Emily Winterbotham, director of the terrorism and conflict group at the Royal United Services Institute in London, echoed that sentiment. “If confirmed, the Taliban’s victory over the small province of Panjshir is deeply symbolic,” Winterbotham said. “It ends, at least for now, the last strand of resistance to the Taliban, a feat not achieved by the regime the first time around in the 1990s.”
It would also demonstrate just how much stronger the Taliban are compared to 20 years ago. The Taliban have not only grown in size and in terms of support or acceptance in parts of the country; they also now have possession of billions of dollars worth of U.S. weapons and two decades of experience fighting Western militaries.
While the Taliban have said they intend to establish a more inclusive and conciliatory leadership than in the past, the behavior of its fighters in recent weeks tells a different story. Taliban members have killed and beaten civilians — particularly protesters — including women and children.
“Concerns are mounting that the Taliban will seek to exact harsh retribution for the resistance against the inhabitants of the valley,” Winterbotham said. “How the Taliban responds is an indicator of how much the group has actually changed.”