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  06 Sep 2021, 11:10
Update : 06 Sep 2021, 11:45

Taliban say resistance holdout Panjshir Valley 'completely captured'

  KABUL, Sept 6, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The Taliban said Monday they had captured
the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley, as the top
US diplomat flies to Qatar to try and handle the aftermath of the chaotic
American withdrawal.

  Following their lightning-fast rout of Afghanistan's army last month -- and
celebrations when the last US troops flew out after 20 years of war -- the
Taliban turned to crush the forces defending the mountainous Panjshir Valley.

  "With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of
war," chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

  Late Sunday, the so-called National Resistance Front (NRF) -- made up of
anti-Taliban militia and former Afghan security forces -- acknowledged
suffering major battlefield losses in Panjshir and called for a ceasefire.

  The NRF includes local fighters loyal to Ahmad Massoud -- the son of the
famous anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud -- as well
as remnants of the Afghan military that retreated to the Panjshir Valley.

  The group said in a tweet Sunday that spokesman Fahim Dashty -- a well-
known Afghan journalist -- and General Abdul Wudod Zara had been killed in
the latest fighting.

  The NRF had vowed to fight the Taliban but also said it was willing to
negotiate with the Islamists. But initial contact did not lead to a
breakthrough.

  The Panjshir Valley is famed for being the site of resistance to Soviet
forces in the 1980s and the Taliban in the late 1990s.

  - Taliban government -

  The Taliban are yet to finalise their new regime after rolling into Kabul
three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say likely surprised even the
hardline Islamists themselves.

  Afghanistan's new rulers have pledged to be more "inclusive" 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.

  They have promised a government that represents Afghanistan's complex
ethnic makeup -- though women are unlikely to be included at the top levels.

  Women's freedoms in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban's
1996-2001 rule.

  This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes
are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban's
education authority said in a lengthy document issued on Sunday.

  But female students must also wear an abaya (robe) and niqab (face-veil),
as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous
Taliban regime.

  As the Taliban come to grips with their transition from insurgency to
government they are facing a host of challenges, including humanitarian needs
for which international assistance is critical.

  UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths has arrived in Kabul for several
days of meetings with the Taliban leadership, which has promised to help.

  "The authorities pledged that the safety and security of humanitarian
staff, and humanitarian access to people in need, will be guaranteed and that
humanitarian workers -- both men and women -- will be guaranteed freedom of
movement," a statement from UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

  The Taliban spokesman tweeted that the group's delegation assured the UN of
cooperation.

  - Blinken trip to Qatar, Germany -

  The international community is coming to terms with the new Taliban regime
with a flurry of diplomacy.

  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due Monday in Qatar, which has been
a key player in the Afghan saga.

  Qatar, which hosts a major US military base, has been the gateway for
55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total evacuated
by US-led forces after the Taliban takeover on August 15.

  Blinken will also speak to the Qataris about efforts alongside Turkey to
reopen Kabul's airport, which is necessary for flying in badly needed
humanitarian aid and evacuating remaining Afghans.

  Blinken will then head Wednesday to the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, a
temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the United States, from
which he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis
alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

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