Taliban claims complete control of Afghanistan’s Panjshir

The Taliban has taken complete control of Panjshir province, the last area in Afghanistan held by resistance forces, says the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.

Pictures on social media on Monday showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound.

There was no immediate word from Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the opposition group resisting Taliban forces.

Earlier on Monday, the last anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan acknowledged suffering considerable battlefield losses and called for a ceasefire, as a top United States diplomat flew to Qatar to try and handle the chaotic aftermath of the US withdrawal.

The National Resistance Front (NRF) proposed in a statement “that the Taliban stop its military operations in Panjshir … and withdraw its forces”.

“In return, we will direct our forces to refrain from military action,” said the statement, according to a report by the AFP news agency.

The NRF includes local fighters loyal to 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 separately in a tweet on Sunday that spokesman Fahim Dashty, a well-known Afghan journalist, and General Abdul Wudod Zara had been killed in the latest fighting.

The NRF has promised to fight the Taliban but also said it was willing to negotiate with the group. 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, but observers have said the NRF is struggling.

Bill Roggio, the managing editor of the US-based Long War Journal, on Sunday said while there was still a “fog of war”, with unconfirmed reports the Taliban had captured multiple districts, “it looks bad”.

Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is holed out in Panjshir alongside Ahmad Massoud, has warned of a humanitarian crisis, with thousands “displaced by the Taliban onslaught”.

The Taliban is yet to finalise their new government after rolling into Kabul three weeks ago.

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.

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 long robe and face veil, as opposed to the even more conservative burqa mandatory under the previous Taliban rule.

As the Taliban comes to grips with their transition from armed uprising to government, it is 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 – 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 was due on Monday in Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga, though he is not expected to meet with the Taliban representatives.

Qatar, a large 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.

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 on Wednesday to the US airbase 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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday called for dialogue with the Taliban.

“We simply have to talk to the Taliban about how we can get people who have worked for Germany out of the country and bring them to safety,” she told reporters.