Only days after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, a fresh resistance has raised its head in the Panjshir valley. The self-proclaimed leader of this resistance movement is Amrullah Saleh, who served as vice-president in Ghani’s toppled government. After Ghani’s cowardly flight from Afghanistan, Saleh declared himself president while referring to the Afghan Constitution. However, he played it safe and fled the capital with helicopters and truckloads of US dollars to Tajikistan, even before Ghani had departed unceremoniously. Heading straight to the Panjshir valley, his home province and the centre of anti-Taliban resistance during the 1990s, he tried to cobble together an alliance with Ahmad Wali Masood, son of the former head of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Masood. Both aspire to repeat their success of yesteryears in fighting Taliban rule. Born in October 1972, Saleh was orphaned at a very young age. He first fought alongside late guerrilla fighter, Ahmad Shah Masoud’s Northern Alliance. His fierce hatred for the Taliban stemmed from his sister being allegedly tortured to death by Taliban fighters in 1996. “My view of the Taliban changed forever because of what happened in 1996,” Saleh had written in a Time magazine editorial last year. During Operation Enduring Freedom, he helped coalition forces gather intelligence about the Taliban and facilitated the complete eradication of the Taliban from Afghan land. After the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, Saleh worked closely with the CIA; becoming a key asset. He also worked closely with other intelligence agencies; becoming their choice for raising Afghanistan’s newly-formed intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate in 2004. The CIA helped him lead the agency for a long time. In 2010, he was dramatically sacked as Afghanistan’s spy chief following a humiliating attack on a Kabul peace conference and his deteriorating relationship with President Hamid Karzai. After being dismissed, Saleh maintained his fight against the Taliban on Twitter, where he would fire off tweets against his long-time adversary. In December 2018, President Ghani appointed Saleh as the new Interior Minister. He went on to become Ghani’s vice president. Anti-Taliban fighters are gathering in Panjshir. These include members of the Afghan national army who resented their commander’s surrender. Fighters of local commanders are also present though their numbers are not known. Three neighbouring districts taken by them were cleared a day later by Taliban forces. The heroes of the Northern Alliance of the 1990s have grown old and may not be able to repeat their fights of yesteryear. Unlike Saleh’s determination to fight the Taliban, Masood is negotiating with the Taliban. He has claimed that while he was prepared to fight, he still hoped to hold peace talks with the Taliban, “making them realise that the only way forward is through negotiation.” He called for an inclusive, broad-based government in Kabul that represented Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups. Meanwhile, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, insisted that there had been no fighting in Panjshir yet and that “peaceful solutions” were still at the standoff. Engaged in government formation, the Taliban promised a government that was inclusive of the country’s diverse ethnic groups. Today’s Taliban are far too different from their earlier ethnic Pashtun movement that had left other ethnic groups unrepresented. Spending many years “localising” their fight in the north, the Taliban recruited local fighters and commanders; allying themselves with Afghan Uzbek madrassa networks in Pakistan and the north. That drive has paid off. In the Uzbek-majority provinces of Faryab and Sar-e Pul, the Taliban have gained significant ground against the government. The same is true for Tajik areas, including the Wakhan corridor. Uzbek warlord Dostum was out of the country for some time and his whereabouts since his return to Afghanistan are unknown. In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Ghani was looking at longtime strongman Atta Mohammad Noor for support but his men were defeated as well. The heroes of the Northern Alliance of the 1990s have grown old and may not be able to repeat their fights of yesteryear. How much international support would the Panjshiris get? They have already asked for weaponry and ammunition from western powers but even if the US wanted to deliver those, how would they get them in? With heavy Russian armed forces on the border, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will not be interested in promoting warfare in their neighbourhood. Other than the US, only India may have an active interest in supporting an anti-Taliban movement. In the 1990s, India was one of the main supporters of the anti-Taliban alliance. They used their embassies in Dushanbe and Tashkent to provide support. Over the years, India provided strong support and even established a hospital and a repair facility at Farkhor in Tajikistan for the Northern Alliance besides gifting important military hardware. Indian diplomat and later India’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, operationalised New Delhi’s help for Massoud by providing military and medical assistance. When Kumar took up his ambassadorship, the person handling Northern Alliance’s affairs in Dushanbe was “Amrullah Saleh!” As the Ghani government collapsed in mere hours, New Delhi largely maintained silence; opting to wait and watch as the eventualities unfolded. Multiple voices in India demanded that India should tie-up with allies to play the “Great Game” in Afghanistan again. Due to the proximity of Saleh with India, this may well be another military adventure that India is plunging into. Responding to former Vice President Saleh’s appeal for support, a Commando of Indian Homeland Security under the Ministry of Defense, Sarfaraz, said he and his team will do “whatever” needed. Taking to his official Twitter handle, he pointed out that he had a detailed discussion with his teammates, after which they concluded that they would be joining Saleh, who he referred to as the former Vice President and present President of Afghanistan reportedly located presently in Panjshir. Apart from that, India is in the chair of the UN Security Council. It may explore the option where it can work on imposing UN sanctions on the Taliban. Given the stance taken by China and Russia on the Taliban, the possibility of this is very slim. India’s support for the resistance in Afghanistan this time around could become more than only difficult. While Central Asian states are already baulking from getting directly embroiled in the Afghanistan crisis, they also face pressures from both China and Russia, which are playing their roles effectively with the Taliban to ensure a long-term seal against the US military presence. As they stand today, the geopolitical dynamics make it difficult for New Delhi to wedge itself in; making the prospects of a Northern Alliance 2.0 as a viable and realistic counter to the Taliban in the short term even more difficult. Last time around, Ahmed Shah Masood did little fighting. Most of the time, the Mujahideen were fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He had a very cosy truce with the Soviets. He also played the US and EU nations for money, arms and equipment for all its worth. He established a lucrative emerald business in Paris. The Taliban are in power in Afghanistan and Pakistan does not need a spillover of the civil war. give the ISI (and Faiz) a pat on the back for silently and efficiently pushing the process along. For Pakistan, and indeed the countries bordering Afghanistan, it is important to call the “Panjshir Bluff.” The writer is a defence and security analyst; Chairman Karachi Council of Foreign Affairs and Vice-Chairman Institute of Nation-Building.