9 min read

The men fighting the Taliban.

Hello, all! Cristina here. This week, I wrote an article for National Journal about the men trying to defeat the Taliban and their outreach to Washington. I encourage you to read the piece if you have access, maybe through a library, university, or your employer.

While reporting out the story, I spoke with Ahmad Wali Massoud, the brother of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban before his assassination in 2001. Wali Massoud is also the uncle of the current leader of the Afghan National Resistance Front, who is also named Ahmad Massoud (yes, I know this is confusing!).

I also spoke with Abdul Latif Pedram, a prominent politician and the leader of Afghanistan’s National Congress Party, who is in talks with Massoud about the formation of a resistance government based either in Tajikistan or Northern Afghanistan.

Much of our conversations didn't make it into my recent article on the opposition's relationship to Washington. For example, we discussed aspirations for Afghan federalism, the opposition's perception of former President Ashraf Ghani, and the Taliban's support for extremists. I will include some of those conversations here in this newsletter.

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Cristina: Is it true that there is an Afghan government in exile forming in Tajikistan now? Would it be accurate to call the opposition in Tajikistan a government in exile?

Mr. Pedram: I am the leader of the National Congress Party, so obviously I am supporting the National Resistance Front. People from different provinces all over Afghanistan are also joining this resistance.

We are seeking to form an alternative government, but we don't want it to be like [former President Ashraf] Ghani's regime. We were always against Ghani's regime. Ghani's regime was very corrupt. That's why it collapsed.

If we form and announce the new government, it will be in Afghanistan, in one of the provinces, and not in any other country.

Cristina: Is the opposition working with anyone from Ghani's former government or with Ghani's allies?

Mr. Pedram: If they are willing to work with us, then they will have to wholeheartedly work for the new government.

Cristina: What is the relationship like between the Afghan National Resistance Front and the Afghan National Congress Party?

Mr. Pedram: As the leader of the Afghan National Congress Party, I am a federalist, and I want Afghanistan to have a federal government.

As far as we can see, Ahmad Massoud is seeking to establish a decentralized government like the Swiss government or even the United States.

I want a modern, federal government to be established in Afghanistan. We want a democratic government, the people's government. We will respect human rights, women's rights, religious freedom, and freedom of speech for everyone.

Cristina: If you do establish an opposition government in Afghanistan, where will you do it? In the Panjshir Valley or somewhere else?

Mr. Pedram: It will be somewhere in the North of Afghanistan.

Cristina: Have you been in touch with foreign leaders aside from leaders in the U.S.?

Mr. Pedram: We are seeking help from the United Nations, and the entire globe. We need humanitarian aid and we need countries not to recognize the Taliban government and to continue not to recognize the Taliban.

The people are against the Taliban. Young people, musicians, artists, they are all very unhappy. Even the Taliban is divided and they don't accept each other.

The United States left us behind the way they did Vietnam or Cambodia. But even after that, we really want them not to recognize the Taliban. That would be a great help for us. That would heal the pain of the people of Afghanistan.

We have been talking to all superpowers, to Russia, to China, the United States, Pakistan, to all other countries.

We want countries to recognize the National Resistance Front. We know a federal government is the solution to end fighting between ethnic groups. Then we can sit down with the Taliban and other ethnic groups.

Cristina: So you would be willing to negotiate with the Taliban?

Mr. Pedram: Only in a federal government system. We have been in negotiations with the Taliban before, but there is only one solution, to make a federal system. If that doesn't happen, the fighting will continue.

I have told this to the Taliban leaders when I spoke with them via Skype when they were in Qatar. We told this to the ambassador of the United States before the fall of Kabul.

Cristina: Are you concerned about the radicalization of Tajik militants in your region of Afghanistan and their possible collaboration with ISIS-K or the Taliban?

Mr. Pedram:  In my province, Badakhshan, we have Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara, Pashtun, and some Baloch as well. A lot of people there are Tajiks.

The Taliban is supporting the Central Asian extremist groups. This is a really dangerous situation in the region.

Cristina: Do you have any information about the former Vice President Amrullah Saleh? Where is he and is he collaborating with the resistance?

Mr. Pedram: I am telling you, he is a corrupt person and he stole a lot of money, especially from the ethnic Tajiks. I am not interested to know where he is right now or what he is doing. He is a traitor. He cannot do anything for himself, so what could he do for us? He's dead to us. We will never cooperate with him or with Ghani.  

Cristina: What is the situation like right now in the Panjshir Valley?

Mr. Pedram: The Taliban has killed dozens of people, kids, women. They are committing genocide. They are kicking people out of their homes. They have killed at least 300 people, and they go from house to house searching for people to kill.

The resistance is still in Panjshir. They are on top of the mountains.

Cristina: What are you doing in Tajikistan right now?

Wali Massoud: We really have to get together and see what we can do for Afghanistan. At the moment we are just thinking about how to strengthen the resistance against the Taliban and terrorism.

Of course, I'm here with some other people and we are discussing these things, with Mr. Pedram. We're in touch with all groups, with Uzbeks, with Hazara, with Tajiks, with Pashtun, with many groups, personalities, and institutions. We're trying to get them around the resistance.

Of course, it could be a government in exile. But the priority is how we can strengthen the resistance.

The ultimate goal is to think about what kind of setup we want for Afghanistan. A government will come next.

Cristina: Are you living full-time in Tajikistan or are you also in the United Kingdom? I see you're calling me from a British number and you're the former Ambassador to the United Kingdom.  

Wali Massoud: I was based full-time in Kabul, but after the Taliban took over I began splitting my time between the United Kingdom and Tajikistan.

Cristina: Are you reaching out to people internationally for support for the opposition?

Wali Massoud: I was based for years in the United Kingdom, and I've spent years trying to get international support for the resistance. That work began during the Soviet invasion.

The United States says it wants to fight terrorism, and we've been at the frontline of the fight against terrorism and extremism. We asked the United States not to leave us alone, but unfortunately, they left us alone.

Cristina: What are your priorities and next steps?

Wali Massoud: Our priorities are to strengthen the resistance, put forward a political agenda from Tajikistan, and fight the Taliban. That is our people, that is our country, our terrain.

We're experiencing big political and geopolitical changes here. It's not only with the Talib and al-Qaeda. Afghanistan is becoming the focal point for everyone. So many countries are involved, so many terror groups are involved. Each country has its own agenda and interest, and many are very conflicting. We are the victims of these agendas. The outside players are more powerful than Afghanistan itself.

We're trying our best to survive and see what we can do.

What I'm writing:

• This week, I wrote about the diverse coalition of ethnic leaders and resistance fighters crisscrossing the border between Tajikistan and Northern Afghanistan, plotting to retake the country from the Taliban. They want Washington to back them up, and they've found a few vocal allies in Congress.

What I'm reading:

Claire Berlinski made this from a photo that James Forde took of me in Slovenia in 2012. 

• Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Polish cities amid fears of a Polexit from the European Union, the BBC reports. The protests are happening after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by supporters of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), ruled that E.U. legal principles were “incompatible” with the Polish constitution.

• After rejecting the Court of Justice of the European Union's authority, Poland, together with Hungary, asked the court to strike down the E.U.’s rule-of-law mechanism that allows Brussels to cut off funds, Politico Europe reports.

• Poland plans to spend over $404 million on a border wall to stem the flow of migrants crossing from Belarus, according to a draft bill.

• Poland’s parliament passed a law allowing border guards to expel migrants illegally crossing the border immediately. The new law could violate international law, which requires that anyone seeking international protection is given access to the asylum process, the BBC reports.

• Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Janša (leader of the country which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU) denounced 226 MEPs as “Soros puppets in the EU parliament," via a Tweet that has since been deleted. The Netherlands summonsed the Slovenian ambassador in response to said tweet, which is still available as a screenshot here.

• Janša’s tweet came as a delegation of MEPs visited Slovenia to examine the state of the rule of law and media freedom in the country, Politico Europe reports.

• The Czech Republic's winning coalition, Spolu (Together), is a liberal-conservative three-party coalition. The Guardian reports that Spolu won 71 seats, while its partner took 37 seats. Czech PM Andrej Babiš's party ANO lost narrowly but still had the highest vote share.

• The New York Times profiles Éric Zemmour, a far-right author and television pundit who touts himself as a defender of France’s Christian civilization. Zemmour, who is Jewish, experienced a rise in popularity over the last weeks despite not having declared his candidacy for France’s presidential elections next year.

• European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel traveled to Kyiv for the 23rd EU-Ukraine summit. The EU was expected to push for anti-corruption efforts and judicial reform.

Russia and the U.S. both lifted targeted sanctions to allow the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, to visit Moscow for meetings with Russian officials, Reuters reports.

• The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – which includes Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Belarus – will hold military drills near the Afghan border in Tajikistan from October 22 to 23, according to Russia's RIA news agency.

• Armenia told judges at the World Court in The Hague that Azerbaijan promotes ethnic hatred against Armenians. Armenia’s assertions are part of a case filed at the World Court last month that claims Azerbaijan violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan are signatories.

• Tens of thousands of Georgians rallied in Tbilisi to demand the release of Mikheil (Misha) Saakashvili, the ex-president, and opposition leader, Al Jazeera reports.

• More than 3 million Afghan refugees are trying to reach Iran and Pakistan. The displacement of ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan may escalate tensions to a critical level, said the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation joint staff.

• Afghan refugees claim they are being beaten, harassed, and turned back by Turkish border forces. Violent “pushbacks,” including the torture of refugees, have surged in eastern Turkey in the months since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, according to an investigation by the Guardian.

• Leaders and advocacy organizations from Albanian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin-American communities called on the U.S. to commit to a stronger presence in the Western Balkans region amid the “growing militancy of the government of Serbia."

• Armed clashes broke out between sectarian militias in neighborhoods of Lebanon's capital Beirut, killing at least six people and wounding at least 30 more, the New York Times reports.

• Talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders to solve a standoff in the disputed Ladakh region of the Himalayan border have broken down, Reuters reports.

• Myanmar’s former president, Win Myint, testified that the military tried to force him to give up his power mere hours before the February 1 coup and threatened him with serious harm if he refused, Reuters reports.

• Myanmar’s military junta will not allow a special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to meet deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a military spokesperson said.

• The criminal trial of Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, began in a New York federal court. Parnas is accused of conspiring with Andrey Kukushkin, a co-defendant in the case, to make more than $25,000 a year in political contributions from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev, the Wall Street Journal reports.

• The U.S. was reelected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time after withdrawing under former president Trump in 2018 due to alleged “chronic bias” against Israel, Al Jazeera reports.

• In Eswatini – the country was formerly known as Swaziland – the military was deployed to quash pro-democracy school protests. The country is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, Reuters reports.

You can also contact me for any reason at all by writing to c.maza@protonmail.com.