Taliban prepare for government as fighting rages in Panjshir

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Islamists face the enormous challenge of moving from the ruling insurgent group to power, days after the United States completely withdrew its troops and ended two decades of war.

But they are still struggling to extinguish the last flame of resistance in the Panjshir Valley, which for a decade resisted the occupation of the Soviet Union and the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

Celebratory gunfire rang out across Kabul on Friday evening as rumors spread through the valley, but the Taliban made no official statement and a resident told AFP by phone that the information was false .

Fighters from the National Resistance Front – made up of anti-Taliban militias and former Afghan security forces – are believed to have large stockpiles of weapons in the valley, located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Kabul.

Earlier on Friday, Ali Maisam Nazary, spokesman for the Panjshir resistance, who is believed to be outside the valley but in close contact with key leader Ahmad Massoud, said the fighting was “intense” and that Massoud was ” busy defending the valley ”.

Pro-Taliban Twitter accounts have released video clips claiming to show the new regime fighters captured tanks and other heavy military equipment inside the valley.

Tweets from the Taliban and the resistance suggested that the key Paryan neighborhood had been taken and lost again, but this also could not be independently verified.

– Signs of commitment –

While the West has taken a wait-and-see approach to the group, there were signs of engagement with the new leaders gaining momentum.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit Qatar, a hub for the Afghan evacuation and the location of the Taliban’s political office, on Sunday, although he is not supposed to meet with the militants.

He will then travel to Germany to lead a virtual 20-country ministerial meeting on Afghanistan alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterreres was also due to convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan in Geneva on September 13 to focus on humanitarian assistance to the country.

The United Nations has already restarted humanitarian flights to parts of the country, while the national airline Ariana Afghan Airlines resumed domestic flights on Friday and the United Arab Emirates sent a plane carrying “emergency medical and food aid. “.

Western Union and Moneygram, meanwhile, said they were resuming money transfers, on which many Afghans depend on relatives abroad to survive, and Qatar said it was working to reopen the Kabul Airport – a lifeline for help.

China has confirmed that it will keep its embassy in Kabul open.

“We hope that the Taliban will establish an open and inclusive political structure, pursue a moderate and stable domestic and foreign policy and make a clean break with all terrorist groups,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

– Threat of humanitarian catastrophe –

Even before the Taliban blitz, Afghanistan was heavily aid-dependent, with 40% of the country’s GDP coming from foreign funding.

The UN has warned that 18 million people are facing a humanitarian disaster, and 18 million more could quickly join them.

Qatar hopes to see humanitarian aid corridors established at Afghan airports within 48 hours, Doha’s envoy to Afghanistan told Al Jazeera on Friday.

The new rulers are committed to being more accommodating than during their first term in power, which also came after years of conflict – first the Soviet invasion of 1979, then a bloody civil war.

This regime was known for its blunt interpretation of Islamic law and its treatment of women, who were forced inside, denied access to school and work, and denied freedom of movement.

This time around, the Taliban have repeatedly said that they will not carry out revenge attacks on opponents and that women will have access to education and some jobs.

They promised a more “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup – though women are unlikely to be included at the highest levels.

In Kabul, around 30 women took to the streets to demand the right to work and inclusion in government – a day after dozens of women staged a similar protest in the western city of Herat.

Residents also expressed concern over the country’s long-standing economic woes, now seriously exacerbated by the movement’s take-over.

But there were signs of normalcy in Kabul on Friday, where a nearly full hall turned out to watch top Afghan cricketers play in a test match, with Taliban and Afghan flags fluttering side by side in what witnesses described it as a demonstration of national unity.

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