Fighting has continued against the Taliban in Afghanistan while the world has not been watching. The commander of the main opposition force, Ahmad Massoud, began with 643 fighters after the fall of Kabul in August 2021, and now claims to have a force of 5,000 across six provinces in a belt in the northeast of the country.
In a rare meeting in Tajikistan, where he commands remotely from across the northern border of Afghanistan, the 34-year-old resistance leader told me that western countries are making a mistake by trying to engage with the Taliban.
Massoud inherited the mantle of resistance leader from his father, the legendary guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in an al Qaeda terrorist attack two days before 9/11. The younger Massoud wears a flat wool pakhool hat on his head, in a manner made famous by his father, along with light beige shirts and trousers and a dark olive green jacket in a version of combat clothing.
He said that any illusions that the Taliban had changed from the past should have gone by now amid the violence and repression of their rule. They have set up thousands of madrassas where young boys spend hours a day under religious instruction, learning the Quran by rote. ‘If this goes on it will produce a brainwashed generation,’ he said. ‘Today Afghanistan is a training centre for terrorists and a prison for the people.’
There is no international support for recognition of the Taliban regime, because of their repression of women and failure to adhere to the rule of law. But a number of countries, notably India, Pakistan, China, and Russia, now have an active diplomatic presence in Kabul. While not opening a mission or moving towards recognition, there have been signs that the US would