Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claims offensive was launched after talks failed and assures amnesty for area’s residents
The Taliban on Monday claimed they had taken control of the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, ousting the anti-Taliban resistance that had prevented the group from establishing its rule over all of Afghanistan following its takeover of Kabul last month.
According to eyewitnesses, thousands of Taliban fighters swarmed the eight districts of Panjshir overnight and took control of the region from the fighters of the National Resistance Front led by former vice president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Prior to Mujahid’s media interaction, Ahmad Massoud had issued a statement on Sunday calling for an end to the fighting, claiming that his followers would lay down their arms if the Taliban agreed to end their assault. On Monday, he posted a brief message on Twitter saying he was “safe,” but offered no further details. While there has been no statement from Saleh, Mujahid claimed that he had been told that the former vice-president had left Afghanistan and escaped to neighboring Tajikistan.
During his press conference the Taliban spokesman claimed that the resistance fighters had not responded positively to the group’s attempts at negotiation. He said that following the Taliban takeover, electricity and internet service would be restored in Panjshir from today (Monday); both services had been shut down for over two weeks. He claimed no residents of Panjshir would be targeted for retaliation and announced a “general amnesty” for them. He also maintained that there had been no civilian casualties but there has been no independent confirmation of this claim.
Mujahid said domestic flights had resumed across Afghanistan, adding that the group was still waiting to see when international flights could resume. He said that the governments of both Turkey and Qatar were helping to restore the services at Kabul’s international airport and accused the U.S. of having damaged the airport prior to exiting Afghanistan.
During his media interaction, he reiterated calls for the international community to help the Taliban rebuild Afghanistan and continue their humanitarian aid. He also tried to assure Afghans that the evolving situation in the country would “slowly” stabilize, adding that the economy would improve.
To a question on what a new government of Afghanistan would look like, the spokesman reiterated vows that it would be “inclusive,” but stopped short of offering any further details. The announcement of the new government has been expected for over a week, but the Taliban have remained tight-lipped on offering any definitive date for it.
To another question, he said the Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, was alive and “will come into public view soon.” There has been much speculation over Akhundzada’s whereabouts in the past month, with observes questioning why he has yet to make any public appearances.
The Taliban spokesman voiced concern over “issues” for Afghans trying to enter Pakistan via the Chaman and Torkham border crossings. He said the Taliban had consistently ordered their fighters to avoid blocking access to the crossings but noted that a recent delegation to Kabul—a likely reference to Saturday’s visit by Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed—had informed the group that the crossings were currently closed over security concerns linked to the release of prisoners inside Afghanistan. He said the delegation had requested checks for those seeking to enter or leave the country to avoid free movement for militants.
To a question, Mujahid reiterated that the Taliban would respect women’s rights in accordance with sharia. “Women are an important part of our society,” he said.