KABUL (Al Jazeera) – Since the Taliban claimed “complete control” over the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan’s northeast earlier this month, they have been accused of “widespread atrocities”, forcing many Afghans to flee the province – the last remaining enclave of opposition to the group’s rule.
“We didn’t even know what was happening in the next village,” said a government worker who managed to flee the province six days ago. Like other sources Al Jazeera spoke to, he did not want to reveal his identity for fears of retribution.
For nearly a month now, Panjshir’s towering mountains and sprawling valleys have been a black hole of information in Afghanistan, with the National Resistance Front (NRF) and the Taliban battling for the control of the country’s last holdout against the Taliban’s sweeping takeover.
Though hundreds of thousands of Afghans in the country and abroad have placed their hopes in the lush province, the 100,000-plus Panjshir residents themselves have had little chance to tell the story of what transpired in their homes and villages over the last several weeks.
In late August, as the battles were heating up, the Taliban cut off internet and mobile phone services in the province, effectively cutting off the residents not only from the rest of the country and the world, but also from themselves.
After weeks of intense fighting, the Taliban on September 6 claimed its control over Panjshir Valley. But the NRF, led by Ahmad Massoud, son of slain commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has pledged to keep fighting.
Though Panjshir’s residents support the resistance and have a special reverence for the father and the son, the fighting has taken a substantial toll on a province that is heavily reliant on the transit of goods and visitors from Kabul.
When the fighting was at its worst, residents told Al Jazeera the Taliban stacked shipping containers at the entrance gates of the province in a bid to regulate who made it in or out.
“Everything can change by the hour,” the government worker said of the fierce battles between the Taliban and the resistance force.
With the province cut off both physically – by mountains and valleys – and technologically, the people of Panjshir have not yet been able to gauge the true strength of either side, said the government worker.
The NRF says it has “thousands” of fighters from across the country fighting alongside them. It even claims to have captured 1,500 Taliban members.
Panjshir residents who spoke to Al Jazeera said the number of Taliban militants dispatched from across the country is not clear. With the information blackout, numbers touted by both sides have proven difficult to verify.
“No one in Panjshir has any certainty about what’s going on,” said the government worker.
The Taliban have been accused by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh of using civilians to clear landmines. Rights groups have also accused the group of committing summary executions in the province.
Earlier this week, Zabihullah Mujahid, deputy minister of information and culture, also said journalists and rights workers will be granted access to conduct investigations in the province.
However, journalists who spoke to Al Jazeera said they have faced great difficulties in getting into Panjshir.
NRF supporters have made repeated claims of “genocide” in the province. However, the government worker said he can only attest to what he saw in his area.
“We don’t know where there is a war, where there is peace. We have no idea what our own people are going through,” he told Al Jazeera. “For every true thing on the internet, there are 100 other false reports.”