Ahmad Massoud – leader of anti-Taliban National Resistance Front – warns war will be "unavoidable" if Afghanistan's new rulers refuse dialogue. Meanwhile, Taliban sends "hundreds" of fighters to holdout valley.
The son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was one of the main leaders of Afghanistan's anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, has said he will not surrender areas under his control to the Taliban.
Ahmad Massoud called on the formation of a comprehensive government to rule the country with the participation of the Taliban, warning that war will be "unavoidable" if Taliban refuse dialogue, Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV channel cited him as saying on Sunday.
Massoud is the son of legendary Mujahideen commander who was assassinated by al Qaeda two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Taliban sends 'hundreds' of fighters to holdout valley
Meanwhile, the Taliban said that "hundreds" of its fighters were heading to the Panjshir Valley, one of the few parts of Afghanistan not yet controlled by the group.
"Hundreds of Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are heading towards the state of Panjshir to control it, after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully," the group wrote on its Arabic Twitter account.
Ready for conflict but prefers negotiations
Since the Taliban took control of the country following a lightning charge into the capital Kabul, thousands of people have made their way to northern Panjshir region to both join the fight and find a safe haven to continue their lives, said Ali Maisam Nazary, spokesperson of Massoud's National Resistance Front (NRF).
Former Afghan government forces forming a militia in a fortified valley are preparing for "long-term conflict", but are also seeking to negotiate with the Taliban, Nazary told AFP news agency in an interview.
There, Massoud has assembled a fighting force of around 9,000 people, Nazary added.
Pictures taken by AFP during training exercises show dozens of recruits performing fitness routines, and a handful of armoured humvees driving across the valley northeast of Kabul.
NRF's main goal is to avoid further bloodshed in Afghanistan and press for a new system of government.
But Nazary said the group is also prepared for conflict, and if the Taliban does not negotiate they will face fighting across the country.
"The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban is decentralisation –– a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all," said Nazary, the NRF's head of foreign relations, adding if the Taliban do not agree there will be "long-term conflict".
'Taliban are overstretched'
Talks between local leaders from Afghanistan's north and authorities in Pakistan were taking place until just days ago, he added.
While the Taliban control the vast majority of Afghanistan, Nazary optimistically highlighted reports that local militias in some districts have already begun resisting their rule and have formed links with Massoud's NRF.
"Massoud did not give the order for these things to happen but they are all associated with us," Nazary said.
"The Taliban are overstretched. They cannot be everywhere at the same time. Their resources are limited. They do not have support amongst the majority."
'Saleh's anti-Pakistan stance at odds with Massoud'
He said, however, that Massoud had different views to Amrullah Saleh, latterly the country's vice president who is also holed out in the valley and last week vowed to lead an uprising.
"Mr Saleh is in Panjshir. He opted to stay in the country and not flee," Nazary said, noting Saleh's strong anti-Pakistan stance was at odds with Massoud who wanted good relations with Islamabad.
"Mr Saleh is anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistani. That does not mean he is a part of this movement. He is in Panjshir and he is respected."
The aim right now is to defend Panjshir and its people, Nazary said.
"If there is any aggression because our fight is only for defence; if anyone attacks us we will defend ourselves."
Taliban in talks with Massoud
Alongside Massoud's fighting force, Panjshir now hosts more than 1,000 displaced people from across Afghanistan who have poured into the valley looking for sanctuary, Nazary said.
"We are seeing Panjshir become a safe zone for all those groups who feel threatened in other provinces."
He added the province has seen an influx of intellectuals, women's and human rights activists, and politicians "who feel threatened by the Taliban".
The Taliban have, however, shown willingness to accommodate Massoud, his uncle Ahmad Wali, and other figures from Panjshir.
Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesperson, said on Saturday that talks and consultations were under way in this connection.
The former government's top peace broker, Abdullah Abdullah, and ex-President Hamid Karzai have also been holding talks with leaders on the matter.
The National Resistance Front’s conditions for lasting peace in Afghanistan: decentralization of power & resources, multiculturalism, democracy, moderate Islam, and equal rights and freedom for all citizens.— Ali Maisam Nazary (@alinazary) August 22, 2021
Massoud seeks arms from Western countries
Massoud appealed for weapons from the United States in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Thursday. Nazary told AFP that they also require humanitarian assistance to feed and take care of the newly arrived.
Massoud is determined to stand by the people of the valley and take up his father's mantle, Nazary added, stressing Afghanistan needs a federated system of government to close its endless cycle of war.
"War is just a byproduct of conflict in Afghanistan. What has caused the conflict is that Afghanistan is a country made up of ethnic minorities ... (and) in a multi-ethnic country you cannot have one ethnic group dominate politics and others having a presence in the margins."
Nazary said Massoud's resistance, and others across Afghanistan, are vital in making this change happen.
"Panjshir has always been a beacon of hope."
Russia has, however, said there is no alternative to Taliban and resistance to it will fail.
Last week, Russia's envoy to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov said that efforts to hold out against the Taliban by former Afghan officials from Panjshir valley would fail.
"They have no military prospects. There are not many people there. As far as we know they have 7,000 armed people. And they already have problems with fuel. They tried to fly a helicopter but they have no petrol and no supplies," he said.