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Is another civil war looming for Afghanistan?

Aug 22, 2021

By Annisa Essack

The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan lasted a decade from 1979 until 1989. The Mujahideen, or resistance fighters, was supported the United States in their fight against Soviet forces.

The years after the Soviet pull-out, under the rule of Mohammed Najibullah, then president with the blessings of the Soviet Union, was chaotic. By 1992, a full-blown civil war had broken out as tribal leaders fought for power.

Two years later, a group called the Taliban began gaining attention. The Arabic word Taliban means student. The Taliban were students who had studied in Darul Ulooms in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.

The Taliban was founded by Mullah Muhammed Omar, a Darul Uloom Haqqania graduate, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. During the 80s, he joined Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

During the civil war, the practise of Bacha Bazi by warlords was one of the critical factors in Omar mobilising the Taliban. In early 1994, it was reported that Omar led 30 men armed with 16 rifles to free two young girls kidnapped and raped by a warlord, hanging him from a tank gun barrel.

There were several similar incidents, and soon, appeals flooded in for Omar to intercede in other disputes. His movement gained momentum throughout the year. He quickly gathered recruits from Islamic schools totalling 12,000 by the year’s end, with some Pakistani volunteers.

Omar died in 2013 and was succeeded by Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a 2016 US airstrike in Pakistan.  By November 1994, the movement had captured all of Kandahar Province and then Herat Province in September 1995. The people were frustrated with the lawlessness. In 1996 the Taliban took control of the capital and declared an Islamic emirate imposing their interpretation of  Islamic Law.

Then 9/11 happened, and the US went after al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden, who was hiding out in Afghanistan with the help of the Taliban. The Taliban requested proof that he was behind the attack. And when they refused to hand him over immediately,  the Americans invaded Afghanistan.

Within months, the Taliban were forced out of power, and Afghanistan had a new interim government. Three years later, it received a new constitution, and Hamid Karzai was elected as president.

During this time, the Taliban began to regroup. They wanted to rule their own country, and they wanted the foreigners out. What followed was devastating years of conflict. More than 40 000 Afghan civilians were killed.  At least 64 000 Afghan military and police and more than 3500 international soldiers died.

The leadership council is called the Rahbari Shura and is better known as the Quetta Shura. It is currently led by Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. He is supported by deputies – Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, Omar’s son; Taliban co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, acting head of the Haqqani Network.

Akhundzada has ultimate control of political, military and religious affairs. Baradar, the Taliban co-founder, is the deputy leader and heads the group’s political committee and part of the Americans’ negotiating team. He has a council that oversees education, health, finance, etc. Below them are local officials who are responsible for the everyday services.

Over the years, the international community attempted to get the Taliban and the Afghan government talking.  The US began negotiating a deal with the Taliban for withdrawal in 2014.

The collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s recapture of power came after a blitz by the group that stunned many Afghans and the world. The latest chapter in the country’s nearly 42 years of instability and bitter conflict leaving Afghans conflicted.

President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan for the UAE as the Taliban closed in on Kabul. His departure came amid negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power after Taliban fighters encircled Kabul.

But the former first Vice President of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, has refused to accept the newly reinstated Taliban regime. Unlike other former government ministers, Saleh has not fled the country. He has reportedly retreated to the country’s last remaining holdout, Panjshir Valley. On August 15, the day Kabul fell, he declared his intention to remain in Afghanistan and defy the Taliban.

He further took to Twitter to declare himself “the legitimate caretaker President.”

Amrullah Saleh was born in Panjshir and was orphaned at a young age. His sister was tortured to death by Taliban fighters. He had joined the Mujahideen forces against the Soviet-backed Army in 1990 and fought under Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. In 1997, Massoud appointed Saleh to run the United Front’s international liaison office at the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan. He also became the critical asset for the CIA during the topping of the Taliban in 2001. His relationship with the US paved his way to the lead of the Afghan Intelligence agency, National Security Directorate, in 2004.

Saleh has developed a vast network of spies and informants across the Pakistan border during his term as the NSD Chief. He has repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban. In 2010, Saleh was sacked after the Taliban launched an attack on a Kabul peace conference.

His political career was revived when he was appointed as the first VP of Afghanistan under the presidency of Ashraf Ghani. Amrullah Saleh has escaped several assassination attempts.

Recently, a photo surfaced, in which Saleh is seen with anti-Taliban fighter and son of his mentor Ahmed Massoud in Panjshir.

The son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the prominent leaders of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, has pledged to hold out against the Taliban from his stronghold in the Panjshir valley. Massoud also endorsed Saleh’s claim to the presidency, with former Afghan Minister of Defence Bismillah Mohammadi, the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan, and its ambassador Mohammad Zahir Aghbar.

The Panjshir resistance, also known as the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan or Second Resistance, is a military alliance of former Northern Alliance members and anti-Taliban fighters created after the 2021 Taliban resistance. The Alliance is under the leadership of the Afghan politician and the army leader Ahmad Massoud and the former vice president of Afghanistan Amrullah Saleh.

Ahmad Massood and Amrullah Saleh’s Resistance Front announced their flag in Panjshir Valley on Thursday. Noting that this is the official flag of the government formed after the victory of the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, Ahmad Shah Massoud had adopted this flag after the capture of Kabul.

The Panjshir Province is under the control of the NRF and is “the only region out of the Taliban’s hands.”

The alliance constitutes the only organised resistance to the Taliban and possibly plans an anti-Taliban guerilla struggle. The resistance has called for an “inclusive government” of Afghanistan; their objective is to stake the new Afghan government.

Ahmad Massoud, born on July 10, 1989, is an Afghan politician and is the founder of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan. He is the son of anti-Soviet military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was appointed as the Massoud Foundation’s CEO in November 2016. On September 5, 2019, he declared his father’s successor at his mausoleum in the Panjshir Valley.

Massoud was born in Piyu in the province of Takhar in North-East Afghanistan, coming from an ethnic Tajik background. After finishing his secondary school education in Iran, Massoud spent a year on a military course at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. In 2012, he commenced an undergraduate degree in War Studies at King’s College London, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 2015. He received his master’s degree in International Politics from the University of London in 2016.

Delegations of the Taliban met Ahmad Massoud in Panjshir on Friday. This meeting comes first, even as the resistance has given the Taliban a bloody nose in three districts – Pul-E-Hesar, Banu and Deh-e-Salah districts.

In a video, right before the recapturing, Ahmad Massoud could be seen saying, “If anyone by any name would want to attack our homes, our land and our freedom, just like the National Hero-Ahmad Shah Massoud and other Mujahedeen, we as well are ready to give away our lives and die but will not give away our land and our dignity.” He added, “I thank you all for your pure feelings and intentions. By God’s will, with the freedom fighters, commanders, and along with our scholars, we will continue our resistance.”

[WATCH]  Three districts snatched back from Taliban, claim resistance fighters | Afghanistan – The Hindustan Times

The Panjshir valley north of Kabul is still littered with the wrecked carcasses of Soviet armoured vehicles destroyed in unsuccessful battles to conquer it. The region also held out against the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001.

However, it remains unclear whether forces in Panjshir would be able to repel any attack by Taliban forces, which have not so far tried to enter the narrow valley, or whether Massoud’s declaration is a preliminary step towards negotiations.

More Posts for Show: The Friday Circle, Annisa Essack


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