03 Sep 2021, 23:39

Taliban close to forming new Afghan government, but Panjshir fighting rages

    KABUL, Sept 3, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The Taliban are due to form a

government within days despite fighting in Afghanistan's Panjshir
Valley Friday where forces battling the hardline Islamists say they
are enduring "heavy" assaults.

  The Taliban face the enormous challenge of shifting gears from
insurgent group to governing power, days after the United States fully
withdrew its troops and ended two decades of war.

  But they are still battling to extinguish the last flame of
resistance in the Panjshir Valley -- which held out for a decade
against the Soviet Union's occupation and also the Taliban's first
rule from 1996-2001.

  Late Friday, celebratory gunfire rang across Kabul as rumours spread
that the valley had fallen, but the Taliban made no official claim and
a resident told AFP by phone that the reports were false.

  Fighters from the National Resistance Front -- made up of
anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces -- are
understood to have significant weapon stockpiles in the valley, which
lies around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Kabul.

  Earlier Friday pro-Taliban Twitter accounts aired video clips
purporting to show the new regime's fighters had captured tanks and
other heavy military equipment inside the valley.

  Taliban and resistance tweets suggested the key district of Paryan
had been taken and lost again, but that could also not be
independently verified.

  While the West has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the group,
there were some signs of engagement with the new leaders gathering

  China confirmed a tweet from a Taliban spokesman hours earlier,
indicating that Beijing will keep its embassy in Kabul open.

  "We hope the Taliban will establish an open and inclusive political
structure, pursue moderate and stable domestic and foreign policy and
make a clean break with all terrorist groups," foreign ministry
spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

  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.

  The country's flag carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines resumed domestic
flights on Friday, while the United Arab Emirates sent a plane
carrying "urgent medical and food aid".

  Western Union and Moneygram, meanwhile, said they were restarting
money transfers, which many Afghans rely on from relatives abroad to
survive, and Qatar said it was working to reopen the airport in Kabul
-- a lifeline for aid.

  - Threat of humanitarian disaster -

  Even before the Taliban's lightning offensive, Afghanistan was
heavily aid-dependent -- with 40 percent of the country's GDP drawn
from foreign funding.

  The UN has warned 18 million people are facing a humanitarian
disaster, and another 18 million could quickly join them.

  Qatar said it hopes to see the establishment of humanitarian aid
corridors at Afghan airports within 48 hours, Doha's envoy to
Afghanistan told Al Jazeera Friday.

  The new rulers have pledged to be more accommodating than during
their first stint in power, which also came after years of conflict --
first the Soviet invasion of 1979, and then a bloody civil war.

  That regime was notorious for its brutal interpretation of sharia
law, and its treatment of women, who were forced inside, deprived of
access to school and work, and denied freedom of movement.

  This time round, the Taliban have made repeated declarations that
they will not carry out revenge attacks on opponents, women will have
access to education and some employment.

  They have promised a more "inclusive" government that represents
Afghanistan's complex ethnic makeup.

  British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, during a visit to
Pakistan, that the international community must test the Taliban on
their "sincerity" and "see whether they can deliver".

  - Women's protest -

  Speculation is rife about the makeup of a new government, although a
senior official said this week that women were unlikely to be

  In Kabul, some 30 women took to the streets to demand the right to
work and inclusion in the government -- a day after several dozen
women held a similar protest in the western city of Herat.

  Women's rights were not the only major concern in the lead-up to the
Taliban's announcement of a new government.

  In Kabul, residents voiced worry over the country's long-running
economic difficulties, now seriously compounded by the hardline
movement's takeover.

  "With the arrival of the Taliban, it's right to say that there is
security, but business has gone down below zero," Karim Jan, an
electronic goods shop owner, told AFP.

  On Friday, Ali Maisam Nazary, a spokesman for the Panjshir
resistance who is understood to be outside the valley but in close
contact with key leader Ahmad Massoud, said there had been more
attacks by Taliban forces overnight.

  "There is heavy fighting," Nazary said. "He (Massoud) is busy
defending the valley."

  But there were signs of normality in Kabul on Friday, where a
near-full house turned out to watch Afghanistan's top cricketers play
in a trial match, with Taliban and Afghan flags waving side by side in
what witnesses described as a show of national unity.


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