A Five-Day Journey to the Valley of Resistance

After the Taliban took control of Panjshir, telecommunication networks shut down, resulting in limited access to information and news. I was worried for my family members and desperately tried to go to Panjshir to find out about them. Friends told me the Taliban would not allow entering Panjshir. Nevertheless, I was looking for a way to go to the valley. I decided to take the Kotal route in Kapisa’s Nijrab district. Residents of Nijrab said that the Taliban had deployed their forces to the district’s border areas. Therefore, choosing this route was not quite safe.

After a few days of scrambling, I got in touch with a resident of the Zamankor area of Panjshir. He said he was in Kabul and had evacuated his family from Panjshir after spending several days in the mountains. Despite my family’s opposition, including my wife and mother, I resumed my efforts to enter Panjshir.

On the night of September 8, I repeatedly called a local driver who was transporting passengers before the fall of the government.

The driver said that the road has been open for two days now and he wants to go to Panjshir tomorrow. I wanted to take a video camera with me, but I was worried that the Taliban might find out about the camera. I had heard rumors that the Taliban do not even allow civilians to carry smartphones.

We left Kabul at 4:00 in the morning. There were five of us in the car, including two women. There was a man from the area of Malsapa with us, who had lost a brother and a nephew in Panjshir. He said his brother and nephew had been killed in clashes with the Taliban, but that the Taliban had not yet allowed families to bury the bodies. For this reason, their bodies had not been found yet. He went to Panjshir to help find the bodies and hold the funeral.

In the Rabat area of Parwan province, the Taliban had blocked the road and did not allow anyone to enter Kabul. In those days, people were protesting in Kabul on the anniversary of the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Taliban attack on Panjshir. I had hidden my camera and smartphone somewhere so that they would not fall into the hands of the Taliban. We traveled the northern roads in anxiety and worry. The Kabul-Parwan highway was empty of vehicles more than anytime else and people were less visible.

In the city of Charikar, I met a friend who was on his way to Panjshir with a driver. The driver told me that my friend rented the car, adding that he had paid the two-way fare to move his family to Kabul. Along the way, I saw vehicles carrying people’s properties from the north to Kabul.

From Jabal al-Saraj onward, the number of Taliban troops was increasing. We reached Golbahar. The Taliban were at school and in a mosque, sitting on the grass. Golbahar market, however, was not crowded.

We reached the Dalan Sang area of Panjshir, where the first Taliban checkpoint had been set up. This place was, in fact, the checkpoint of the former military forces. At the checkpoint, a young Pashtun asked in Kandahari accent, “Where are you going?” The driver replied that we were going to the valley. After being inspected by this young man, we continued our journey.

There was another Taliban checkpoint near the Shuttle district building where large numbers of Taliban members had gathered. Our worries gradually increased. The number of Taliban forces increased from this point on. Taliban forces were mostly stationed in mosques, hotels, and houses of former government officials.

There were no restaurants in the Anaba area and no food was found. The Taliban and their military vehicles were seen in front of all restaurants in Anaba district. We reached the crowded Anaba market. The market was no longer crowded and 90% of the shops were closed. Of the several bakeries, only one was open. We got out of the car to buy bread. We went up and down to find a drink for the two ladies, but we did not succeed.

Taliban fighters were seen on standby every 500 meters along roads, rivers, and residential areas.

There was more panic in the market of Rokha. This bazaar was one of the busiest in Panjshir, but it was quiet that day. As we passed this market, we saw several military armored vehicles that had been demolished.

We reached the Parakh area in Bazarak, the center of Panjshir, where government offices were located. Like other areas, it was in a deadly blackout. There was a Taliban checkpoint in the area that was conducting physical inspections. We passed through it, reaching the Red Garden, where the house of Amrullah ‌Saleh is located. The Taliban had a checkpoint there as well. The next stop was in Saricha, where the tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud is located. There, too, the Taliban conducted a physical search. One of the Taliban angrily asked me why I did not have a mobile phone. I said that when I left Kabul, I forgot to take my mobile phone.

The Jangalak, Malsapa, Sangana and Badqul areas, which hosted thousands of tourists this season, were seen as uninhabited. The farmlands were waterless and dry. Sheep and herds were wandering along the banks of the Panjshir River, and the fruit had dried on the branches of trees.

The man who was looking for the bodies of his brother and nephew got out of the car in Malsapa. In Baharak, where Ahmad Shah Massoud held Taliban prisoners twenty years ago, more than 50 armored vehicles and hundreds of Taliban troops were stationed.

We entered the Dara district. The situation in this district was a little better. The Taliban had not yet entered this valley.

“A fierce war is coming,” said a friend in my hometown. “People have evicted most of their family members from Panjshir, and my family will go to Kabul today. My brother and I stay to protect our home, animals, fields, and fruit trees. Everyone has done the same.”

Peace Talks in Abshar and Hesae II

Taliban commanders had come to our district to talk to the people of Hesa-e II and Abshar about peace. People gathered at the district headquarters to meet the Taliban. I also walked to the district office.

After half an hour of walking, we reached the district building. Nearly a thousand residents of the two districts of Hesa-e II (Second Part) and Abshar had gathered in front of the district building, waiting for Taliban officials to speak.

Malik Khan, a resident of the Abdullah Khalil Valley in Panjshir, had already joined the Taliban. He was said to be the Taliban’s military commander for the three provinces in the north of Kabul. This man came and happened to sit right in front of me. My friend told me that this guy is Malik Khan. I stared at him. Several other mullahs had come before him, reciting the Holy Quran and performing dhikr.

Malik Khan began to speak. He asked everyone to talk only about two topics: war and peace. Addressing the people, he said, “If you are going to war, mind your strength and prepare for a long war; But if you do not fight, I will reach an agreement with the Taliban and prevent them from entering to this valley.”

He later warned that otherwise, the people of these two districts would be massacred like the people of other parts of Panjshir, adding that they would be disgraced and their property would be destroyed.

After two hours of discussion, everyone came to the conclusion that they do not fight, stressing that they did not have combat equipment. Malik Khan was asked to prevent the Taliban from entering the valley so that they would not be harmed like other residents of Panjshir.

From the way the participants spoke, it was pretty clear that some of them were Taliban infiltrators who understood what to say. At the end of the negotiation, most participants jokingly congratulated each other on surrendering.

I stayed in Panjshir for five days. Every time I tried to go to the Taliban-controlled areas and record what was happening, no one dared to accompany me. Anyone who had left the area was harassed by the Taliban. Even motorcycles were taken from several locals. They did not let me go either.

An Increase in Carfares

Every day, dozens of trucks transported people to Kabul at high costs. Two days after I left Kabul, the Taliban prevented families from traveling to Afghanistan’s capital. The Taliban were returning families from the Duab village in Dara district. Only young men were allowed to cross. The Taliban were telling people to stay in their homes, we have nothing to do with you and we are one of you. There were also families who had been returned several times by the Taliban.

After Malik Khan’s mediation, the families were allowed to travel to Kabul. The Taliban thought that the people would evict their families and prepare for war. For this reason, families were prevented from leaving their homes. Empty trucks traveled from Kabul, Parwan, and Kapisa to Panjshir to transport people. Car fares had increased from 300 afghanis to 1,000 afghanis, which was not available to everyone.

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