Diplomatic Courier

17 June 2022.

Despite the rapid fall of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan, resistance to Taliban rule has continued. This has come from both armed and unarmed actors in the country writes Adnan Nasser.

The Taliban have returned to power in Kabul. Following U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest war, the U.S.-backed Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed rapidly. The world was shocked to see the western trained and supplied Afghan army capitulate without a serious fight. Without U.S. support, provinces and cities fell to a blitzkrieg-like advance from Taliban forces—in some cases without a shot being fired. This quickly destroyed the hopes of the Biden administration that there would be a long war in which both sides would be forced to negotiate a political solution. Now a united democratic form of government in Afghanistan seems unlikely. For some however, resistance to the Taliban—both through armed and unarmed actions—continues.

In the mountainous region of the Panjshir valley, there is an organized movement made up of remnants of the old Northern Alliance—those who fought Taliban rule before the U.S. invasion—and soldiers of the former Afghan army that refused to surrender to the Taliban. The group is known as the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) or the Second Resistance. The NRF claims the Panjshir valley’s capital—Barzarak—did not fall to the Islamists. However, the Taliban reject this claim, saying the stronghold was “completely conquered” after two weeks of intense combat. A NRF spokesman, Ali Nazary, responded that, “The resistance is still all over the valley.”

The NRF is being led by Ahmed Maasoud, the son of the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud who led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban until his assassination at the hands of Al-Qaeda suicide operatives in September 2001. The young guerrilla leader said he was ready to follow his father’s footsteps by promising to help assemble a new resistance movement to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban. While the NRF have not been able to mount a serious counter-offensive, they have managed to hold the line against the Taliban in the Panjshir valley.

However, the NRF are not the only ones who are actively struggling against Taliban rule. Ordinary Afghan civilians are resisting as well, particularly the most vulnerable of them—women. Many women recall life under the first Taliban reign (1996-2001) and do not wish to surrender the gains that have been made. They can already feel the encroachment on their rights and freedoms as the Taliban impose a strict draconian way of life on them, justifying it in the name of Islam.

In March, the Taliban reneged on an earlier promise to keep girls’ secondary schools open. Female students enrolled in secondary schools were sent home and instructed to await further notice—meaning that education for teenage girls and women has essentially been eliminated. A Taliban spokesman Inamullah Samangani, confirmed that the order to close girls’ schools was carried out. At the time, the Ministry of Education announced schools would remain closed until a system in accordance with “Islamic law and Afghan culture” was established. Thousands of teenage girls were heartbroken to be barred from pursuing their education and are now unsure of their own futures.

Likewise, in May, the Taliban’s Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue passed a decree forcing women to wear full head-to-toe burqas. The decree included punishment for male members of families that do not enforce the order, including three days in jail. These new edicts go against the Taliban’s promises to the international community to respect the rights of women after they regained control.

Some are prepared to take on the risk of defying the Taliban. In a demonstration last year, one woman marched with her brother saying she was not afraid as it was better that they kill her once than die gradually. Likewise, shortly after the Taliban returned to power, hundreds of women marched across northern and central Afghanistan in an impressive social media campaign—defiant in the face of Taliban’s attempts to control their fates, women held guns in the air and chanted anti-Taliban slogans.

But brave demonstrations and pockets of rebel activity will not be enough to stop the Taliban’s hold on Afghanistan. Despite being unable to rid the country of the Taliban, resistance to Taliban rule is likely to continue—just as it did when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. So long as the Taliban continue to repress their population, there will always be resistance to their rule and individuals will raise their voices even at the risk of facing the consequences. Dissent—both armed and unarmed—will continue in the face of Taliban rule.

Adnan Nasser is a Diplomatic Courier Correspondent and an analyst focused on the Middle East. He has a BA in International Relations from Florida International University.