ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s Taliban regime has been targeting civilians in the northern Panjshir province to get access to suspects it believes to be part of the National Resistance Force (NRF), the anti-Taliban military alliance comprising former Northern Alliance members, troops, and top civil-military officials of the previous American-sponsored regime.
The Panjshir-based NRF is led by Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain anti-Taliban Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated in 2001.
Prior to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Panjshir has been the country’s only province which remained unconquered since the country’s invasion by the former Soviet Union.
War clouds, however, started hovering over it after the Taliban seized power in mid-August 2021.
Following Kabul’s fall, many anti-Taliban forces trained by the US and Nato forces of the past regime fled to Panjshir, a bastion of anti-Taliban resistance, and joined the Massoud-led NRF to continue their armed struggle against the Taliban.
The Taliban wanted a voluntary surrender for the province but, upon NRF’s refusal, they invaded it in September 2021, but have still been struggling to establish their writ over Panjshir.
Since last month, fighting has escalated in the province, with NRF forces attacking Taliban units and checkpoints. The attacks prompted Taliban to deploy thousands of troops who carried out search operations targeting people they allege are NRF supporters.
“Taliban forces in Panjshir have quickly resorted to beating civilians in their response to fighting against the NRF,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“The Taliban’s longstanding failure to punish those responsible for serious abuses in their ranks puts more civilians at risk,” Gossman added.
A human rights advocate who has interviewed several former detainees last week told the HRW that Taliban security forces have detained around 80 residents in Panjshir’s Khenj district and have been beating them up for information about the NRF.
After several days, the rights advocate said, the Taliban released 70, but continue to hold 10 people, whose relatives they accuse of being members of the resistance force, a form of collective punishment.
“Taliban forces in Panjshir have imposed collective punishment and disregarded protections to which detainees are entitled,” Gossman said. “This is just the latest example of Taliban abuses during fighting in the region 10 months after they took power.”
The former detainees, according to the HRW, said the district jail had held nearly 100 others who have alleged links to the NRF.
“None have access to their families or lawyers. Others have been held in informal detention facilities,” the report claimed, adding that denying detainees access to lawyers and family members is prohibited and increases the risk of torture and enforced disappearances.
Human rights groups and local and international press have reported that whereabouts of some men taken into Taliban custody in Panjshir have not been revealed, and that some with suspected links to the NRF have been killed.
In some places, bodies of those killed have been displayed as an apparent warning to others.

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