The Lion of Panjshir

There were times when “freedom fighter” had a romantic tinge to it. Ahmad Shah Massoud also known as “Amer Sahib” or “The Lion of Panjshir” was a “freedom fighter” in those times. He defended his home, the Panjshir Valley, from the Red Army and from the Taliban. Like Che, he became an icon and a warrior for the Afghan struggle against the USSR and, later, the Taliban. He was assassinated two days before Sep 11, 2001. Today, he is on a French stamp (these french are a romantic lot, aren’t they?), in an excellent documentary, a symphony, on the new Afghani coin, in marketplace posters, poems, remembrances. He is a national hero in Karzai’s Afghanistan and a hated figure by the Taliban and Pashtun clans.

Ahmad Shah Massoud was a Tajik, from the valley of Panjshir. The valley is a narrow pass needed by the Red Army for their supply convoys. They invaded it with division strengths seven times. Each time, Massoud’s men retreated to the mountains and passes and sniped the Russians moving in and stopped them. Massoud’s heroic tale was bought to the West by French Doctors Without Borders and he became the symbol of Afghan resistance to the world – clutching his AK-47. He was the subject of Ken Follett’s Lie Down With Lions – which I read as a youth and found it terribly exciting.
After the Soviet withdrawal, Massoud’s group, Jamiat-i Islami [Islamic Society] defeated the Soviet-left regime in 1992 and was the first group to enter Kabul. Massoud became the vice-president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan led by the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (or the Northern Alliance). However, the pashtun-Taliban militia came sweeping into Kabul in 1996 and Massoud retreated back to Panjshir. From there, Massoud held the Taliban off again, much as he had done against the Communists. His ideals were still intact, as he railed against Taliban’s religious extremism and their oppression of women in particular.

Of course, the Taliban and parties vested with the pashtun-Taliban opposed Massoud with wild abandon. Especially the ISI. Charlie Wilson’s War had this joke attributed to the ISI: “When a Pashtun wants to make love to a woman, his first choice is a Tajik man”. There were more serious allegations against him. They say he cut deals with the Red Army and stopped attacking them, prolonging the invasion and allowing them to launch offensive in other areas. Charlie Wilson’s War disputes much of that and blames the ISI and the CIA for the times during which Massoud was unable to continue his resistance against the Red Army.

On Sep 9, 2001, two journalists came to interview him. They were suicide bombers. Massoud did not survive the attempt although the news of his death did not emerge until after 9/11. Much speculation has been done on whether al-Qaeda was behind this attack and whether this was a pre-emptive strike on a singularly important ally against the Taliban.

Ahmad Shah Massoud lives on as only genuine heroes do. He has captured the imagination of a war-torn Afghan nation. I wish someone would compile poetry written about him in Dari. I remember reading a beautiful poem send to me last year but I cannot locate it in my emails. There is one here. His legacy lives on in the political realm as well. His friend, Younis Qanuni is running against Karzai in the October election. And just from using Google to write this entry, I can see that his popularity shows no sign of abating.

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20 thoughts on “The Lion of Panjshir”

  1. Interestingly, Massoud’s younger brother Ahmed Wali Massoud is Karzai’s running mate… a move designed to split the Tajik vote, definitely, but how did Karzai win over the younger Massoud? Must be the inevitable personal rivalries within Jamiat and the Shoura-e-Nazar…

    I’m reading Barnett Rubin’s “The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System” these days, and he quotes independent sources that credit Massoud with causing a lot more damage to the Soviets than Hikmatyar ever did… when you realize that this guy never got the sort of aid Hikmatyar got, the achievement appears even more impressive…

    The book, and the website Afgha.com mention two periods of relative peace with the Soviets… one occured in 1983/84, when Massoud and the Soviets reached a truce, the second, just before the withdrawl of troops, when President Najibullah offered him the vice Presidency in 1987 in what was supposed to be a unified government… Massoud refused, but Rubin suggests its because he knew the PDPA’s days were numbered…

    Time for Objectivity again… I like the guy immensely,but:

    1). Massoud joined Hikmatyar and Rabbani in Pakistan in 1974, having escaped Doud’s crackdown on “Islamist” (whatever that means) students and professors… in 1975, egged on by the ISI and Hikmatyar, Massoud tried to start an uprising in Panjshir, which wasn’t supported by the population (partly because his reputation was of a spoilt brat)and he had to flee back… He was 22, yes, but aren’t you sensible enough at 22 to realize that accepting help and instructions from a foreign power and then starting an uprising in your own country is just plain wrong, especially when its Pakistan where the instructions are coming from?

    2). Throughout the war, Massoud recieved arms from the ISI… granted that the ISI favoured their boy Hikmatyar, but the Jamiat recieved a substantial amount nonetheless…

    3). When Kabul finally fell in 1992, Massoud was unable to rein in his fighters… from 1992 to 1996, his troops were condemned as much as the others for the loot and plunder and the rapes that went on…

    4). Massoud was a big part of the government in one way or the other from 1992 to 1996, but his liberal and tolerant brand of Islam was nowhere to be seen… in an interview I read in 2001, he had condemned the burqa, and his wife was proud of the fact that she didn’t wear one, but one of the first decrees of their government in 1992 was to order women to put it on… burqas weren’t exactly extinct in Panjshir and Badakhshan after 1996 either…

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    However, as events in the recent past prove, Massoud soon fell out with the ISI and during the last few years spoke out time and again against the ISI’s total domination of the Taliban, and of course OBL’s presence in the country… one interview I read quoted him , “I’m not fighting the Taliban, I’m fighting the Pakistan Army”… yeah, Massoud was alright!!

    None of us are perfect, and Massoud learnt from his mistakes… I suppose these human failings make for an altogether more romantic figure… A former architecture student, the son of an Army officer, a war hero, a fluent French speaker, a lover of poetry who is particularly fond of Hafiz, living somewhere in the mountains… just wonderful …I loved the way he wore the Pakol too, like a beret…

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    It is interesting how Massoud’s image in Pakistan has changed through the years… he used to be a brave commander, and now he’s an alleged homosexual and paedophile who is a closet atheist… of course in Pakistan you’re a decent fellow only as long as you support our Na-Pak Fauj’s “vision” of the region…

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  2. Umar – I knew his brother was on the ballot, I just couldn’t find the info! with Karzai, eh? that’s interesting.
    – The love for Hafez – I think I read it somewhere that the night before his early morning interview with the assassins, he stayed up reciting Hafiz aloud with his friend.
    – Pakistan’s change of heart about Massoud is remarkable. Shakir, a CM reader, just came back from Peshawer. Maybe he will share some thoughts on that, with us.

  3. Well the change of heart is at work in Kashmir too… for ages, the APHC has been Pakistan’s blue eyed boys, but now that most of them have seen the light of day, the picture PTV is portraying is that they’ve all sold out, leaving Ali Shah Geelani —- who is more loyal to the King than the King himself —- to battle on…

    Looking forward to hearing from Shakir too…

    Inter-ethnic struggles in Afghanistan are fascinating, much more so than the ones in Pakistan… okay, “fascinating” might not be the right word, but you know what I mean…

    Isn’t it surprising though, that throughout this region, more people belonging to a group which has a country of its own live outside that country’s borders than inside?

    There are more Azeris in Iran than in Azerbaijan… There are more Tajiks in Afghanistan than there are in Tajikistan (one might add that the ones in Tajikistan are quite Turko-Mongol looking through inter-breeding with Uzbeks, and it is the Tajiks of Afghanistan who have the sort of features you’d expect from Caucasoid Aryans/Iranians)… there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan (the three major Pashtun urban centers in terms of population are Peshawar, Karachi and Dubai!)… and there are more sub-continental Muslims living outside Pakistan than inside!

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    You’ve got a nice blog going… I’ve been reading for a while and only now have I decided to jump into the fray… I look forward to contributing regularly…

  4. One person if Afghanistans history who’s pedigree comes from that of Shahnameh ferdousi Rostam, is Mr. Massoud. A true Super Man, Genetically preserving the art of war in his bloodlines. One day his son will fight the next invador. A coward dies a thousand deaths, a soldier dies but one. A man who had all ethnic clans fighting for his vision of a Free Afghanistan is no longer. the last defender of the Free world is no more. Afghans, why are u supporting Zahir Shah and Karzai? Traitors, watan foroosheh moordagowah.. Massoud fought the tyrranical forces of Taliban, supported by USA, CIA, chatalistan (PAKISTAN) and UAE. In a book i read it said that the most efefctive and efficint mujahids were non pashtun.

    1. Well said Waleed Mansury. That is soooooo true.
      Massoud was the TRUE HERO of afghanistan.

  5. interesting blog. the demography of afghanistan is the present ethnography contained in geopolitical borders drawn by those formerly known as colonialists, the grand daddies of kaltkreig superpowers, the americans and the protagonists of the great game – the russians and the brits of former india. what is left is an ethnic mixture frozen in a modern time period of a former flux of people the tajiks and uzbeks. the indigenous groups, in terms of recent history are the pashtuns (afghans), the hazaras, the pashai and the nuristanis, these groups have roots in this land. the tajiks and uzbeks, undoubtedly have homelands however through migration and expansion, they are too part of modern afghanistan without doubt. so, now in an age of great advancements in ever shorter periods of time is defining the afghan nation so rapidly that social and political evolution has little time to embed itself. the installation of northern alliance, the popalzai president in kabul has been globalist coup on parts of the americans – causing enough latent resistance amongst the pashtuns and tajiks to cause daily casualties through bombings and assassinations. what the americans have done is give the northern alliance a share in power and this has given a platform for nefarious elements to voice opinions and vitriole against the pashtuns that can only be described as sectarian violence. an element of northern alliance is blaming the pakistanis – ie the pashtuns, which are only identifiable as pakistanis if pakistani ID cards are recovered, otherwise cleverly blanket blaming the pashtuns and pakis, considering the pakistanis who are causing troubles are a mixture of ISI agents, the nationalistic pashtuns of afghan origin, and the sympathetic pashtuns of pakistan origin – this is so ignored, the pashtuns are synonomous with afghans and therefore the political identity becomes second to tribal beloging. this blaming helps to put pressure on pashtuns, the dominant group prior to 911, the group that has provided kings and presidents for modern afghanistan. this of course helps the northern alliance members to establish a stronger hold on leadership in afghanistan – at a cost – ethnic prejudices, ethnic hatred and consequently ethnic violence. the other clever triumph of this masterplan is the incorporation of other regional players, ie the involvement of india forging links with afghanistan, the isolation of pakistan (which america has reluctantly and temorarily brought into their fold), the americans are squarely responsible for this development. now the ami’a may dispute this in lyrics of pop songs (#we didn’t start the fire#), however this is a world where power struggles are still there, only disguised, and the democracy is beguiled by the clever media instruments of the globalists, capitalists, warmongerers, dare i say, the V8-evil powers, and i am not talking of iran, south korea etc.

    so chapati mysterywallahs, wake up, you are being beguiled by the white devil. the kaltkreig is still there, it is now globalisation, the ami’s want bases in poland, the russians are tenderly letting their opinion be known, and the poor countries, the strategically important countries are needed for military bases to protect economic interests, need i say which resources? military presence all over the globe is required, and the downtrodden just get bombed down to rubble. any attempt of someone rising their head in form of resistance, which usually manifests iself in a bizarre fashion and strange alliances, is quashed with plenty big force and with superficially meaningful justifications. don’t be beguiled. karzai is a de facto puppet. northern alliance are de facto installed elements in the government of afghanistan. birth is a painful, strenuous, bloddy and sometimes fatal process, therefore allow this government to be bourne through the usual pains, through natural evolution – a revoltion, but not through puppetry.

  6. God Bless our martred commander. Massoud is the saviour of Afghanistan. Our hero Massoud inspires millions of people around the world with his bravery, courage, determination, independence, intelligence and sheer greatness. He truley is the greatest and most loved historical figure that has ever came out of Afghanistan. Long Live Massoud. Long Live the great superior province of Panjshir. Long Live Afghanistan.

  7. Without a doubt, Ahmed Shah Massoud is the greatest leader and nationalist the world has ever seen. If it wasn’t for his struggle against the taliban, I believe we would have slowly died under the burden of the horrors under that dark regime. I still can’t comprehend why anyone would say anything negative about him. Truly he is an inspiration. I would only hope to inspire to become as great as him. Truly a man without explination, his name says it all. The world has lost its greatest son.

  8. Waleed Mansury,
    People like you are why our beloved country Afghanistan is in destruction and turmoil. First of, why can’t Panjshiris just admit that PASHTUNS are royalty and always will be. Especially people like Sardar Daud Khan, Amanuallah Khan, Zahir Shah, and many of the other Pashtun rulers should not be spoken ill of because they were the true heroes until Massood and his gang bombarded the country, and worked with the Russians and the United States just for glory and wealth. I agree that Zahir Shah did not do much, but out of respect for the dead you should learn to respect such prestigious rulers of our country. May Allah guide you on the right path and prevent you from the mischief and whisperers of the shaytan. Ameen!

  9. Ahmad shah massoud is the legend man in the Afghanistan history
    he was a great man a different man with different history.
    a man that kept his religion and his country.
    we must know him!

  10. I recently ‘discovered’ the story of Ahmad Massoud (PBUH), and realized what an inspiration he is to every person who believes in equality and the best of the human race.
    “We consider this our duty – to defend humanity against the scourge of intolerance, violence and fanaticism.” A.S.M. When the Taliban closed schools, he kept them open for all genders.
    He is also an inspiration to me as a Muslim, an American Muslim. Saltedlightcom

  11. Panjshir has always been an inspiration for all of us in afghanistan.
    He has really worked hard for afghanistan just like every good afghan would do.
    I LOVE YOU MASSOUD!
    onething i noted here the guy (Faiq) said he has been the greatest person in humanity.
    we panjsheries really love massoud but some people like faiq are really fool that they had forgotten god and its prophets and thinks massoud is even better than them.
    I see the future of massoud’s stories as the hazara’s praise Hazarat ali and some of them call him GOD one day some fools might call masoud GOD.
    I REALLY LOVE MASOUD AND I ALWAYS WILL HE IS A GREAT HUMAN AND HAS SERVED AFGHANISTAN ALOT.

  12. @ Umar

    Just to prove another idiot wrong. He recieved 8 of the 2000 stingers dispersed throughout afghanistan through trickle effects.This is historical fact go look it up. He received less than 1% of the ISI aid. Another fact. Go look it up. Stop distorting the facts so you can make these baddie pashtuns seem more impressive than sacks of crap.

  13. @Malalai Massoud never left afghanistan not once during the war and saw the most violent fighting of the war. Ex: 20,000 men with hundreds of helicopters and jets vs his less than 5000 men and he won. Every single pashtun leader fled to pakistan, left their villages and people to get bombed and came back when it was safe. All facts backed up by GWU, Time, Wall street journal, DOD, KGB (to some etent), National Geographic. You can wish as hard as you want. Massoud saved the country. Not a bunch of kids running away to pakistan or iran when the fighting got tough.

    God these pashtuns love fabricating their own ideal versions of history LOL. Go beat and shoot some more women so it can make you feel like men.

  14. @ kay… he warned them 20x but the US wouldn’t listen and even told him to give up to the taliban so he told them to fuck off.

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