Residents flee as Taliban intensifies battle to take Panjshir

Hundreds of families flee heavy fighting between Taliban fighters and resistance forces for the control of the final holdout province.

Jab al-Seraj, Afghanistan – Fighting between the Taliban fighters and resistance forces has intensified in the northern province of Panjshir, as the Afghan group battles to take control of the country’s last rebel stronghold.

Residents in nearby areas of neighbouring Parwan province say it has been four days that their lives have been disrupted by the intensified battles between the Taliban and forces being commanded by Ahmad Massoud, the son of slain commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The Taliban leaders say attempts for a negotiated settlement have failed as the group prepares to announce the formation of a new government weeks after they captured power.

“The fighting has gotten worse and worse with each night,” Asadullah, 52, told Al Jazeera. He and other residents of Jab al-Seraj district of Parwan say the fighting is mainly relegated to the mountains, but that most residents have still fled the area.

Increased fighting, residents say, has forced at least 400 families to flee from the villages along the road that would normally lead to Panjshir’s calm, green valleys – about 125km (78 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

Residents are scared by the unknown factors of the battles [Ali Latifi/Al Jazeera]

Smoke could be seen billowing from the distant mountain as the Taliban engaged in a battle to take control of the last of the country’s 34 provinces.

Afghan soldiers?

Some residents said in the days leading to the August 15 fall of Kabul, they saw former Afghan National Army soldiers from the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Kapisa, Parwan and Takhar heading towards Panjshir after those provinces fell.

The residents said those soldiers were transporting military vehicles and equipment with them, but with little information coming in and out of Panjshir, it is difficult to verify those claims or to know how much of them have been used in recent days.

They could fight for another 10 years killing each other, but we will all die of hunger well before

Habib Golbahar, local resident

As has been the case throughout much of the Afghan conflict, women and children flee to nearby cities, in this case, Parwan’s capital Charikar and Kabul itself, while the men stay behind to protect the homes.

Shah Rahman, a resident of Syed Khil district, said his wife and children fled to Kabul three days ago. He returned early on Friday morning to collect their belongings and said he was stopped by the Taliban along the way.

“They check your ID and car registration to make sure you’re from Parwan, and then they let you through,” he said.

Like other Parwanis, Rahman has heard of casualties in Panjshir, but those claims could not be independently verified as the road to Panjshir remains blocked and mobile phone service was cut off last week.

Asadullah says with Panjshir and Parwan long having been two of Afghanistan’s safest provinces, residents are much more startled by fighting than other areas of the country.

Civilians say they do not feel safe [Ali Latifi/Al Jazeera]

“These people haven’t lived through real fighting in 20 years and they can’t bear their children crying at night as the bullets and rockets fly,” he said.

Landmines

It’s not just the fighting, happening just a few kilometres from their homes, that keeps them from leaving the house. Two residents referred to claims that the Taliban makes civilians collect fallen Taliban fighters from the mountains.

“They know there are landmines there, so they make innocent people gather the bodies,” said one resident who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. However, other residents rejected that claim, which Al Jazeera could not verify independently.

For its part, the Taliban categorically rejects any intentional harm to civilians by its fighters.

One Taliban commander told Al Jazeera it is the risk to civilian life that has kept them from engaging in a full-on blitz.

“We don’t harm one civilian, otherwise we would go all-in and this would all be over in two days, but we don’t want the poor, innocent people to suffer any more.”

Despite those promises, civilians do not yet feel safe, even in the areas surrounding Panjshir.

‘Will all die of hunger’

Though Parwan was a longtime stronghold of the elder Massoud, both during the Soviet occupation and his resistance against the Taliban rule in the 1990s, Parwanis who spoke to Al Jazeera said they want the end of fighting.

“Both sides speak of the Quran and say they’re Muslim, but what are they each doing, killing other Muslims. It must end,” said Shir Agha, a Parwan resident in his late 30s.

For the remaining residents in Jab al-Seraj, it is not just the fighting that has become an issue. They say their areas, which were highly reliant on domestic tourism to the Panjshir Valley, are struggling due to the closing of the valley and from the nationwide banking issues.

Like other cities, Charikar is suffering from a lack of cash as banks struggle to reopen and many offices have shut since the Taliban took over.

For residents desperate to flee the crossfire, that lack of cash is especially devastating.

Habib Golbahar, who says moving his family cost him what little money he had saved, says people in Parwan “are struggling to find even 100 Afghanis [$1.13]”.

With most government and private offices still closed and the tourist economy taking a plunge, Golbahar says the economic threat is just as, if not more, dangerous than the war.

“They could fight for another 10 years killing each other, but we will all die of hunger well before.”

Source: Al Jazeera

Related

More from News
Most Read