Leader of Afghan holdout region says he is ready to talk with Taliban
The leader of the Afghan opposition group resisting Taliban forces in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul said on Sunday he welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement to end the fighting.
Ahmad Massoud, head of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), made the announcement on the group's Facebook page. The announcement comes as the Taliban took complete control of Panjshir province, the last area in Afghanistan being held by resistance forces, the Islamist terrorist group's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Monday.
Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor's compound.
The Islamist Taliban took control of the rest of Afghanistan three weeks ago, taking power in Kabul on Aug. 15 after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
"The NRF in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations," Massoud said in the Facebook post.
"To reach a lasting peace, the NRF is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab," he said, referring to a district in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.
A large gathering of all sides with the Ulema council of religious scholars could then be held, he said.
Earlier, Afghan media outlets reported that religious scholars had called on the Taliban to accept a negotiated settlement to end the fighting in Panjshir.
There was no immediate response from the Taliban.
On Sunday, the NRFA also confirmed that its main spokesman, Fahim Dashti, had been killed during the day. Dashti had survived the suicide attack that killed Massoud's father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, on Sept. 9, 2001, just days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
He had been one of the main sources of updates from the area as the Taliban pressed in on opposition forces, issuing a defiant series of statements on Twitter, vowing that resistance would continue.
Massoud, who leads a force made up of remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters, called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban before the fighting broke out around a week ago.
Several attempts at talks were held but eventually broke down, with each side blaming the other for their failure.
Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said earlier on Sunday that their forces had made it into the provincial capital, Bazarak, and had captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition.
Panjshir, a rugged mountain valley still littered with the wreckage of Soviet tanks destroyed during the long war in the 1980s to oust the Soviet presence, has proved very difficult to overcome in the past.
Under Ahmad Shah Massoud, the region long resisted control by both the invading Soviet army and by the Taliban government that previously ruled from 1996 to 2001.
But that effort was helped by supply routes leading north to the border, which was closed off by the Taliban's sweeping victory last month.
The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban. But small individual protests for women's rights or in defence of the green, red and black flags of Afghanistan have also been held in different cities.