A valley runs along the Panjshir River about North East of Kabul. It is 76 kilometers long, 15 kilometers wide and at places, it narrows down considerably. Panjshir is not just one valley but 21 sub-valleys connected with the main valley located in the Hindukush range. The population of the valley is around two lacs. The Khawak Pass connects it with the Baghlan province and the Anjuman Pass connects it to the Badakhshan province. Jabal Siraj connects Panjshir valley with Bagram and Kabul.
The rugged nature of the terrain and high grounds are difficult to overcome which gives defenders a dominating position. Panjshir is also important because of opportunities to mine emeralds, silver and other minerals. The major towns in Panjshir are Anawa at the South and Anjuman guarding the North. In Afghanistan, the largest ethnic majority after the Pashtuns is theTajiks who are 26 percent of the population. They are of Iranian descent as majority are Sunni Muslims and some are Ismaili Muslims. They have an ethno-linguistic affinity with Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan.
In 1975, Panjshir came to prominence when an abortive coup took place against Daud under Gulbandin Hikmatyar and Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Panjshir valley became a center of anti-communist resistance and Ahmad Shah Massoud became a prominent leader. Soviet and Afghan forces launched several attacks but were unable to defeat the resistance forces under their charismatic leader. The Mujahideen leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, fought the former Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989 and later resisted Taliban from 1996 to 2001. He formed the Northern Alliance against Taliban and held out Panjshir valley and other provinces. He was assassinated in September 9, 2001 reportedly by Al-Qaeda.
In 2001 Panjshir was made the smallest province of Afghanistan. The Taliban were not able to capture the Panjshir valley because all ethnic communities fought them with foreign support. It was India which gathered Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks under the banner of the Northern Alliance. Tajikistan allowed India to run a field hospital at Farkhor and under this garb, Tajikistan became a logistic base for RAW’s covert operations. India’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Muthu Kumar, was the chief coordinator for the supply of weapons, ammunition and logistics to Northern Alliance. Kabul fell to the Taliban’s forces on August 15 this year without a fight and the Afghan government collapsed in 11 days. They captured all of Afghanistan, less Panjshir valley. Panjshir was last bastion against the Taliban.
This time, Panjshir became a symbol of resistance. A force was raised and named the National Resistance Force (NRF). The NRF comprised of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s forces, around 12,000 active soldiers, thousands of deserted soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and 3000 soldiers claimed by Amrullah Saleh.
In the past, the Taliban were unable to control and capture the Panjshir valley. This time, they adopted a different strategy by going for district headquarters, border crossings and later started capturing provincial capitals. They had already captured the province bordering Panjshir to include Badakhshan, Takhar and Baghlan. The Taliban were controlling all exits and entries to the valley, thereby cutting all the supplies. They continued with their advance towards the capital Bazarak. This time, the NRF was unable to put up a resistance against the onslaught of the advancing Taliban. Moreover, this time there was no foreign support, therefore the NRF fled to mountains and Tajikistan after defeat.
The fall of Panjshir took many by surprise, especially India. Its media was quick to accuse Pakistan and claimed that our special forces backed by tanks, APCs, armed helicopters and drones were actively supporting the Taliban. TV channels showed fake footage of Pakistan drones attacking Panjshir. Afghanistan rejected these called claims of outside help in the fall of Panjshir and called them completely baseless and a propaganda.
According to a recent article published in New York Times by Jim Huylebroek who rejected the Indian claims regarding Pakistan’s involvement in Panjshir battle, there is a state of mourning in India as Indian influence and terrorist camps have been eliminated from Afghanistan. However, Pakistan has to remain vigilant as India will not remain quite nor refrain from using its proxies like the ISKP, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuH) and East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) against Pakistan and Afghanistan.