Afghanistan: Continued Resistance Against Taliban Rule

In Afghanistan, resistance against Taliban rule continued to mount over the weekend of the 4th and 5th of September. In Kabul, dozens of women marched on the presidential palace to demand their rights under a Taliban-led Afghanistan. Meanwhile, violent resistance in the Panjshir Valley region north of Kabul continued as organized fighters held off repeated Taliban assaults. However, conflicting reports have quickly emerged, making the situation on the ground difficult to ascertain.

Saturday’s protest in Kabul began with 50 women marching towards the presidential palace. They were stopped by Taliban forces before reaching the entrance. According to participant Razia Barakzai, who had worked for a government office before the Taliban seized power, the Taliban used pepper spray and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Barakzai told Al Jazeera that Saturday’s protest was in direct response to statements from senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. In an interview, he said there “may not” be a place for women in a Taliban-led government. “How are we supposed to have the rights they promised us if we’re not in decision-making roles of the government or involved in talks with the Taliban,” questioned Barakzai. She added that women in Afghanistan have yet to see any proof of the Taliban’s commitment to their rights, or evidence of the limits the Taliban seeks to impose on women. When the Taliban last ruled, they banned women from working and did not allow their education – many fear a return to this era.

Outside of Kabul, in the Panjshir Valley, forces opposed to the Taliban’s rule continue to fight. The National Resistance Front (NRF), composed of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces, has organized itself under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud – son of famous guerrilla fighter, Ahmad Shah Massoud – and mounted a campaign against Taliban control. Conflicting reports obscure the actual success of this resistance. Taliban sources claimed on social media that Panjshir had been conquered, but Massoud quickly responded otherwise. “News of Panjshir conquests is circulating on Pakistani media. This is a lie. Conquering Panjshir will be my last day in Panjshir, inshallah,” tweeted Massoud. The NRF, meanwhile, claimed that it surrounded “thousands of terrorists” in Khawak Pass on Sunday and that Taliban fighters abandoned vehicles and equipment in the Dashte Rewak area.

The violence does not need to continue; Massoud has made clear the NRF’s willingness to negotiate. “The NRF in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations,” Massoud said in a Facebook post. “To reach a lasting peace, the NRF is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab,” he said, referring to a district in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.

Massoud’s willingness to negotiate may prove useful to the Taliban. If the Taliban hoped to take the Panjshir Valley region by force, a protracted conflict would be likely. The wreckage of Soviet tanks, destroyed during the 1980s, is still visible in Panjshir – a testament to the region’s difficult terrain. Under the leadership of Massoud’s father, Ahamad Shah Massoud, Panjshir resisted the control of the Soviet army and the later Taliban government that ruled between 1996 and 2001. While their recent military success would allow the Taliban to overlook this historical precedent, a negotiated peace settlement may prove easier and less resource-intensive. Furthermore, willingness to negotiate may give the Taliban greater legitimacy on the international front.

Taliban responses to these early challenges to their rule will say much about how the group plans to govern. Persistent, violent crackdowns and a failure to negotiate would likely see the group treated as an international pariah, and Afghanistan itself may once more be shut off from the wider world. However, should the Taliban instead choose to negotiate, a different image would be projected to the world: one of a more moderate force, willing to govern Afghanistan according to local desires instead of fundamentalist religious ideology. For the sake of all Afghan women, we hope that this latter, more moderate side assumes the reigns.