End of Road for Ahmad Massoud? Son of Panjshir Valley’s ‘Lion’ Mulls Surrendering Last Anti-Taliban Bastion in Afghanistan

In what seems to be a complete victory for the Taliban, opposition fighters in the last bastion of anti-insurgent territory in Afghanistan — Panjshir — are preparing a surrender agreement in the absence of resources and international support, The Telegraph reported.

Ahmed Massoud, the son of renowned Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, is holding the Panjshir Valley — which never fell to the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s and was not conquered by the Soviets a decade earlier — with other ousted Afghan leaders, including Amrullah Saleh, the vice president who now claims to be the acting leader of Afghanistan.

It wasn’t too many days ago that Massoud had vowed he would not surrender to the Taliban. “I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with Mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” he wrote in the Washington Post newspaper. “We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time because we knew this day might come.”

ALSO READ | Taliban Near Panjshir After Retaking Three Northern Afghan Districts

He added, however, that his forces – which reportedly numbered more than 6,000 – would need international support. He called on aid from France, Europe, the US and the Arab world, saying they had helped in his father’s fight against the Soviets and the Taliban 20 years ago.

However, the tide seems to have turned as the Taliban were in position near the Panjshir Valley and had retaken three districts in northern Afghanistan that fell to local militia groups last week, a spokesman said on Monday, though there were no confirmed reports of further fighting.

An adviser to Massoud, whose identity The Telegraph did not disclose, said the 32-year-old was looking for a way to capitulate with his honour intact. “Panjshir can’t fight the Taliban, the Taliban have overwhelming forces,” the adviser said. “This is not the 1980s or 1980s, the Taliban have battle hardened fighters.”

As Massoud looks for a way out, here’s a lowdown on the leader, his roots and future course:

Who is Ahmad Massoud?

Ahmad Massoud is the son of Afghan mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was known for successfully leading resistance groups from the Panjshir region against the Soviet Union and the Taliban and called ‘Lion of Panjshir’. Ahmad Shah Massoud led forces as the main opposition against the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, until his assassination in September 2001.

Born in 1989 in Piyu in the province of Takhar in northeast Afghanistan, Massoud finished his secondary school education in Iran and then spent a year on a military course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the UK.

In 2012, he commenced an undergraduate degree in War Studies at King’s College London where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 2015. He obtained his master’s degree in International Politics from City, University of London in 2016. He officially entered politics in March 2019.

What has he said so far?

Ahmad Massoud has said that he wants to hold peace talks with the Taliban and does not want to see a civil war in Afghanistan. However, he also warns that his forces are prepared to fight if necessary to oppose the Islamist group.

The Panjshir region has been notoriously difficult to conquer in the past, with the Soviet Union and the Taliban both failing to capture the area in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, the NRF, which reportedly has around 6,000 troops, will likely need international support to hold off the Taliban for an extended period.

Status in Panjshir

The districts of Bano, Deh Saleh, Pul e-Hesar in the northern province of Baghlan were taken by local militia groups last week in one of the first signs of armed resistance to the Taliban since their seizure of the capital Kabul on August 15.

By Monday, Taliban forces had cleared the districts and were established in Badakhshan, Takhar and Andarab near the Panjshir valley, according to the Twitter account of spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

ALSO READ | Panjshir’s Landscape That Nestled Resistance May Choke, Experts Predict Taliban’s Edge Over Amrullah Saleh

Abdul Sayed, an independent researcher based in Lund in Sweden, said he did not share Massoud’s optimism for the chances of resistance.

“The Taliban surround Panjshir from all sides and I don’t think Massoud’s son can resist much more than a couple of months. For the moment, he does not have any really strong support,” Sayed told AFP.

Analysts are also sceptical about whether modern-day anti-Taliban forces would be able to take on the victorious militant group, which has added the government’s US-supplied military hardware to its armoury.

“It’s not easy to walk in [to Panjshir], it is high peaks and passes, but the Taliban military are far stronger,” said a person with knowledge of the province’s security situation to Financial Times. “The resistance forces are absolutely no match,” he added.

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