The mountainous region has never been captured by an outside force, whether the Soviets in the 1980s or the Taliban in the 1990s. It now remains the centre of a gathering of “resistance” against Taliban rule.
After the Taliban's swift takeover of power in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley in the north looks like the only place that is becoming the centre of "resistance forces" against Taliban rule.
Since August, reports of forces opposing Taliban rule have gathered in the valley under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed Afghan resistance fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh has joined Massoud’s forces.
Panjshir has long been a land of resistance since Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the Lion of Panjshir, defended the region during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1980s
"I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father's footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban," Ahmad Massoud, son of the mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, wrote in The Washington Post on 19 August.
"We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father's time, because we knew this day might come."
In a Twitter post on Sunday, the Taliban said it had sent hundreds of its fighters to the region.
“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 said via their Arabic Twitter account.
Here is what we know about the resistance stronghold and why is it considered to be a rising force against the Taliban.
What is the history of Panjshir?
Home to the country’s largest ethnic Tajik population, Panjshir, which means “five lions”, it was a formidable place for the Soviets to takeover during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
During this time, the Panjshir Valley witnessed at least nine unsuccessful major Soviet offensives to retake the region from the then resistance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud’s forces who were resisting military operations that involved ground forces, airborne units and helicopter assaults.
Despite several attempts, the Panjshir Valley remained unconquered.
After the Soviet withdrawal, the area saw renewed fighting during the first Taliban takeover in 1996.
Massoud's forces fought against the Taliban under the banner of the multi-ethnic Northern Alliance.
Massoud led his people against the Taliban until he was assassinated by Al Qaeda on September 9, 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Why is Panjshir not taken over by the Taliban yet?
Panjshir, a long narrow valley girded by steep mountains has only one major point of exit and entry from Kabul, making it difficult to takeover for militaries as they are forced to approach through a narrow gorge.
The narrow passage by the Panjshir River makes it easy to defend the valley and the Hindu Kush mountain range works as a natural defense against assaults.
Panjshir now hosts senior members of the ousted government, like the former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and ex-Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi.
After President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, Saleh declared himself as the caretaker president of the country.
Talibs have massed forces near the entrance of Panjshir a day after they got trapped in ambush zones of neighboring Andarab valley & hardly went out in one piece. Meanwhile Salang highway is closed by the forces of the Resistance. "There are terrains to be avoided". See you.— Amrullah Saleh (@AmrullahSaleh2) August 22, 2021
Sources speaking to TRT World said that scores of Afghan military have joined forces with them bringing humvees, armoured cars and five helicopters with them.
"Many of the Special Forces units or Commandos pledged their allegiance to Mr. Ahmad Massoud on Sunday (last week) and joined him with all their equipment in Panjshir," the source said.
Will there be talks to sought a deal with the Taliban?
The brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Ahmad Wali Massoud, has called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government and warned of resistance if they refused, according to the Financial Times.
He raised the prospect of a civil uprising if the group did not agree to a deal.
“If there’s an agreement, a peace settlement, everyone will join. But if there’s no agreement . . . it’s not only Panjshir, it’s the women of Afghanistan, civil society, the young generation - it’s all the people of the resistance,” Massoud said in a video interview with the Financial Times.
“If you conquer the [presidential] palace by force, it doesn’t mean you conquered the hearts and minds of the people,” he added.
In an interview with The National last week, Ahmad Massoud said they were in contact with the Taliban to pursue a deal that would “allow the people of Afghanistan to be a part of the government and have an inclusive government”.
But his forces were prepared to fight if the talks to sought a deal falls through.
Massoud also emphasised that the resistance stretches far beyond the Panjshir Valley and the anti-Taliban armed groups are rising up elsewhere in the country too.
On Sunday, Massoud told Reuters news agency that he did not want war.
“We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation," he said by telephone.
On Sunday, Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesperson, said the group’s fighters have also surrounded Panjshir.
He said there had been no fighting in Panjshir yet and that the Taliban are seeking a “peaceful solution".