KABUL (Dispatches) -- Fighting in Afghanistan’s last major holdout against Taliban rule continued through Friday after heavy clashes erupted overnight between Taliban fighters and an anti-Taliban group, according to Taliban sources.
Panjshir Valley, a mountainous, inaccessible region north of Kabul, has a long history of resisting the insurgent group. In the late 1990s, it was a center of resistance against the Taliban during their rule.
Now the National Resistance Front (NRF), a multi-ethnic group that includes former Afghan security force members and reportedly numbers in the thousands, has continued the fight against the Taliban following the militants’ almost-complete takeover of Afghanistan.
Sporadic fighting between the NRF and the Taliban has continued for two weeks now. The Taliban have been massing forces in and around Panjshir province in recent weeks, and said on Monday they had captured three districts in the valley.
An NRF commander in Panjshir Valley said fighting was taking place around the Shatal district of Panjshir. The commander said NRF forces had inflicted hundreds of casualties on the Taliban. The Taliban denied these claims.
A Taliban source said the militants attacked Panjshir from multiple directions, including from nearby Parwan province and the northern Badakhshan region.
Amrullah Saleh, a former Afghan vice president who joined the anti-Taliban fight, claimed on Twitter the Taliban “blocked humanitarian access to Panjshir” and forced military-aged men to walk minefields to clear them.
The Taliban “have shut phone, electricity and [are] not allow[ing] medicine either,” Saleh said.
In official statements, the Taliban said they seek a negotiated end to the fighting and want Panjshiris to live in peace, highlighting their offers of amnesty to forces once aligned with the country’s former U.S.-backed government.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who remains in Afghanistan, called on both sides to end the fighting.
In Kabul, the Taliban were expected to form a government amid intense international scrutiny over their vow to rule Afghanistan with greater tolerance, especially on women’s rights.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar will lead a new Afghan government set to be announced shortly, Reuters reported, citing sources in the group.
Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office, will be joined by Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai, in senior positions in the government, the news agency reported.
According to AFP, while the West has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the Taliban, there were some signs of engagement with the new leaders gathering pace.
The United Nations said it had restarted humanitarian flights to parts of the country, linking the Pakistani capital Islamabad with Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Kandahar in the south.
On Thursday, the Taliban declared their intention to mainly rely on China for financing the country’s battered economy following the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.
The Biden administration has no plans to release billions in Afghan gold, investments and foreign currency reserves parked in the United States that it froze after the Taliban’s takeover, despite pressure from humanitarian groups and others who say the cost may be the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy.
Much of the Afghan central bank’s $10 billion in assets are parked overseas, where they are considered a key instrument for the West to pressure the Taliban.
In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica on Thursday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group will fight for an economic comeback with the help of China.
“China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country,” Mujahid said.
After the chaotic departure of U.S.-led troops from Kabul airport in recent weeks, Western governments
have blocked or severely restricted their aid payments to Afghanistan.
The Taliban spokesman further said the New Silk Road – an infrastructure initiative with which Beijing intends to open up trade routes – was held in high regard by the new rulers of Afghanistan.
There are “rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized. In addition, China is our pass to markets all over the world,” he said.
Mujahid tweeted early Friday that China’s foreign ministry had promised to keep its embassy in Afghanistan open and to “beef up” relations and humanitarian assistance.
Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan and urged countries to provide emergency funding as severe drought and war have forced thousands of families to flee their homes.
U.S. President Joe Biden, however, boasted on Tuesday that the messy evacuation of American troops from Afghanistan had been an “extraordinary success,” despite mounting criticism of the operation.
China on Thursday called on the U.S. to ponder on the recent advice of Russian President Vladimir Putin to quit imposing American norms on other nations after the Afghanistan fiasco.
“President Putin’s view should provoke some reflection in the U.S.,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a regular press briefing. “There isn’t one fixed form of democracy in the world.”
“Every country is entitled to independently explore paths of development that suit their national conditions and realities,” he said.
The example of Afghanistan, he said, demonstrates that attempts to “transplant” and force a democratic model on others will only “create chaos and instability, ultimately resulting in failure.”
His remarks came a day after Putin described the outcome of the U.S.-led 20-year invasion of Afghanistan as nothing but “tragedies and losses,” saying, “The result was zero, if not to say that everything turned negative.”
“For 20 years, American troops had been on this territory and for 20 years they tried — one can say this without offending anyone — to civilize the people who live there, to introduce their norms and standards of life in the broadest sense of the word, including the political organization of society,” he said.
The Chinese spokesman also stressed that democracy “is not a patent held by select countries.”
“There is no ‘leader of democracy’ in the world, nor does any country have the right to lecture others on democracy.”
He described the concepts of “an alliance of democracies” and “democracy versus authoritarianism” as “hegemony in disguise,” expressing hope that “the U.S. will earnestly reflect upon the lessons learned and stops peddling its own ideology and values to others.”