The Panjshir valley, about three hours’ drive north of Kabul, has a mythical hold on the Afghan imagination. It is a natural fortress, a long lemon-shaped valley surrounded on three sides by 13,000-foot-high mountain ridges, with the only entrance a narrow road in a deep winding gorge to the south, cut by the Panjshir river. It is a place of stunning beauty, with green fields either side of the river laden with apple blossom in the spring, irrigated by ingenious canals. The walls between the fields, and sometimes the houses themselves, are buttressed with rusting metal war remains – the wheels of a tracked vehicle, armour plating, bridges formed of shell cases.
The war became part of the fabric of Panjshir after seven failed attempts by Soviet forces to take the valley in the 1980s, and Panjshir also held out against the Taliban in the 1990s.