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Taliban, opposition battle for Panjshir

New government will be announced next week, say Taliban; global community in a flurry of diplomacy

Fresh fighting was reported on Saturday between the Taliban and resistance forces in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, as the hardline Islamists are in the process of finalising a government that will set the tone for their rule.

Taliban sources said on Friday its fighters had taken the Valley, although the resistance denied it had fallen.

The Taliban have so far issued no public declaration that they had taken the Valley, which resisted their rule when they were last in power from 1996 to 2001.

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, which groups opposition forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said Taliban forces reached the Darband heights on the border between Kapisa province and Panjshir but were pushed back.

“The defence of the stronghold of Afghanistan is unbreakable,” Front spokesman Fahim Dashty said in a tweet on Saturday.

A Taliban source said fighting was continuing in Panjshir but the advance was slowed by landmines placed on the road to the capital Bazarak and the provincial Governor’s compound.

“Demining and offensives are both going on at the same time,” the source said.

Former Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, holed out alongside Ahmad Massoud — the son of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud — admitted the perilous position of the NRF.

Situation difficult: Saleh

“The situation is difficult, we have been under invasion,” Mr. Saleh said in a video message.

It was not immediately possible to get independent confirmation of events in Panjshir, which is walled off by mountains except for a narrow entrance and had held out against Soviet occupation as well as the previous Taliban government.

The Taliban source also said the announcement of a new government would be pushed back to the next week.

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, reported by some Taliban sources to be in line to lead the new government, said in remarks on Qatar’s Al Jazeera channel that the new administration “will include all factions of the Afghan people.”

“We are doing our utmost efforts to improve their living conditions. The government will provide security, because it is necessary for economic development,” he said.

Meanwhile, there were some signs of normality creeping back in the Afghan capital.

Qatar’s Ambassador to Afghanistan said a technical team was able to reopen Kabul airport to receive aid, according to Al Jazeera, which also cited its correspondent as saying domestic flights had restarted.

Women stage protest

In Kabul, dozens of women protested for a second day on Saturday to demand the right to work and inclusion in the government.

Social media clips showed Taliban fighters and officials attempting to disperse the demonstrators and stopping people from filming with mobile phones.

Away from the Valley, the international community was coming to terms with having to deal with the new Taliban regime with a flurry of diplomacy.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due on Sunday in Qatar, a key player in the Afghan saga and the location of the Taliban’s political office, though he is not expected to meet with the militants.

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