Kabul, afghanistan – Since the Taliban claimed “full control” over the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan earlier this month, the group has been accused of “widespread atrocities”, forcing many Afghans to flee the province, the last remaining enclave of resistance against the group’s government.
“We didn’t even know what was happening in the neighboring village,” said a government worker who managed to flee the province six days ago. Like other sources Al Jazeera spoke to, he declined to reveal his identity for fear of retaliation.
For almost a month, the towering mountains and vast valleys of Panjshir have been an information black hole in Afghanistan, with the National Resistance Front (NRF) and the Taliban fighting for control of the last stronghold of the country that resists. the radical invasion of the Taliban.
Although hundreds of thousands of Afghans at home and abroad have pinned their hopes on the lush province, Panjshir’s own residents of more than 100,000 people have had little opportunity to tell the story of what happened in their homes and villages during the last weeks.
‘Everything can change for hours’
In late August, as the battles escalated, the Taliban cut off internet and mobile phone services in the province, effectively isolating residents not only from the rest of the country and the world, but also from themselves.
After weeks of heavy fighting, on September 6 the Taliban reclaimed their control over the Panjshir Valley. But the NRF, led by Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has vowed to keep fighting.
Although the residents of Panjshir support the resistance and have a special reverence for father and son, the fighting has taken a considerable toll in a province that relies heavily on the transit of goods and visitors from Kabul.
When the fighting was at its worst, residents told Al Jazeera that the Taliban stacked shipping containers at the province’s gateways in an attempt to regulate who entered or exited.
“Everything can change for hours,” the government worker said of the fierce battles between the Taliban and the resistance force.
With the province isolated both physically – by mountains and valleys – and technologically, the people of Panjshir have not yet been able to gauge the true strength of either side, the government worker said.
The NRF says it has “thousands” of fighters from across the country fighting alongside them. He even claims to have captured 1,500 members of the Taliban.
Panjshir residents who spoke to Al Jazeera said the number of Taliban fighters sent from across the country is unclear. With the information blackout, the figures promoted by both parties have been difficult to verify.
“No one in Panjshir has any certainty about what is going on,” said the government worker.
Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh has accused the Taliban of using civilians to clear landmines. Human rights groups have also accused the group of committing summary executions in the province.
The Taliban have denied the charges.
“Many countries were spreading about the atrocities in Panjshir, but there is no proof,” Anas Haqqani of the Haqqani Network, an ally of the Taliban, told Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid on Thursday.
Haqqani said that his friend, who is a diplomat in Panjshir, told him that “everything was fine.” However, he said that his diplomatic friend “received [a] message from [US] Department of State to investigate massacres ”.
“He told them there is nothing here,” Haqqani told Al Jazeera.
“There are countries that do not want to see stability and peace in Afghanistan. Their hatred of Afghanistan is causing them to spread lies and rumors. “
Earlier this week, Zabihullah Mujahid, Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, also said that journalists and human rights workers will have access to conduct investigations in the province.
However, journalists who spoke to Al Jazeera said they have faced great difficulties entering Panjshir.
Patricia Gossman, associate director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, said the Taliban must keep their promise and allow an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the charges against the group.
“Without a credible investigation, disputed claims and grievances will grow, and victims of abuse by all parties will be left without answers and justice,” Gossman told Al Jazeera.
Panjshir residents also said they could not verify the mass murder allegations, but agreed with Gossman that there should be an investigation into the charges. The government worker said he first heard the reports of large-scale killings when he arrived in Kabul.
“I saw it online like everyone else,” he said.
NRF supporters have made repeated claims of “genocide” in the province. However, the official said he can only attest to what he saw in his area.
“We do not know where there is war, where there is peace. We have no idea what our own people are going through, ”he told Al Jazeera. “For every true thing on the Internet, there are another 100 false reports.”
The government worker, however, said that the volatility of the situation in Panjshir could have resulted in mass killings.
“In Panjshir, any area could become a war zone at any time.”
The government worker said that people in Panjshir are struggling to find even basic goods. The stories have been sold out in recent days.
He said even getting something as simple as sugar has become a hunt in nearly empty stores.
“There was only one store that still had sugar, and even that was 600 Afghans [$7] for seven kilos. “For context, that’s more than double the price in cities like Kabul.
Afghanistan is currently facing a liquidity and inflation crisis after international bodies cut off the government’s access to funds since the Taliban took over.
The blockade could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Panjshir.
A doctor who spoke to Al Jazeera said hospitals in the provincial capital, Bazarak, have been forced to close or are running on limited supplies.
The doctor said that an emergency hospital run by Italy is the only fully functional health center in the province.
“We could only treat people with what we had at our disposal, only the most basic medications and some supplies for bandages and sutures.”
Panjshir residents told Al Jazeera that power was cut off in much of the province in recent weeks.
The doctor said the lack of electricity adds to the difficulty of treating patients. He said one of his family members was injured in a crossfire and struggled to find supplies to treat his wound.
“Imagine how many injured people go untreated, or worse yet, how many die from something that could normally be easily treated,” he said.