Over the last few weeks, the Taliban has rapidly gained control over Afghanistan. One of the latest holdouts against the Taliban rule is in the Panjshir Valley, where the National Resistance Front has been fighting against the militant group. Recently, the Taliban claimed it had taken control of the Valley. However, members of the National Resistance Front asserted the battle was not over, and they would continue defending the region. While the National Resistance Front is a relatively small group, it is currently the primary source of opposition against the Taliban. If the group can survive the current conflict, form strong alliances, and obtain access to more resources, it could prove to be a concrete source of resistance to the Taliban’s rule in the future.
Before the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, many independent militias sprung up, seeking to expand their influence and oppose Taliban rule. However, the National Resistance Front has proven to be the most consequential of these groups. As the Taliban moved through Afghanistan, capturing more territory, the conflict between the militant group and the National Resistance Front came to a head in the Panjshir province. Over the past few weeks, the National Resistance Front has asserted that it had surrounded thousands of Taliban members in the Khawak pass. The group also said its offensive had forced the Taliban to abandon its vehicles and equipment in the Dashte Rewak area. The National Resistance Front also claimed, via Twitter, that it has killed over 700 Taliban fighters and captured and jailed 600. However, Amrullah Saleh, a key resistance leader in the National Resistance Front, has acknowledged that the battle has become increasingly difficult as the Taliban has disrupted phone, internet, and electricity access.
As the fighting continued, the Taliban claimed it had captured Bazarak, the capital of the Panjshir province, and stormed the provincial governor’s office. The Taliban reportedly also gained control over four of the province’s seven districts. Earlier this week, the Taliban claimed victory in the Panjshir Valley. Recent reports have begun to confirm this. However, the fall of the Panjshir Valley does not necessarily mean the battle between the National Resistance Front and the Taliban is over. Shortly after the Taliban took control of the province, Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the National Resistance Front, released an audio message confirming he was alive and in the northeast of the country. In his message, Massoud called on all Afghans to join a national movement to undermine the Taliban.
Although the National Resistance Front has lost its territory to the Taliban, it remains the primary source of domestic opposition against the militant group and its rule. The National Resistance Front is composed of former members of Afghan’s security forces and local militias. The group is led by Ahmad Massoud, a local tribal leader educated in Iran and the United Kingdom. When most of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the National Resistance Front formally rejected Taliban rule and expressed concerns about the state of human and women’s rights and the possibility that Afghanistan could become a haven for terrorists under Taliban rule. As the fighting continued, Massoud expressed interest in negotiating with the Taliban. However, he has also warned that Afghanistan may see a civil war if the Taliban did not establish a power-sharing agreement.
Some experts noted that although the National Resistance Front currently poses the strongest domestic form of opposition to the Taliban, the group may not be well equipped to defeat the militant group. When the United States haphazardly withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, it left behind advanced military equipment and technologies. Some U.S military officials have claimed that the Taliban cannot use this equipment because the U.S. deactivated them. However, recent reporting suggests otherwise. Additionally, analysts have flagged that the Taliban is a well-trained military force compared to the National Resistance Front. It is currently unclear what military equipment and advantages the National Resistance Front has at its disposal. According to Massoud, the group stockpiled ammunition and weapons over the past few years in preparation for a battle. Massoud has also called on the United States, France, and other Western nations to provide military and logistical support for their resistance efforts.
The National Resistance Front may also receive support from unexpected sources. In early July, the Taliban took control of a checkpoint on the border with Turkmenistan and killed 18 service members. In response, Turkmenistan began to bolster its military resources along the border. Historically, Turkmenistan has welcomed fluid borders with Afghanistan, which has allowed the Taliban to buy fuel and enjoy the country’s secular lifestyle. However, if the Taliban continues to attack Turkmenistan’s posts, it could fuel tensions between the two. As a result, the Turkmenistan government may decide to aid the National Resistance Front.
Other countries in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, may also support the resistance group. Both nations are growing increasingly concerned about the influx of Afghan refugees and the implications this crisis could have for the state of COVID-19 in their nations. The countries are also concerned that the rapid influx of refugees could undermine security in their nations, particularly if these refugees begin to advocate for conservative values and ideals promoted by the Taliban.
Today, Afghanistan is under the Taliban’s control, however, the National Resistance Front remains a viable source of opposition against the militant group and its rule. If the group is going to succeed in its opposition efforts, it needs to generate strong domestic and international alliances and obtain access to more resources.