However, there was some uncertainty about whether the operation by Taliban forces had begun. A Taliban official told Reuters that an offensive had been launched on Panjshir. But an aide to Massoud said there were no signs that the column had actually entered the narrow pass into the valley and there had been no reports of fighting.
In the only confirmed fighting since the fall of Kabul on August 15, anti-Taliban forces took back three districts in the northern province of Baghlan, bordering Panjshir, last week.
A short video showed a column of captured trucks with the white Taliban flag but still bearing their government markings moving along a highway.
However, Massoud said he had not organized the operation which he said had been carried out by local militia groups reacting to “brutality” in the area.
Massoud called for an inclusive, broad-based government in Kabul representing all of Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups and said a “totalitarian regime” should not be recognized by the international community.
Speaking with our reporters on Sunday, Haqqani, whose associates are also taking a leading role in establishing security in the capital, said the Taliban is working to restore order and safety to a nation that has seen more than four decades of war.
Meanwhile, Khalil Ur-Rahman Haqqani, a leading Taliban figure currently in charge of security for Kabul, has echoed the group’s claims that “all Afghans” should feel safe under their Islamic Emirate, and that a “general amnesty” has been granted across the nation’s 34 provinces.
“If we can defeat superpowers, surely we can provide safety to the Afghan people,” Haqqani, who is also a veteran of the Afghan-Soviet war, said.
Victoria Fontan, professor of peace studies at the American University of Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera she had heard from staff and students in Kabul who are worried about searches by the Taliban in their neighborhoods.
But many Afghans are sceptical that Haqqani – a leader of the Haqqani Network, known to be the most brutal and violent group associated with the Taliban and a man labelled a “terrorist” by the United States and the United Nations – will bring peace and security to Afghanistan.
“There have not been any direct threats, but there have been house searches being carried out to figure out who is working for whom and who had links with coalition forces,” she said, speaking from Paris.
“And then people are placed on a list and they are afraid that when the eyes of the international community are elsewhere, there is going to be the beginning of a massive wave of repercussions against those people.”
Chaos, deaths at Kabul airport
Meanwhile, thousands of people continued to mass at Kabul airport on Sunday, desperately hoping to flee the Taliban rule.
The Taliban fired in the air and used batons to force people to form orderly queues outside Kabul airport, witnesses said, a day after the British army said seven people were killed in a crush at the gates.
A NATO official said at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.
On Sunday, there were no serious injuries as gunmen beat back the crowds, according to witnesses, and Washington said it was now able to get large numbers of Americans into the airport.
President Joe Biden said on Sunday the US-led evacuation of Americans, at-risk Afghans and others from the Kabul airport accelerated this weekend, although it remains vulnerable to threats posed by the ISIL (ISIS) group.
Biden said discussions are under way among military officials about potentially extending the airlift beyond Biden’s August 31 deadline. “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are discussions,” he said, suggesting the possibility that the Taliban will be consulted.
Earlier on Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a virtual meeting of leaders of the G7 wealthy nations for Tuesday to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people”.
The US on Sunday ordered six commercial airlines to help transport people after their evacuation from Afghanistan.
The Pentagon said it called up 18 commercial aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air and others to carry evacuees from temporary locations, including a dozen countries across Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Army Major General William Taylor said in the past week the US has evacuated 17,000 people, including 2,500 Americans, from Kabul.
The United Kingdom’s ambassador to Afghanistan said British authorities had managed to evacuate more than 5,000 people.
In a statement on Twitter, Laurie Bristow said the “huge effort” to move evacuees out of Afghanistan is “gathering pace” but that there is still “a huge amount of work to do”.
Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday, evacuating more than 300 people, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.