Amrullah Saleh said on Twitter that he is in Afghanistan and is the “legitimate caretaker president” (File photo/Reuters)
The government forces may have collapsed without a fight, but a resistance is now brewing against Taliban as they try to consolidate power in Afghanistan
The Taliban’s sweep of Afghanistan was swift but it was not total as the Islamist group has to now contend with a resistance brewing within the country against its fresh takeover. Afghan VP Amrullah Saleh has proclaimed himself caretaker President and called for support to take on the Taliban while the Northern Alliance, which has consistently fought the group is again prepping to counter Afghanistan’s new rulers. Here’s the challenge Taliban faces in consolidating power, and why that could see Afghanistan remain caught in a civil war.
WHAT IS THE SUPPORT SALEH CAN COUNT ON?
The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), which comprised everything from military to police personnel trained, equipped and funded by the US and NATO coalition, have disappeared into thin air in the face of the Taliban blitzkrieg that came as US troops started their withdrawal from Afghanistan. As President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, there was no leader left to marshall the government forces and the Taliban are now reportedly helping themselves to weapons and equipments that ANDSF had received from its western backers.
Then, as Taliban entered Kabul and announced that the war in Afghanistan was over, Saleh declared that he was in charge as the caretaker president and that he would lead the resistance against the Taliban.RELATED NEWS
“…I am currently inside my country & am the legitimate care taker President. Am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support & consensus,” Saleh had said in a tweet on August 17, right after Taliban had seized Kabul.
Saleh is believed to be in the northern Panjshir province. from where he hails and which has long been the base of the anti-Taliban resistance inside Afghanistan. There, he has a like-minded leader in Ahmad Massoud, the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the ‘Lion of Panjshir’, who built his reputation on leading a fierce resistance against Soviet Russia when it had invaded the country in 1979, foiling attempts by the occupation forces to take control of the province. Thereafter, as the Taliban emerged following the Soviet withdrawal, the elder Massoud opposed their expansion and prevented them from entering Panjshir, which till date remains the only Afghan province that has not fallen into Taliban hands.
The senior Massoud was assassinated by suspected al-Qaeda terrorists just two days before the September 11, 2001, attacks on American soil and it is his son who now leads the militia that his father had put together.
Whatever remains of the Afghan special forces has now reportedtly retreated to Panjshir and is said to be regrouping there under Saleh while the Northern Alliance is being revived to take on the Taliban.
WHAT IS THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE?
What is now taking shape in Panjshir has been termed the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, the Second Resistance, Panjshir Resistance, or Resistance 2.0. It is reportedly a coalition of anti-Taliban groups led by the junior Massoud, Saleh and Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who has served as the chief of staff of the Afghan army and the country’s defence minister.
Making his intent clear in an editorial in the Washington Post, Ahmad Massoud said he was “…ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban”.
“We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come… The Taliban is not a problem for the Afghan people alone. Under Taliban control, Afghanistan will without doubt become ground zero of radical Islamist terrorism; plots against democracies will be hatched here once again,” he wrote.
The original Northern Alliance — its official name was the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan — had taken shape during the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and was a coalition of warlords, including the likes of Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum, who were based in the north anf northeastern parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban, composed mainly of Sunni Pashtuns who are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, have their stronghold in the south and south-eastern parts.
The defensive alliance ensured Taliban did not take over the entire country during their earlier rule and, when the US forces invaded in 2001, joined them in the fight against Taliban. After the collapse of the first Taliban regime, many of the warlords, including Dostum, had become part of the government. But they have faced accusations of engaging in corruption and strengthening their own position at the expense of the Afghan government.
As the Taliban return, their declaration of a general amnesty to those who had collaborated with the US-backed government, and reports that they are in talks with Afghan stakeholders to form an inclusive regime, have not inspired faith in all Afghans. Visuals of desperate crowds at the Kabul airport looking to take a flight out of the country, and reports of protests against the Taliban in several provinces suggest that there are many Afghans who are wary about taking the Taliban at face value, something that would be especially true of the ethnic and religious minorities in the country.
WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS ETHNIC GROUPS IN AFGHANISTAN?
Years of fighting has meant that there are no reliable census figures on Afghan demographics but it is widely agreed that the Pashtuns make up about 42 per cent of the Afghan population. The other major groups include the Tajiks (27 per cent), Hazaras (9 per cent), Uzbeks (9 per cent), Aimaqs (4 per cent), Turkmen people (3 per cent), Baluch (2 per cent).
The Massouds of the Northern Alliance belong to the Tajik community — as do Saleh and Mohammadi — which makes up the overwhelming majority in Panjshir valley.
But the new alliance that is being put together will not be the first one against the Taliban in recent days. At least three warlords — Atta Muhammad Noor, also a Tajik, the Uzbek Dostum and Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq, a leader of the Shia Hazara community, had joined the fight against the Taliban once the US forces began pulling out of Afghanistan. However, they failed to make a dent in the Taliban offensive and are reported to have fled the country after the stronghold Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the group.
These warlords, all of them based in the northern parts of Afghanistan, may not prefer to negotiate with Taliban and decide to hold out in their strongholds, providing more bulk to the resistance against Taliban.