Helper of Panjshir Valley partisans: We are bribing Taliban to move weapons

A portrait of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud is pasted on a wall next to a security barricade manned by a Taliban fighter in Kabul. PHOTO: AAMIR QURESHI / AFP / Scanpix

The rebels in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley are taking advantage of discord between groups inside Taliban and paying its members to keep supply routes open, former Afghanistan soldier Abdul Mateen Farhang tells Postimees.

Former air force pilot Farhang, who has been working with the U.S. Army and private contractors in Afghanistan for 15 years, was born in the Panjshir Valley and is a Tajik by birth.

He was military adviser to President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani in the 1990s and worked closely with Ahmad Shah Massoudi’s Northern Alliance fighting against the Taliban.

Resistance from Tajikistan

Farhang and a group of other Afghan soldiers are helping to organize military and humanitarian aid for the Panjshir rebels. In addition to arms and military equipment, the group is moving medicines, food and money. The aid is crucial for the resistance in Panjshir as the Taliban has cut the valley off from the rest of the world.

“We buy arms on the ‘free market,’ mostly Pakistan,” Farhang, who has graduated from the Krasnodar Military Aviation Institute, says. “There is a huge market there for military equipment, and you can buy whatever you need.”

Mateen Farhang says he has been doing business in several Middle-Eastern countries in recent years and also lived in Europe, while he has been in Dushanbe, Tajikistan since the Taliban seized power. Farhang sat next to the Afghan ambassador at an event to celebrate the 81st anniversary of former President Rabbani (whom the Taliban assassinated in 2011) held at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Dushanbe on September 21.

Dushanbe has become one of the informal centers of organizing resistance against the Taliban. It is currently home to several representatives of the Afghan government and elite who are not keen to talk to the press.

The reason could be to try and spare Tajikistan authorities. It is rumored that an organization of anti-Taliban forces will soon be declared in Dushanbe.

Tajikistan has been the most outspoken critic of the Taliban in its region as Afghanistan is home to a lot of Tajiks who have always fought the largely Pashtun Taliban. At the same time, Russia and China, on whom Tajikistan depends for a lot of its economy, are not looking for confrontation with the Taliban.

Farhang says that moving military equipment to the Panjshir Valley rebels is only possible thanks to bribed groups inside the Taliban. Fighting corruption is known as one of Taliban’s core slogans.

Farhang describes the Afghanistan war as peculiar. “Corruption is helping us hang on. We have high-level contacts inside the Taliban. We pay them and they make sure our equipment arrives [in the hands of Panjshir fighters],” he says.

“We also have contacts in ISIS helping us. As long as they get paid. Certain countries are helping us put it all together,” he adds.

Suppliers of the Panjshir rebels are taking advantage of the fact Taliban is split into several groups based on which countries support them.

“The power is currently in the hands of Pakistan-backed Talibs, while Russia and Iran-backed factions do not want to recognize them,” Farhang says. “They are fighting among themselves, which situation we are using to our advantage. They are all terrorists, of course.”

Farhang even showed Postimees the route used to transport the rebels’ equipment from Pakistan to the Panjshir Valley but asked for it not to be published.

He says that it is possible to move great shipments of arms from Pakistan to Panjshir that could be worth dozens of millions of dollars. Asked about funding, Farhang simply said that “a few countries” are helping the group.

Afghanistan experts in Tajikistan described Farhang’s account as realistic, while some cast doubt on sums mentioned. That said, even the skeptics admitted that arms and their transport to Panjshir are not cheap. An expert in Dushanbe said that the rebels should have no shortage as there is plenty of old hardware from the days of the Soviet war left in the region.

Mateen Farhang says that active resistance is maintained in Panjshir Valley and that the Taliban has not managed to inflict major damage.

“All mountain villages and the valleys that surround them are held by of our fighters. The Taliban only controls the highway and the surrounding area,” he says. “The Taliban is not showing restraint. Our information suggests they killed 130 civilians between September 7 and 14 alone, including traders, shopkeepers, herders. All were shot.”

Waiting to attack

Farhang says the resistance is made up of 24 local groups under a local field commander, some 20,000 men in all. Additionally, there are 10,000 men from other parts of Afghanistan. Most are members of Afghan special units who refused to submit to the Taliban.

The Taliban has moved 60,000 troops to Panjshir by early September whom Farhang says were supported by roughly 2,000 Pakistani special forces members. Pakistani planes and drones had also allegedly hit rebel targets. Aircraft lacking insignia hit the Taliban’s positions a few days later.

The Taliban had moved a third of its troops out of Panjshir by the third week of September as resistance had appeared in the neighboring province.

Despite the military supply route, the humanitarian situation remains critical in Panjshir Valley. There is not enough food or fuel for residents. The Taliban is simply keeping international humanitarian aid from the valley.

Mateen Farhang says that the Panjshir rebels are waiting for an attack order from Ahmad Massoud. “There will not be an offensive yet. We lack the necessary strength and are suffering heavy losses,” Massoud’s trustee says. “We are saving our forces. It is difficult to go up against American tanks.”

Farhang pointed to the fact the Taliban is using abandoned U.S. armor to control the Panjshir highway. Taliban fighters are also rumored to have American night-vision devices, which is something the resistance is short on.

Partisan warfare is the only option in Panjshir today, Farhang says. For an offensive to become a realistic possibility, most of northern Afghanistan has to be able to resist. “Commanders are ready and awaiting orders,” Farhang says. “The people are also increasingly against the Taliban.”

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