiral of Resonating Lamps in the Forest” during a media preview of “teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live” at the lobby of Mifuneyama Rakuen Hotel, Takeo Hot Springs in Saga prefecture

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

14 July 2021

Pupils of the Special Military School of Saint-Cyr march during the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris

AFP/Getty

World news in pictures

13 July 2021

Rescuers look for bodies after a catastrophic blaze erupted Monday at a coronavirus hospital ward in the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital, in Nasiriyah, Iraq

AP

World news in pictures

12 July 2021

People try to recover a car damaged during flash floods after heavy monsoon rains in Bhagsunag, a popular tourist town in Himachal Pradesh, India

AP

World news in pictures

11 July 2021

Police cars are seen overturned in the street in the framework of a demonstration against Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana

AFP via Getty Images

World news in pictures

10 July 2021

Tanya and Evance Chanda from Mechanicsville look on as a statue of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is removed after years of a legal battle over the contentious monument, in Charlottesville, Virginia

Reuters

World news in pictures

9 July 2021

Hundreds of Haitians gather in front of the US embassy in the hope that they will be granted a visa to leave their country, due the uncertainty of what may happen after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

EPA

World news in pictures

8 July 2021

NGOs fly huge rainbow balloon at Hungary’s parliament protesting against anti-LGBT law in Budapest

Reuters

World news in pictures

7 July 2021

The Ever Given leaves the Suez Canal after its Japanese owners reached a settlement following more than three months and a court standoff over compensation for it blocking the crucial east-west waterway for nearly a week earlier this year

Getty

World news in pictures

6 July 2021

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands arrives to be greeted by German Chancellor at the Chancellery in Berlin

AFP/Getty

Those holed up there are reported to be poorly armed. In contrast, the Taliban has seized billions of pounds-worth of US military equipment gifted to the Afghan army, including Black Hawk helicopters, drones, humvees and mine-resistant armoured vehicles.

Speaking to The New York Times, Mr Saleh suggested that the group was looking to achieve “genuine” peace with the Taliban, but was not averse to combat.

“Should the Taliban be ready for meaningful discussions, we will welcome it,” he said, adding that the group believed “in a genuine peace process, which doesn’t exist at the moment”.

Telling the paper that he had survived “two attacks and one ambush” as he drove to Panjshir on Sunday, Mr Saleh refused to “compromise our military secrets or operational security” by discussing the size of the force gathering in the valley, but said the group was “on the top of the situation and organising things” and was in touch with unnamed leaders who fought the Taliban two decades ago.

“If they insist on military conquest, then they better read Afghan history,” he was quoted as saying.

As part of its charm offensive in a bid to minimise international barriers to their new rule, the Taliban’s leadership has struck a conciliatory tone, pledging an “amnesty” for its enemies.

In a landmark press conference on Tuesday, the group’s chief spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid pledged to form an “inclusive, Islamic government”, adding: “Animosities have come to an end and we would like to live peacefully, without internal or external enemies.”

But the Taliban faces a challenge in its attempts to impose a unified government on Afghanistan’s complex mix of regions and ethnicities, which could be complicated by open resistance.

In the first display of collective defiance from ordinary citizens, demonstrations against the Taliban in Jalalabad were met with gunfire on Thursday, as protesters tried to hoist the national flag, having reportedly torn down the white Taliban flag.

Three people are reported to have been killed and more than a dozen wounded.

“I am standing here in front of you. You can hit me with 30 bullets, kill me, I will sacrifice my life for this flag. This is my flag. My government will soon be back, God willing,” one protester wrapped in the tricolour flag told Sky News.

At the Afghan embassy in Tajikstan, it was clear who ambassador Zahir Aghbar, a lieutenant general who previously served as chief of police, saw as the legitimate figurehead of that scattered government.

“I cannot say that the Taliban have won the war. No, it was just Dr Ashraf Ghani who gave up power after treacherous talks with the Taliban,” the ambassador – who has replaced Mr Ghani’s picture in his office with one of Mr Saleh – told Reuters.

“And only Panjshir resists, led by Vice President Amrullah Saleh,” he said. “Panjshir stands strong against anyone who wants to enslave people.”

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *