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The brother of slain Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud has called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government after their reconquest of the country, warning against resistance if they refused.
Ahmad Wali Massoud, one of the leaders of a group of leaders who opposed the Taliban from their base in the Panjshir Valley, raised the prospect of a wide-ranging civil uprising if the militants did not agree to a deal.
“If there is an agreement, a peace settlement, everyone will join. But if there is no agreement . . . it’s not just Panjshir, it’s the women of Afghanistan, civil society, the young generation – they’re all people of the resistance,” Massoud said in a video interview with the The Washington City Times. “If you the . conquers [presidential] palace by force, that does not mean you have conquered the hearts and minds of the people,” he added.
Massoud’s credibility comes from his late brother, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a famous resistance figurehead who belonged to the generation of mujahideen that took up arms when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
As the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud fought the Taliban after they first came to power in 1996 until his assassination by al-Qaeda just days before the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Still, analysts are skeptical about whether today’s anti-Taliban forces would be able to take on the victorious militant group, which has added US-supplied military hardware to its arsenal.
Panjshir province, a mountainous area north of Kabul, is surrounded by the Taliban who have blocked key supply lines. “It’s not easy to walk in [to Panjshir], they are high peaks and passes, but the Taliban army is much stronger,” said a person with knowledge of the security situation in the province. “The resistance forces are absolutely no match.”
The Taliban faced the first signs of popular unrest this week as Afghans marched to celebrate Independence Day and raise the national flag in defiance of Islamists. But analysts say a war-weary population would hesitate about further conflict.
Another relative, Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, has called for international support to tackle the Taliban after the US military’s withdrawal.
The commander of anti-Taliban forces in Panjshir wrote in the Washington Post this week that his soldiers were ready to fight but needed “more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies.”
Romain Malejacq, author of Warlord Survival, a book on Afghan militia leaders, said the younger Massoud had “charisma and ability” as well as “the legitimacy of his name”, but that he was “extremely young and had no experience in combat”.
Amrullah Saleh, vice president in the Afghan government deposed by the Taliban, has also vowed to fight, but analysts are unsure he can mobilize popular support.
The wars in Afghanistan have long been fought not on open battlefields, but by guerrillas who use the country’s terrain to regroup between attacks.
The observers were nevertheless shocked by the ease with which the Taliban overran not only the government forces, but also the warlords and militias expected to offer the fiercest resistance.
Wondering how the Taliban could win such an easy victory over the US-trained and funded Afghan forces, Massoud called on deposed President Ashraf Ghani and US Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to explain what had happened.
“I do believe there was a huge conspiracy to really bring down the whole system . . . like a coup from within the government,” Massoud said, adding that it didn’t “make sense” for the military to crumble so quickly.” I have no doubt it was planned,” he said.
Many of Afghanistan’s traditional leaders are now scattered. Ismail Khan, a veteran fighter in the western city of Herat, has surrendered to the Taliban. Others, such as Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor, are reportedly in exile.
Any Afghan resistance would also struggle to attract international support. Countries like the US and Saudi Arabia easily financed warlords when they fought the communists, and countries like India were eager to support anti-Taliban militias.
But many now seem willing to partner with – if not formally acknowledge – the Taliban government, especially if it includes other figures. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and former peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah have held talks with senior Taliban leaders about taking positions in the new regime and securing protection from retaliation.
Massoud was part of a delegation that recently traveled to Pakistan to lobby Prime Minister Imran Khan. They want Islamabad to convince the Taliban not to attack Panjshir and agree to a government that includes all ethnic groups. He said he hopes a deal can be struck to prevent bloodshed before Afghanistan descends further into chaos.
“There are no offices [open], no salaries, no wages, no workers, no staff, no civil servants, there is nothing in Kabul,” said Massoud, adding: “It cannot go on.”
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