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Taliban marks Afghan Independence Day by asserting victory over US

Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban swept into the capital, completing a stunning rout of government forces and ending two decades of war.

Taliban fighters patrol in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (AP)

The Taliban have celebrated Afghanistan’s Independence Day by declaring it has beaten the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running the country’s frozen government to potentially facing armed opposition has begun to emerge.

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From ATMs being out of cash to worries about food across this nation of 38 million people reliant on imports, the Taliban face all the challenges of the civilian government they dethroned without the level of international aid it enjoyed. Meanwhile, opposition figures fleeing to Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley now talk of launching an armed resistance under the banner of the Northern Alliance, which allied with the US during the 2001 invasion.

The Taliban so far have offered no plans for the government they plan to lead, other than to say it will be guided by Shariah law. But the pressure continues to grow.

“A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes,” warned Mary Ellen McGroarty, the head of the World Food Program in Afghanistan.

While Kabul has been generally calm since Taliban forces entered on Sunday, the airport has been in chaos as people rushed for a way out of the country.

Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since then, a NATO and a Taliban official said. The deaths were caused either by gun shots or by stampedes, the Taliban official said.

He urged people who do not have the legal right to travel to go home. “We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport,” said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.

Victorious Taliban

Thursday marked Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the 1919 treaty that ended British rule in the central Asian nation.

“Fortunately, today we are celebrating the anniversary of independence from Britain,” the Taliban said. “We at the same time as a result of our jihadi resistance forced another arrogant of power of the world, the United States, to fail and retreat from our holy territory of Afghanistan.”

While urging people to return to work, most government officials remain hiding in their homes or attempting to flee the Taliban. Questions remain over Afghanistan’s $9 billion foreign reserves, the vast majority now apparently frozen in the US. The country’s Central Bank head warns the country’s supply of physical US dollars is “close to zero,” which will see inflation raise the prices of needed food while depreciating its currency, the afghani.

Massoud’s plea for aid

There has been no armed opposition to the Taliban. But videos from the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, a stronghold of the Northern Alliance militias that allied with the US during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, appear to show potential opposition figures gathering there. That area is in the only province that has not fallen to the Taliban.

Those figures include members of the deposed government – Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who asserted on Twitter that he is the country’s rightful president, and Defense Minister General Bismillah Mohammadi – as well as Ahmad Massoud, the son of the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Massoud asked for weapons and aid to fight the Taliban.

“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” he wrote. “The Taliban is not a problem for the Afghan people alone. Under Taliban control, Afghanistan will without doubt become ground zero of radical Islamist terrorism; plots against democracies will be hatc hed here once again.”

Cross-border trade open despite challenges

Meanwhile, a drought has seen over 40 percent of the country’s crop lost, McGroarty said. Many fled the Taliban advance and now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul.

“This is really Afghanistan’s hour of greatest need, and we urge the international community to stand by the Afghan people at this time,” she said.

Mahdi Ali, who owns a grocery store in western Kabul, said that while some markets and stores had begun to open, challenges remained.

“Today I bought as much as I could from the local companies that bring groceries with cars,” he said. Meanwhile, he saw Taliban fighters seizing government cars and setting up checkpoints to search vehicles. The militants also checked his store several times.

Two of Afghanistan’s key border crossings with Pakistan, Torkham near Jalalabad and Chaman near Spin Boldak, are now open for cross-border trade. Hundreds of trucks have passed through, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said. However, traders still fear insecurity on the roads, confusion over customs duties and pressures to price their goods even higher given the economic conditions.

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