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Claims of Taliban war crimes in Panjshir amid fears of a ‘shocking’ humanitarian crisis

Source: Bilal Guler/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Human rights advocates fear that a largescale humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Panjshir Valley, which has witnessed heavy fighting between Taliban forces and resistance fighters over several weeks.

Fighting in the valley 80 kilometres north of Kabul broke out following the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in mid-August and had been the last remaining resistance stronghold for weeks. 

Fighters from the National Resistance Front (NRF) - made up of former Afghan security forces and anti-Taliban militia - stockpiled a significant armoury in the valley protected by a narrow gorge during numerous skirmishes.

In early September, the Taliban claimed to have conquered the last pocket of resistance in Panjshir, raising their white flag above the provincial office.


Highlights:

  • The head of the Ahmad Shah Massoud Foundation in Australia claims the Taliban has committed war crimes during the battle in Panjshir Valley.
  • The Taliban claimed victory in Panjshir, but resistance fighters say they still hold "strategic" positions.
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says she's "concerned" about reports of human rights abuses in Panjshir.

However, the NRF says their forces remain in control of “strategic” zones of the province. 

Over the past week, there have been reports that the Taliban had imposed a blockade on the province, denying residents food and carrying out extrajudicial killings. 

Militiamen loyal to Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, take part in a training exercise, in Panjshir province, northeastern Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. The Panjshir Valley is the last region not under Taliban control following thei
Militiamen loyal to Ahmad Massoud, take part in a training exercise, in Panjshir province on Aug 30.
AP

Videos circulating in social media, which have not been verified, show Taliban fighters shooting a man who appeared to have surrendered on the side of a road in the province. 

The BBC has reported that there have been at least 20 such deaths in Panjshir. 

Bilal Waheed Sangy, the head of the Ahmad Shah Massoud Foundation in Australia – named after the prominent Afghan resistance fighter from the 1990s - claims the Taliban has committed war crimes against the local inhabitants of Panjshir during the battle.  

“After the Taliban experienced a heavy defeat in the war against the resistance forces, they used civilians as a human shield by barricading themselves inside residential houses, and in many areas, massacred civilian children, women, the elderly, and men,” he tells SBS Dari.

Bilal Waheed Sangy says the Taliban have cut out all supply lines to Panjshir.
Bilal Waheed Sangy says the Taliban have cut out all supply lines to Panjshir.
Supplied/Bilal W Sangy

The “struggle” continues in Panjshir which is only partly under Taliban control, Mr Sangy says, adding that the insurgent group has cut all communication lines, making it hard for the media to access credible information. 

“The Taliban has access to [telephone and the internet] and can take a photo or video from every area they reach, publish them, and claim that 'perhaps we have taken them',” he says. 

‘Shocking’ reports from Panjshir 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised her concerns about the situation in Panjshir during a Human Rights Council meeting on September 13. 

“I am concerned by reports of civilian casualties and human rights abuses, as a result of the fighting in Panjshir Valley, as well as the growing hardship caused by the dire humanitarian situation there,” she said. 

The Chair of Afghanistan's Human Rights Commission Shaharzad Akbar said in a tweet: "Reports from Panjshir are shocking. The deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime. The Taliban must make grounds for an independent investigation."

Mr Sangy says according to sources on the ground, about 75,000 residents and 9,000 displaced people - who fled Taliban-controlled areas before the battle began - are in desperate need of food and medical supplies. 

With supply lines cut, civilians in Panjshir face a humanitarian crisis, he says. 

“We know that Panjshir is a small province, it has limited sources and doesn’t have the capacity to provide for displaced and local people if the supply lines are cut off.”

Massoud Foundation's volunteers providing emergency relief to families hit by a major flood in 2020.
Massoud Foundation's volunteers providing emergency relief to families hit by a major flood in 2020.
Supplied/Bilal W Sangy

Mr Sangy says the foundation has turned its focus towards helping people in Panjshir, relying on funds raised by Afghans abroad. 

“We are currently raising funds for Panjshir and Panjshir people who are in dire need, and we are looking for international [aid] organisations to open the supply lines so we can provide aid through them.” 

He calls on rights groups to turn their attention towards Panjshir and to keep pressuring governments to reconsider recognising the Taliban’s recently formed caretaker government.

The young Massoud is leading the “Resistance 2.0” in the Panjshir valley.
Ahmad Massoud, NRF leader (R), and his father Ahmad Shah Massoud, a prominent resistance leader in the 1990s.
Reza/Francis DEMANGE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The NRF has promised to continue its fight against the Taliban’s rule after the fundamentalist group’s formation of a government in early August, where it appointed several UN and US black-listed figures to senior cabinet and security roles. 

Among the 33 people appointed, 30 are ethnic Pashtuns with only three members from the two other Sunni Muslim ethnic groups, the Tajiks and Uzbeks. 

There were no women or members of the predominantly Shia Hazara ethnic group in the positions announced.

A number of prominent Afghans in Australia fear that another civil war may break out in the country as a result of the Taliban’s decision to rule exclusively.

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