To not support Saleh and Massoud, and to instead choose a path of engagement and reconciliation with the Taliban, is equivalent of Neville Chamberlin’s appeasement of Hitler.

 

The chaos now unfolding in Kabul’s lawless streets, now under the Taliban’s lose form of control, is a perfect demonstration of what happens when you virtually allow a return to extremism to happen: extremism breeds extremism.

It was by no coincidence that ISIS-K managed to infiltrate the security vacuum created by the removal of the legitimate Afghan government and its security forces, and the return to power of the Taliban regime across virtually all of Afghanistan. The territory under their barbarous control is now more so than before 9/11.

In the three months after US President Joe Biden announced the unconditional withdrawal of US forces, effectively pulling the rug from under the Afghan government and its forces, village by village, district by district, province by province, fell to the Taliban. That is, all but the seven districts of Panjshir province.

Located only one hour north-east of Kabul, Panjshir is renowned as a deeply anti-Taliban stronghold. As the Taliban begin to tighten their grip on Kabul, cracking down on the civil society, which has been allowed to flourish over the last two decades, the fiercely independent Panjshir is now the West’s last hope of any meaningful resistance to the Taliban.

In the hours before the fall of Kabul in early August, Ahmed Massoud, son of the famous and heroic Ahmed Shah Massoud, evacuated Kabul for the safety of Panjshir, his homeland. It was a wise decision. A sworn enemy of the Taliban, who helped orchestrate the plot to assassinate his father at the hands of Al Qaeda only hours before 9/11, he would almost certainly have been rounded up and executed had he stayed in the city.

As head of the Afghan National Resistance Front (NRF), Massoud is now the most important ally the West have in Afghanistan. Together with the Vice President, Amrullah Saleh, these individuals should now receive Britain and America’s support in their continuing fight against tyranny.

To not do so, and to instead choose a path of engagement and reconciliation with the Taliban, is equivalent of Neville Chamberlin’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler, and more recently of the British government’s appeasement of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. For the sake of short-term political convenience, we must stop deluding ourselves that political engagement and appeasement of fanatical and extremist ideologies will be in our national security interests.

What would be in our national security interests is an Afghanistan which will refuse sanctuary to international terrorists who threaten western security. The Taliban have already placed Khalil Haqqani as the de facto head of Kabul’s security: within days of this appointment ISIS-K were allowed to infiltrate the mass queues at the airport and detonate suicide bombs, killing more than 80 civilians and 13 US soldiers.

Aside the immediate short-term fatal consequences of this disastrous decision, Khalil Haqqani is also a wanted terrorist under the US’ watchlist, with a US$5 million bounty on his head. Haqqani has been instrumental in the Haqqani network’s relationships with senior members of Al Qaeda, as detailed in a UN report from June. In effect, the Taliban have now allowed international terrorists to run Kabul.

Yet the West continue to appease, and engage, whilst almost all but ignoring the Afghan Resistance Front. Located deep within the lush valleys and twisting mountain passes of Panjshir, the resistance fighters, led by a reinvigorated Massoud, are preparing their defences of the region against a likely Taliban assault.

Whilst the Soviets failed in nine attempted incursions into the province, winter is soon coming to Panjshir. With a Taliban siege, this could be a very short-lived resistance. Unless that is the West act now to help. There are already reported social media messages claiming that potential cease-fire negotiations may be occurring between the Taliban and the NRF.

To a chorus of repeated promises to continue supporting Afghanistan once the military have left, America and Britain must use this time now, as summer soon begins to give way to autumn and the harsh Afghan winter only a few short months away, to support Massoud and Saleh. As the legitimate Afghan head of state under the hard-fought Constitution which American and British lives have been given helping to defend, Saleh must be rightfully recognised as the legitimate head of state.

Alongside him, Massoud and the resistance fighters in Panjshir are the West’s only hope to avoid the exact same fate befalling both Afghanistan and the West, exactly 20 years after the terrible events of 9/11. Have we learnt nothing?

Robert Clark is a Defence Policy Associate at the Henry Jackson Society. Prior to this he served in the British Army for 13 years, including combat tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be found on Twitter @RobertClark87.