Sept 6 (Reuters) – The Taliban claimed victory on Monday over opposition forces in the Panjshir valley northeast of Kabul, declaring that it completed the Islamist group’s takeover of Afghanistan and promising to announce a new government soon.
Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound after fighting over the weekend with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), led by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
“Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference.
Earlier, he had said: “With this victory and latest efforts our country has come out of the whirlpool of the war and our people will have a happy life in peace, liberty and freedom.”
The Taliban assured the people of Panjshir, who are ethnically distinct from the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and fought against the Islamists during their rule from 1996 to 2001, that there would be no “discriminatory act against them”.
“They are our brothers and would work together for a joint purpose and welfare of the country,” Mujahid said.
Massoud, who leads a force drawn from remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters, said in a Twitter message he was safe, but gave no details.
Mujahid said he had been told that Massoud and former vice president Amrullah Saleh had escaped to neighbouring Tajikistan.
Ali Maisam Nazary, head of foreign relations at NRFA, said the Taliban’s claim of victory was false and opposition forces continued to fight.
“The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight,” he said on his Facebook page.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied there were any disagreements within the movement about the formation of a new government and said it would be announced soon, but he did not set a date.
He also said women were back at work in the health and education sectors and “other fields will be provided, one by one, once the system has been established for them”.
LAST POCKET OF RESISTANCE
The militants, who swept to power last month as the United States withdrew its troops after a 20-year war, banned girls and women from schools and most work when they last ruled the country, from 1996 to 2001.
The group has now said women would be allowed to work across important sectors of society, in line with Islamic law, and their rights would be protected.
The Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan three weeks ago, taking power in Kabul on Aug. 15 after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Panjshir, the last pocket of armed resistance against the Taliban, has a history of being difficult for enemies to take.
The rugged mountain valley is still littered with the wreckage of tanks destroyed during the long war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban. But some cities have also witnessed small, isolated protests for women’s rights or in defence of the green, red and black flag of the vanquished Afghan republic.
U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans in the weeks before the last U.S. troops left Kabul, but tens of thousands who fear Taliban retribution were left behind.
About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in northern Afghanistan for days awaiting clearance for their charter flights to leave, an organizer told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.
Reuters could not independently verify the details of the account.
Western powers say they are prepared to engage with the Taliban and send humanitarian aid to people displaced by drought and war, but that formal recognition of the government and broader economic assistance will depend on action, not just promises, to safeguard human rights.
The United Nations said it would convene an international aid conference on Sept. 13 to help avert what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore)