Tajikistan, a country north of Afghanistan, is providing political support to the resistance movement. Nazary was in that former Soviet republic when he spoke to me by phone.
Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Ali Maisam Nazary: Resistance throughout Afghanistan’s history has started and expanded without outside support. The late Cmdr. Massoud was able to build his resistance against the Soviets with a limited number of resources and successfully defeat the mighty Red Army. So international aid and support are not a requirement for us to be able to fight for our values and rights.
Our resistance in the past year has shown its potential to grow and successfully fight the Taliban. What is apparent to us is that a political solution to end the conflict in Afghanistan is not viable because of the Taliban’s position vis-à-vis women’s rights, human rights, democracy and terrorism. We can either liberate the country from the Taliban or force them to change and accept a peace process.
Nazary: So, what happened is that from August 15, 2021, when the Taliban captured Kabul, until mid-September 2021, resistance started with thousands of former Afghan security forces in the Panjshir Valley in the Panjshir province of northern Afghanistan and Andarab Valley in the Baghlan province, adjacent to Panjshir. We fought a conventional war, with weapons and tanks, against the Taliban.
But we realized that without international support, it was difficult to continue the conventional war. Also, Panjshir and Andarab do not share any borders with a neighboring country, so that made it very difficult to bring in supplies.
So right before the second week of September, Ahmad Massoud convened all his commanders, and they discussed what to do because waging a conventional war was impossible. The Taliban had billions of dollars in weapons and equipment, and there was no regional or international support for the resistance. We pleaded everywhere, asked every single country to help us. Yet except for political and moral support from countries like Tajikistan, basically everyone else wanted to stay away. There was a fatigue when it came to Afghanistan.
We realized that for us to be able to survive, we had to change our strategy from a conventional war to an unconventional war, which was our approach back in the 1980s, when we were fighting the Soviets after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
We were confident enough to start preparing for the spring offensive, and the first week of May was when the spring offensive started.
We want the Taliban to understand that they will face strategic defeat in the north. They cannot keep control of the north the way that they are doing right now, occupying it with an invading force that is not native to the north, a force that is oppressing the people. We have been able to keep our casualties very low because we have the high ground. We attack them, and then we go back to our positions. And the Taliban fighters who are coming from Kandahar and Helmand in southern Afghanistan are not trained to fight in mountains.
Bergen: What are the Taliban’s strengths?
Nazary: The Taliban strength right now is that they have unlimited weapons and munitions, resources that were left behind by the Americans.
Bergen: Can you give us a sense of the strengths of the National Resistance Front?
Nazary: First, we enjoy legitimacy and popular support. We see people accepting resistance as the only option right now for them to acquire their freedom again.
The second strength is having capable forces. The military wing of the National Resistance Front isn’t made up of ordinary citizens. It’s made up of the former Afghan military who were trained, advised and funded by the US and NATO for the past 20 years. They’re professional soldiers and officers who have fought against the Taliban for two decades. They know the mindset and mentality of the Taliban. Our numbers are around 4,000 right now.
Bergen: You’re speaking about Ahmad Massoud.
Bergen: What do you make of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s leadership?
Bergen: Right now, are you getting any outside help of any kind?
Nazary: Unfortunately, not. No country is willing to support the resistance. Our message has been that we are not fighting a civil war. The mentality that helping the National Resistance Front will fuel a civil war is false because what we’re fighting is the continuation of the global war on terror. We have regional and other international terrorist groups helping the Taliban, so how can we characterize this as a civil war? This has to be a regional and international effort to contain and eradicate terrorism. Ignoring Afghanistan and allowing terrorism to take root and find sanctuary in this country doesn’t only threaten our interests. It threatens regional countries and global security.
Bergen: And what is your vision of the future? The Taliban control more of the country than they did before 9/11. They’re better armed. They’ve been fighting for 20 years. So what’s the end goal here for you?
Nazary: One thing that is certain for us is that we are going to liberate the country. Afghanistan has seen oppressive regimes throughout its history, but these oppressive regimes have never lasted long. They were never permanent.
The vision that we have for Afghanistan’s future is a democratic, decentralized republic where every single citizen, regardless of their race, religion and gender, will enjoy equal rights. An Afghanistan where you have political and cultural pluralism. An Afghanistan where men and women are given the same opportunities. And an Afghanistan where power is distributed equally throughout the country.
As time passes, more political parties and forces realize that reconciliation with the Taliban is becoming impossible and that the Taliban had a year to absorb these political parties and other figures and form an inclusive government, which they failed to do. And so they believe that resistance is the only option right now.
Our criteria is we welcome anyone who accepts our vision, who shares our vision for Afghanistan’s future. If you are in favor of a democratic, decentralized republic where every single citizen will enjoy full rights and will enjoy their freedom, then you’re welcome to join us.