Anti-Taliban Forces: U.S. 'Won't Have an Ally' in Afghanistan to Fight Terrorism if We Lose

The opposition leading the last bastion of resistance against Taliban rule in Afghanistan has told Newsweek that if the rebels were to lose, the United States would at the same time lose its last ally in a country it just withdrew from earlier this week after 20 years of war.

Ali Nazari, the spokesperson for the National Resistance Front forces now besieged by the Taliban in Panjshir valley, said his group is the last hope for the West to take on transnational militant groups looking to once again use the Taliban-held country to attack targets abroad.

"Afghanistan is going to become a hotbed for international terrorism," Nazary told Newsweek. "The last allies that the United States and the Western world have on the ground that are willing to fight international terrorism — and we are fighting international terrorism right now, all alone, for which we feel abandoned — is the National Resistance."

And while the renegade province has so far held its own, clashes with the Taliban have worsened, and a lack of international assistance bodes ill for its future.

"So if the National Resistance Front, God forbid, is defeated ultimately," Nazary added, "the United States and the European Union and others who are against transnational terrorism and see a threat from those groups, they won't have an ally in Afghanistan if they are forced to return to the country or intervene in a year or so."

The Taliban, officially called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has vowed not to permit any groups from attacking other nations, nor to permit any further intervention from outside the country. The group's officials have also said they sought a peaceful solution to the problems in Panjshir, but talks between the two sides broke down over the past week and fighting erupted.

Both sides blame one another.

"We tried to reach a peaceful solution with [the Panjshir forces] and that is why we gave them a chance for 15 days after the conquest of Kabul," Qari Saeed Khosty, who runs the self-declared Islamic Emirate's social media networks, told Newsweek. "We gave them one chance, then another, but they want to waste time."

"Because of that," he added, "the Islamic Emirate two days ago decided to launch an operation from four sides."

Nazary shared his own perspective, saying there was "a gentlemen's agreement that both sides wouldn't attack one another." The Taliban launched its attack, anyway, he argued.

Anti, Taliban, resistance, fighter, Afghanistan, Panjshir
Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take a position during a patrol on a hilltop in Darband area in Anaba district, Panjshir province on September 1. Panjshir, famous for its natural defenses never penetrated by Soviet forces or the Taliban in earlier conflicts, remains the last major holdout of anti-Taliban forces led by Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/AFP/Getty Images

The naturally fortified Panjshir valley and its inhabitants have garnered a reputation for their defiance, with the famed Ahmad Shah Massoud having led guerilla forces that repelled a Soviet intervention in the 1980s and a previous Taliban takeover in the 1990s. The so-called "Lion of Panjshir" went on to warn of a major plot being planned against the West, but was ultimately slain by Al-Qaeda suicide bombers on September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11.

Those deadly attacks spurred the U.S.-led intervention that rescued what was known at the time as the Northern Alliance and established a new government in Kabul. But the Taliban maintained a powerful insurgency that prompted former President Donald Trump to strike a peace deal with the group in February 2020. His successor, President Joe Biden, vowed to maintain the agreement as the Taliban advanced nationwide against collapsing Afghan security forces, and the U.S. conducted a nerve-wracking airlift out of Kabul's airport as the capital fell overnight.

Now, with the Taliban once again in control of much of the country, Massoud's son, Ahmad Massoud, is again fending off foes from his base in Panjshir. With clashes ongoing and communications cut, Nazary has been tasked to speak on his behalf.

Nazary said the National Resistance Front forces "prefer peace to war," but would not give in until two major conditions were met.

The first condition calls for "creating a just Afghanistan or an Afghanistan where everyone could peacefully coexist, an Afghanistan where everyone sees the government representing their interests, where they see themselves inside the government, in the decision-making process, in policymaking."

He argued it would not be enough for the Taliban to simply appoint a few representatives from rival ideologies as well as non-Pashtun ethnic minorities such as Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks.

"It means the equal and just distribution of power," Nazary said, "and the only solution to this is decentralization and creating a federated Afghanistan, and preserving democracy."

He said the National Resistant Front was open to negotiating on the specific type of democracy that was formed, "but democracy should be the only method, the only system for leaders to be elected."

He emphasized the importance of having a representative government.

"We are against any sort of council made up of only a few individuals that are associated with one political force to choose the leader or leaders of the country," Nazary said.

The second demand issued by the National Resistance Front has to do with religion, specifically the country's relationship with Islam.

"Islam is the religion of the vast majority, but we do not accept the interpretation, the doctrine of Islam that the Taliban adhere to because that's a doctrine that has been imported inside Afghanistan," Nazary said. "It's not rooted in our culture, it's not compatible with our culture and traditions."

Rejecting the hardline brand of Islam practiced by the Taliban, Nazary said Afghanistan's history was more closely associated with a "rationalist interpretation of Islam," as well as "Sufi Islam, which has its roots in the mystical identity and the mystical doctrine of the belief system that the people of Afghanistan has always had."

"We stress on the rights and freedom of all citizens regardless of race, religion and gender," Nazari said. "Everyone should have equal rights, equal opportunities, and should be free, all citizens of the country should enjoy their freedom."

Until these two demands are met, Nazary said the National Resistance Front would fight on.

"We are not willing to compromise on these values, on these principles, and this is why we move on to resistance," Nazary said. "And it isn't only demands for the people of Panjshir, it's for all of us."

And he underlined that this is not a new struggle for his people.

"It's things that we cherish, values that we cherish, that we've been struggling for the past half a century," Nazary said, "and we're willing to continue our struggle, or resistance, until we achieve it."

Khosty argued that the goals of the Panjshir resistance were lofty. He said the demands discussed between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front were "too high" and "above" what could be compromised at this point in time.

"God willing," he added, "a solution for Panjshir will come soon."

Taliban, parade, weapons, captured, US, Kandahar, Afghanistan
Taliban fighters atop Humvee vehicles parade along a road to celebrate after the U.S. pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan, in Kandahar on September 1. The group has gained access to an array of new equipment, including at least one operable Black Hawk helicopter and other vehicles and weapons provided by the U.S. to the Afghan security forces, which have collapsed. JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images

With no solution on the horizon, fighting once again rages in the valley. This time is different, however.

During the onset of the Northern Alliance's bout against the Taliban more than a quarter of a century ago, the resistance received support from regional countries including Russia, India, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Today, many of those countries, especially the major powers, have adopted a far more diplomatic approach to the Taliban.

No nation has yet recognized the Taliban's Islamic Emirate, as was the case prior to 2001 when Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates established formal relations. The international community has nearly unanimously called for the establishment of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, and at the same, many governments have not precluded establishing ties with a Taliban-tied administration should such a condition be satisfied.

The resistance stands against recognition of the Taliban.

"We are against any sort of legitimacy and recognition for the Taliban government or for an Islamic Emirate," Nazary said, "because legitimizing or recognizing such a government or even cooperating with them will encourage other terrorist groups throughout the Islamic world, will embolden them, and will create a very radical regime in Afghanistan, which we will have to tolerate for decades to come."

Allying with Massoud and the National Resistance Front in Panjshir is former Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who has declared himself acting head of state in the wake of then-President Ashraf Ghani's sudden escape from the country as the Taliban took Kabul earlier this month.

"Talibs have blocked humanitarian access to Panjshir, do racial profile of travelers, use military age men of Panjhsir as mine clearance tools walking them on mine fields, have shut phone, electricity & not allow medicine either. People can only carry small amount of cash," Saleh tweeted Friday, one of the scant communications to come from officials in the dissident province.

Nonetheless, diplomatic engagements continue with the Taliban, whose political chief Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been poised as a potential leader for the self-declared Islamic Emirate. Even as violence escalates in the Panjshir valley and surrounding areas, Taliban diplomats attending talks in the Qatari capital of Doha speak with envoys from around the world, including Western nations like Germany and the United Kingdom.

And Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby delivered a message when asked by reporters Thursday if the U.S. military was considering backing those rising up against the Taliban.

"The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is over," Kirby said, echoing the finality of Biden's address on Tuesday, a day after the last U.S. military plane left Afghanistan.

In Panjshir, the fight went on with frustration.

"We're fighting this alone because we're not receiving any type of support or assistance at the moment from anyone," Nazary said.

"We feel abandoned," he said. "We feel we're alone."

This article has been updated to include comments from Qari Saeed Khosty, who handles social media responsibility for the Taliban.