The Taliban on Monday claimed total control over Afghanistan, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of resistance against their rule.
Following their lightning-fast victory in mid-August over the former Afghan government’s security forces and the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war, the Taliban turned to fighting the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.
As the Islamist hardliners claimed victory, their chief spokesman warned against any further attempts to rise up against their rule while urging former members of the security forces to join their regime’s ranks.
“With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
“Anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard. We will not allow another,” he later added at a press conference in Kabul.
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The Taliban published a video of their flag being raised over the governor’s house in Panjshir — underscoring a historic win that has seen the anti-Taliban bastion defeated for the first time during 40 years of conflict.
It remained in the hands of resistance fighters during Soviet rule, a subsequent civil war, and the Taliban’s first regime of the late 1990s.
The National Resistance Front (NRF) in Panjshir — made up of anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces — on Sunday acknowledged suffering major battlefield losses and called for a ceasefire.
But on Monday the group said in a tweet that its fighters were still present in “strategic positions” in the valley.
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.
As Taliban fighters amassed in the valley, Massoud on Monday called on Afghans in and out of the country to “rise up in resistance”.
The Taliban are yet to finalise their new regime after rolling into the capital Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the hardline Islamists themselves.
As they undertake a mammoth transition into overseeing key institutions and cities of hundreds of thousands of people, Mujahid said an interim government would first be announced, allowing for later changes.
“Final decisions have been taken, we are now working on the technical issues,” he said at a press conference.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to be more “inclusive” than during their first stint in power, with 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.
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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 wear an abaya (robe) and niqab (face-veil), as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban regime.
However, some universities in Kabul remained closed on Monday and those that did open saw a drastic fall in the number of students — some who complied with the new rules, and others who resisted.
Afghans are also facing a host of other challenges, including looming financial and humanitarian crises.
“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 said the group had assured a visiting UN team 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 airbase 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.