Montreal Gazette

Taliban claim control of final holdout

Fight will go on, opposition leader says

- RAJU GOPALAKRIS­HNAN

The Taliban claimed victory on Monday in the last part of Afghanista­n still holding out against their rule, declaring that the capture of the Panjshir valley completed their takeover of the country and they would unveil a new government soon.

Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor's compound after days of fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanista­n (NRFA), commanded by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.

“Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference.

However, Massoud remained defiant, and said his force, drawn from the remnants of the regular Afghan army as well as local militia fighters, was still fighting.

“We are in Panjshir and our Resistance will continue,” he said on Twitter. He also said he was safe, but gave no details on his whereabout­s. The NRFA'S head of foreign relations, Ali Maisam Nazary, said on Facebook: “The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight.”

The steep valley north of Kabul was long famed for holding out against attack, including both by Soviet troops in the 1980s and the Taliban during their previous rule in the 1990s. It was the main redoubt of the Northern Alliance resistance fighters who toppled the Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Residents there are Farsi speakers, ethnically distinct from the mainly Pashtun Taliban.

The Taliban assured the people of the valley that there would be no “discrimina­tory act against them.”

“They are our brothers and would work together for a joint purpose and welfare of the country,” Mujahid said.

He said he had been told that Massoud and another resistance leader, former vice president Amrullah Saleh, had escaped to neighbouri­ng Tajikistan.

The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not reimpose the brutal rule of their last period in power, when they carried out violent public punishment­s and barred women and girls from public life.

But more than three weeks after they swept into Kabul, they have yet to announce a government or give details about the social restrictio­ns they will now enforce.

Mujahid denied there were any disagreeme­nts within the movement about the formation of a new government and said it would be announced soon, but he did not set a date.

He also said women were back at work in the health and education sectors and “other fields will be provided, one by one, once the system has been establishe­d for them.”

Holding the Panjshir valley would be a major symbolic victory for the Taliban, who never succeeded in doing so when they last ruled the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on Monday in Qatar where he will seek support to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans. A senior State Department official said four more Americans had safely left Afghanista­n overland, without saying which country they had been evacuated to.

About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in northern Afghanista­n for days awaiting clearance for charter flights to leave, an organizer told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.

WE ARE IN PANJSHIR AND OUR RESISTANCE WILL CONTINUE.

 ?? SOCIAL MEDIA HANDOUT/VIA REUTERS ?? Members of the Taliban stand at the gate of the provincial governor's office in Panjshir, in a picture uploaded to social media on Monday.
SOCIAL MEDIA HANDOUT/VIA REUTERS Members of the Taliban stand at the gate of the provincial governor's office in Panjshir, in a picture uploaded to social media on Monday.
 ??  ?? Ahmad Massoud
Ahmad Massoud

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