Ahmad Massoud will not receive international support and conciliation with the enemy is the only path to peace.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
As Taliban control of Afghanistan expands, Panjshir remains the country’s only resistance zone. However, it is not known how long this situation will last, as there are indications that the resistance’s main leaders plan to renounce if there is an agreement in which the Taliban guarantees minimum conditions of freedom for the local population. Day by day, the Taliban’s absolute power becomes an undeniable reality and soon all Afghans – as well as all Nation States – will have to deal with this situation.
The leader of the resistance in Afghan province of Panjshir, Ahmad Massoud, said during an interview with Foreign Policy magazine that he would give up the armed struggle if the Taliban forms an inclusive government and guarantees equal rights for all Afghan citizens. His group, The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, does not receive any foreign financial support, which makes them even more vulnerable considering that many countries in the region have sided with the Taliban. In fact, Ahmad Massoud seems not to really want to fight, but only to guarantee the peace and freedom of his people. He’s willing to take up arms for this, but he’s also willing to step down, if possible.
These were his words: “If the Taliban are willing to share power with everyone and are willing to establish justice and to give equal rights and freedom to all of Afghanistan, then I will step down and quit politics (…) The government [of ex-President Ashraf Ghani] drove many regional countries to the side of the Taliban. From its ethnic-nationalist rhetoric to its water policies, it provoked and antagonised our neighbours, and they grew closer to the Taliban”.
At the start of the Taliban offensive, Massoud made several public pronouncements calling for Western support to fight their common enemy. However, no foreign aid has been provided and this is unlikely to happen anytime. Despite representing an anti-Taliban force, the resistance group led by Massoud is a Shiite militia with strong ties to Iran. For Western countries, the possibility of strengthening Iran is far more dangerous than accepting the reality of a Taliban-led government in Kabul. With an expansion of Iran into Central Asia, a disastrous scenario would form for Washington, which would totally lose any possibility of influence in the region.
For these reasons, Massoud was “abandoned” by the world powers. Countries with tense relations with Iran do not want to strengthen Tehran in Central Asia, but at the same time, countries with good relations with the Shiites are also interested in forging ties with the Taliban, as this is the only way to pacify Afghanistan and avoid the advancement of terrorist organizations there. Iran itself is not interested in a new conflict, which is why it has not sent aid to Massoud either. So, for the Panjshir Resistance, all that remained was to accept the possibility of negotiating with their enemies – which Massoud now reveals that he is willing to do so.
In fact, the only authority that may be really interested in strengthening Panjshir is the official government in Kabul, which has recently been overthrown. For forces loyal to the old government, any form of opposition against the Taliban is advantageous. Not by chance, officials from the defeated government are spreading rumors to frustrate possible Taliban-Panjshir negotiations. On Tuesday, the Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan, Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, said the Taliban is planning to kill Massoud. Aghbar previously claimed that the only legal source of power in Afghanistan is the resistance of Panjshir province. Apparently, for the defeated government officials, investing in strengthening the Panjshir is currently a necessity – the only possible way to fight the Taliban.
Aghbar did not provide details on the sources of his information, raising suspicions about its veracity. It is possible that the Taliban really wants to kill Massoud and is using the possibility of dialogue as a strategy to do so, but this seems unlikely, as the Taliban’s strength is much greater than that of the resistance. If killing all the resistance’s leaders had really been the Taliban’s intention, it would have happened before. This is also the opinion of representatives from other countries. Russian Ambassador to Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov, for example, recently stated: “I think they [the Taliban] could take over Panjshir in a day, maybe even in a few hours, but they don’t do it to avoid bloodshed.”
Indeed, in many ways the Taliban seems genuinely willing to change its stance and act differently from what it was known worldwide for in its previous government. The group has been fighting terrorist organizations that are trying to gain ground on Afghan soil and has also been trying to resolve the situation peacefully in Panjshir. Massoud has realized that no international support will come for his struggle and is now willing to cooperate with the Taliban as long as the civil and religious freedoms of the Shiite ethnic minorities in the region are respected. Both sides seem more and more willing to integrate nationally as it is evident that a divided country will be weaker to resist the advance of terrorists who want to dominate Kabul.
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