PANJSHIR PROXY: BACK TO THE PAST

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Dr M Ali Hamza

The historical accounts reveal that proxy wars were used in medieval states like the Byzantine Empire warfare as a foreign policy tool by intentionally cultivating conspiracy among hostile rivals and then backing them when they go to war with each other.Proxies could be introduced by an external or local power and most commonly take the form of irregular militias those could be used to achieve their sponsor’s goals in a disputed region. Relationship between proxies and their sponsors usually takes the form of funding, military training, arms, or other forms of material assistance that provide backing to a belligerent party in sustaining its war effort.Fear of nuclear holocaust thru a conventional war between the United States and the Soviet Union, motivated proxy warfare throughout Cold War. This proxy warfare was rendered by the use of ideological proxies taken as a safer way of exercising hostilities; which is truly debatable. Let us examine a dimension of proxies in present and past Afghan situation.

Two suicide attacks on a crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport paintedterror and horror in the toughest times airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 US troops. The Khorasanchapter of Islamic State group popularly known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the killings on its Amaq news channel.The ISISaffiliates in Afghanistan are seen as more extremistthan the Taliban. Though the Taliban were not believed to have been involved in the attacks and condemned the blasts, but many blame Taliban to use ISIS as their proxy. Such blame has its rational bases, as ISIS also belongs to the ideology of SalafiJahadism. Moreover Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; the founder of ISIS and popularly known as Sheikh of the slaughterers, was trained and then run a Jihadi camp in Afghanistan before moving to Iraq. In order for a conflict to be considered a proxy war, there must be a direct, long-term relationship between operatingactors and the belligerents involved. So the argument of blaming Taliban to use ISIS as proxy, acquires strength. The 20 years’ war has definitely left a plenty of learning for all the stakeholders. Besides the art of guerilla war, Taliban has shown a huge development in their art of diplomacy, therefore the possibilities of learning the art of being used as a proxy or to use the proxy cannot be totally ignored.

As the Taliban attempt to secure control over Afghanistan, history appears set to repeat itself. The Panjshir Valley;in northeast of Kabul, remains the only part of the country not under the Talibans’ control.Though the valley is largely surrounded, communications channel have been cut down, and fierce fighting continues on its outskirts.Ahmad Massoud has stepped into Ahmed Shah Massoud’s shoes and establishing himself as the leader of a promisingresistance movement against the Taliban. His father ensured that the Panjshir Valley was never taken by the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule, but he was killed by al Qaeda two days before 9/11; what a planned coincidence. Now young Massoudwants to keep alive the spark of resistance through National Resistance Front, in the historic valley.juniorMassoud asks for a fully representative government, justice, and equality for all ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan. Though he claims no outside support but US recognition for Massoud and former Afghan Vice President AmrullahSaleh,negates the claim. It apparently seems that Massoud may serve as a proxy for US presence in Afghanistan but this might be a deception too. Seeing from a different lensthere is a possibility that earlier sponsors of northern alliance back in 1990s might be thinking of keeping the resistance alive to maintain a balance and do not let Taliban enjoy the absolute power, because absolute power can breeds  absolute breach.

In 1990s the advance of Taliban alarmed the Russia, Central Asian States and Iran, though for somewhat different reasons. Some in former Soviet states feared that if Taliban sweep north of Kabul they will intensify their effort to create chaos in Tajikistan and threaten the former Soviet border: now is the security border of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) created in 1991 and later called Common Economic Space (CES) in 2003. Iran was observing this extremist emerging faction of Sunni force that could completely exclude Shia in Afghanistan from power and as being US/ KSA strategy could encircle and contain Iran. Convincingly the then leadership of Panjshir valley was funded and supported by the concerned countries to maintain the unrest in Taliban regime.  ShahMasoudis said to be used as a proxy of CIS and their political allies.

As junior Massoud mentions in his write-up in Washington Post published on Aug 18, 2021, that they have stores of ammunition and arms those have patiently collected since his father’s time, because they knew this day might come. He also stated that northern alliance have the weapons carried by the Afghans who, over the past 72 hours, have responded to their appeal to join the resistance in Panjshir. Moreover the soldiers and former members from the Afghan regular army and Afghan Special Forces who were disgusted by the surrender are also making their way to the hills of Panjshir with their equipment. The write-up by junior Massoud is published to portray an image of self-reliant fight, but it also resonates the feeling of camouflaging its sponsors. 

The writer is a columnist and broadcast journalist. He teaches at UVAS Business School in Lahore and can be reached at [email protected]