by Erfan Choobinebehrooz
[Editor’s Note: NRF stands for National Resistance Front of Afghanistan]
August 16, 2021, dressed in casual cream trousers, paired with a light grey button-down collar Oxford shirt and a dark grey button-up multi-pocket coat, Ahmad Massoud strode toward a Russian Mi-17 helicopter waiting at the Kabul airport, ready to ferry him and his entourage to the Panjshir valley— the soon-to-be stronghold of the Second Resistance. For the millions of Afghans left in abject misery and befuddled by the swift collapse of their malfunctioning republic, Panjshir represented the last resort. Nonetheless, the NRF’s military strategy and its objectives have been questioned ever since.
Ahmad Rashid dismissed Massoud’s resistance as premature, and prone to falter. Khoshahl Saadat, a former deputy secretary of defense of the republic, recently accused Massoud and his coterie of parochialism. But misgivings about Massoud’s leadership reached their crescendo only after the tragic death of Khair Mohammad Khairkhah (Andarabi), the NRF’s commander-in-chief in Baghlan province: ‘Eagles of Hindukush have been murdered by jackals due to indecisiveness in battle,’ declared Ata Mohmmad Nur. A local media outlet with close ties to the NRF’s fighters also reported on internal disputes among the NRF decision-makers. Massoud, however, has barely responded to his detractors.
Reflecting on the successes and setbacks of the initial two years battling the Taliban, Ahmad Massoud’s leadership has spurred the Second Resistance to develop a fresh strategy aimed at restoring its credibility. This year, the NRF’s approach involves a reduction in the frequency of seasonal ambushes in Panjshir. This tactical adjustment serves as a precautionary measure, prioritizing the safety of local residents and minimizing military losses in the face of the Taliban’s anticipated retaliatory actions.
On an institutional level, a women’s council was officially launched on the 8th of March inviting a kaleidoscope of women in the NRF’s policy-making. Massoud’s team has recently founded an online platform called VETS4NRF for post-9/11 U.S veterans, facilitating interaction between now-scattered service members and veterans to reinvigorate the stifled voice of their Afghan counterparts. With a voice raised from within, military-affiliated congressmen may take more notice of the dire situation in Afghanistan and ultimately heed the NRF’s call.
But the feasibility of such an objective appears murky, especially in the short term. The incumbent congress witnessed a slight but significant increase in the total veterans elected, 18% compared to 17% in 2021. Yet they still make up a small portion of the lawmakers; therefore, their influence upon the legislative body might be perceived as limited. More importantly, research suggests that congresspersons with military experience would potentially tip the scale toward a drawdown of troops. With the completion of the U.S. withdrawal, it remains uncertain whether they would endorse U.S. involvement in a potential second Afghan proxy war.
Furthermore, Biden’s administration has never reacted to the NRF’s counterterrorism mantra so much as dispensed with it. Biden’s “over-the-horizon” strategy combined with a dubious collaboration with the Islamic Emirate to dismantle ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda has led to his reluctance to endorse any form of armed resistance. This stance underscores his dismissal of the potential global threats emanating from the Taliban’s kakistocracy. (Among the numerous concerning possibilities, one potential scenario is the recruitment of suicide bombers for the Ukraine war by Russia. As they demonstrated with battle-hardened Syrian fighters to bolster their military shortcomings. The Russians also enticed Afghan commandos from Iran and elsewhere to join them. It is plausible that Russia would consider similar tactics in a future quid-pro-quo with the Taliban.)
The world’s indifference to the NRF’s counterterrorism polemic emphasizes the necessity of a sobering political plan. Starting the third year of their formation, the NRF should contemplate drafting a provisional constitution for the post-Taliban era. This draft would posit a general outlook and offer perspectives on the future of Afghanistan. Afghans, in turn, could contribute critical input and expect the NRF to amend the draft accordingly.
An interim constitution with public consultation might rekindle hope and instill determination in Afghans, prompting them to stand alongside oppressed women on the front lines and promote various forms of resistance, primarily civil disobedience. A comprehensive theoretical basis can elevate Massoud and his allies from would-be warlords to viable alternatives whose rhetoric heralds a better future for Afghanistan.
Erfan Choobinebehrooz is an independent scholar specializing in Persian literature and an enthusiast of history and politics of Afghanistan. His contributions include multiple papers published in journals from both Iran and Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.