Anti-Taliban forces finding their feet again

Handout/Reuters file photo
Members of the National Resistance Front observe from a hill in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, in this undated picture.

TEHRAN — Resistance to the Taliban Islamist group’s interim government that seized power in August 2021 is growing both inside and outside Afghanistan.

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) has resumed its fight against the Taliban, and influential leaders of various ethnic groups also have started assembling an anti-Taliban force. However, the United States and Europe are focusing their resources on the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so support from the international community has fallen short of what the anti-Taliban forces had been expecting.

According to multiple sources, the NRF declared it had resumed hostilities in the eastern province of Panjshir in early May. The NRF reportedly has attacked Taliban strongholds in that area. “The Taliban suffered many casualties, and the hospital was filled with injured Taliban fighters,” a local resident told The Yomiuri Shimbun in a telephone interview.

Panjshir was the bastion of the Northern Alliance that fought against the former Taliban government that wielded power from 1996 to 2001. The NRF is currently headed by Ahmad Massoud, the son of former Northern Alliance leader and national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The NRF has continued to fight against the Taliban since it seized power. The front paused hostilities over winter, regrouped and made preparations for the resumption of its combat operations. As domestic displeasure with the hardline rulers mounts, the NRF is calling for people across Afghanistan to rise up against the Taliban.

The uprising led by the “hero’s son” has been a major thorn in the Taliban’s side. On May 20, the Taliban mobilized several thousand fighters in Panjshir and launched a mop-up operation targeting the NRF. Reports that multiple local residents had been killed also flew back and forth.

‘One umbrella’

Anti-Taliban movements also are afoot overseas. On May 17, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek leader and a former Afghan vice president in the previous administration that collapsed, opened the first meeting of the Supreme Council of National Resistance in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. About 40 powerful leaders representing the Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara ethnic groups attended what turned out to be the “largest anti-Taliban meeting” since the Afghan government was toppled. The council agreed to bring together their various forces under “one umbrella,” and called on the Taliban to form an inclusive administration. The council indicated it would be willing to launch military operations if the Taliban refused this demand.

These anti-Taliban forces had been counting on assistance from the international community. However, this lifeline has largely failed to materialize because the United States and Europe are up to their necks dealing with the invasion of Ukraine and, as things stand, lack the wherewithal to seriously get involved in Afghan matters. There are serious concerns that anti-Taliban forces could end up isolated and fighting without support if the international community fails to come through with assistance.

Terror attacks

These forces are not the Taliban’s only headache. Militant organizations such as the extremist Islamic State group have been launching terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for three explosions that killed nine people in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday. The Taliban’s efforts to bring stability and security to the nation have failed to make progress, and this turmoil is increasingly affecting residents’ daily lives.

Since regaining power, the Taliban has ignored international criticism and become increasingly oppressive, such as by closing junior high and high schools for girls. Some observers are worried that the Taliban, if it fears that civilians are siding with the anti-Taliban forces, could accelerate moves to control freedom of speech and security across Afghanistan.