Skip to comments.A lion cornered - The attack on Masood is bound to strengthen the Taleban
Posted on 09/11/2001 12:34:48 AM PDT by HAL9000
The suicide bomb attack on Ahmed Shah Masood, the leader of the Afghan opposition, has dealt a deadly blow to world attempts to hold the Taleban in check. The Lion of Panjshir, feared dead by Washington and Islamabad, may yet be clinging to life; but the attackers, by reaching his stronghold, have shredded his mantle of invincibility. He has been the last of the commanders still holding out against the Islamic extremists. From his stronghold in the Panjshir Valley, where he once fought off more than a dozen Soviet offensives, he has kept alive the resistance to a regime that is a byword for intolerant fanaticism.
The attack bore all the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi terrorist whose presence in Afghanistan has triggered the United Nations sanctions against the country. Masood, a commander of considerable skill and experience, was guarded by loyal Tajik supporters, and was on constant guard against betrayal and surprise attack. But he was always ready to explain to foreigners, outsiders and potential allies his vision of a free and independent Afghanistan; bin Laden knew that Arabs posing as journalists would more easily be able to infiltrate themselves into his presence than Taleban supporters.
Masood suffered repeated setbacks, and the area of control by the Northern Alliance has now shrunk to no more than 5 per cent of the country. But he was backed by all those threatened by a Taleban victory, including Afghanistans minority ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks, the Iranians and the rulers of Central Asia who have suffered repeated incursions by Afghan-backed rebels and saw Masood as the last bulwark against the spread of Islamic extremism. He even sought and won the backing of the Russians, his old enemies, who have been incensed by Kabuls public support for, and probable clandestine aid to, Chechens and Tajik bandits.
The West has long abandoned any attempt at negotiation with a regime whose hardliners adopt ever more extreme positions to maintain their rule as conditions in the country worsen. Containment is the main policy the diplomatic and physical isolation of a regime that has exported drugs and terror to all its neighbours. One instrument of such containment has been to pin down Taleban fighters militarily, and Masood was, in the end, the only warlord left able to hold out.
The other means of enforcing pariah status was the withholding of diplomatic recognition. As long as Masood held on to a sliver of territory, that policy was credible at the United Nations and in most capitals. But if all Afghanistan falls to the Taleban, it will be hard for countries such as Britain, where recognition depends not on ideology but on a governments degree of control, to ignore the Taleban victory or to oppose the removal of the opposition from the overseas embassies and the UN. With Masood seriously wounded or dead, the opposition could swiftly collapse. All the more reason, therefore, for Pakistan, one of three countries recognising the Taleban, to demand of the monster it has bred a minimum of human rights.
Afghan warlord 'killed' by bombers
FROM ZAHID HUSSAIN IN ISLAMABAD
AHMED SHAH MASOOD, the Afghan opposition leader, has been killed by suicide bombers posing as journalists, according to Russian and American reports yesterday.
First accounts said that he had survived Sundays attack at his residence in northern Afghanistan, but Tass, the Russian news agency, reported later that the leader of troops opposed to the Taleban regime had died while being taken to hospital.
An American official was also quoted as saying that it was believed General Masood had failed to survive when attackers detonated a bomb concealed in their video camera.
The generals supporters inside and outside Afghanistan denied reports of their leaders death and insisted that he was receiving treatment for minor chest, hand and leg wounds in Dushanbe, the capital of neighbouring Tajikistan.
Afghanistans opposition leaders accused Osama bin Laden and Pakistan of masterminding the attack.
Mehrabodin Masstan, the chargé daffaires at the Afghanistan Embassy in France, said: There was a moment when it was very difficult before the doctors arrived, and we were quite worried. When the doctors arrived and he was operated on and he was bandaged up, the situation stabilised. Mr Masstan suggested that General Masood might speak publicly today.
The generals brother Ahmed Wali, Afghanistans Ambassador in London, said last night: He survived the bomb, but has been unconscious for 1? days. He opened his eyes at 7pm local time (3.30pm BST). Doctors are very optimistic. Mr Wali said that because his brother had been unconscious it had been impossible to confirm or deny assassination reports.
Two Algerians posing as television journalists and Azim Suhail, a close aide of General Masood, were killed in the explosion at an opposition base in Kawaja Bahauddin in Takhar Province. General Masood was flown to Tajikistan. His brother said that he gave instructions to his commander before being taken to the operating theatre.
According to Mr Wali the suicide bombers were travelling on Belgian passports with a multiple Pakistani visa issued in London. The whole thing was organised by Pakistanis and some Arab circles, he said. Another leader of the opposition Northern Alliance accused the Taleban of sending the bombers into General Masoods territory.
The loss of General Masood, 49, would be a big setback to the opposition. It is a fractured collection of groups that fought each other when they ruled much of Afghanistan for four years until the Taleban militia swept them out of Kabul in 1996. A former Defence Minister, General Masood was the military chief of the anti-Taleban coalition. Its political head is the ousted Afghan President Rabbani. His deposed Government still holds Afghanistans seat at the United Nations and is recognised by several nations.
General Masood, an ethnic Tajik, became known as the Lion of Panjshir because of his resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979-89. The Taleban failed to take his headquarters in the Panjshir Valley. He repeatedly accused Pakistan and bin Laden of sending fighters to reinforce Taleban forces. In his last interview, in the Far Eastern Economic Review, he said that he never stayed in the same place for two nights.
Fortune could not favour the brave for ever
ANTHONY LOYD ON THE LION OF PANJSHIR
IT WAS November last year, and little seemed to have changed in Ahmed Shah Masood since Id first met him in 1996. He still looked like a young Bob Marley. His tukul cap was at the identical devil-may-care angle of four years earlier.
Yet he was very tired, slipping in and out of sleep in the passenger seat of his four-wheel drive as we returned from the front, his lolling head threatening to crash into the door of the vehicle as it bounced over the rough terrain.
When I asked him about a junior commanders setback during a failed attack, however, he erupted. He just went and attacked without even asking us at headquarters, Masood snapped. Then he called the next day to say he had been driven back and lost 12 commanders. The issue of cohesion was always sensitive with Masood. It was the 48-year-old Tajiks Achilles heel.
Nevertheless, something appeared to have preserved him from overall defeat time and time again. His first name translates as lucky and his life had been spent astride the bronco of Afghan fortune.
Born in the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, the son of an army colonel, he was educated at the French college in Kabul. Two years after King Zahir Shah was deposed and exiled in 1973 by his cousin Muhammad Daud, Masood, still a student, led a revolt. It was crushed bloodily and Masood, with a bullet-wound to the leg, escaped to Pakistan.
Returning, he fought the Soviet forces throughout the 1979-89 occupation and gained a reputation as the most tactically advanced of any Mujahidin commander. He survived ten Soviet offensives.
In 1992 he led his fighters into Kabul, overthrowing the communist President Najibullah. It was the high point of Masoods career as a guerrilla commander. Made Minister of Defence by President Rabbani, he thwarted hostile opposition forces and held on to the capital until defections allowed the Pakistani-backed Taleban into Kabul in 1996.
Then Masoods fortunes began to slide. Repeated betrayals cost him dearly and by summer this year his coalition was hanging on to no more than 10 per cent of Afghanistan, the forgotten heroes of the Cold War left to fight on alone against the numerically superior and better equipped Taleban.
By his own admission, the experience left Masood with his demons. I have had so many worst moments in my life that I cant remember the worst, he told me bleakly last November. Also regrets: I have many regrets, regrets for things I have or have not done in the war, regrets that when I had Kabul I could not have done better for the people.
More than anything he regretted his inability to maintain unity in his ethnically divided coalition army. Though he could always rely on his Panjshiri troops, the loyalty of his Hazara allies and Uzbeks commanded by General Abdul Rashid Dostum was always open to question. His supporters idolised him as The Lion of Panjshir; critics slated him as a nepotist who favoured Panjshiris over others.
Yet he remained all that stood in the face of a total seizure of the nation by the Taleban. In a cruel twist, the Taleban were supported by Osama bin Laden, a figure Masoods own people are said to have let into Afghanistan in the early 1990s after his expulsion from Sudan. Of his few mistakes this may have been Masoods most fateful, given the likelihood that his assassin was one of bin Ladens protégés. If, indeed, a suicide bomber has ended his run of luck, then the blast will have removed the most dynamic, charming and charismatic figure from play in the worlds wildest war zone. Anthony Loyd on the Lion of Panjshir
Fears as last resistance falters
COMMENTARY BY ZAHID HUSSEIN
THE veteran commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, has been the last bulwark of resistance against the Taleban militia, which controls 90 per cent of Afghanistan.
He held together the fractious opposition Northern Alliance defending bastions in northern and central Afghanistan. His absence is likely to result in its disintegration, opening the way for the Taleban to sweep through the rest of the country.
Afghanistan under the sole control of the extremist Islamic fundamentalist regime would have serious regional repercussions, increasing the threat of radical Islam spreading to neighbouring countries.
A prime concern for the international community is terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. Already the country is a haven for Islamic extremists from elsewhere.
From his base in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist, would pose a greater threat. His power has apparently grown through his links with hardline military commanders in the Taleban leadership and his influence has been further strengthened by their increasing dependence on Arab fighters. With Pakistanis, they constitute a crucial part of the Taleban war machine. Most observers expect the Taleban to adopt a more defiant stance against United Nations demands to extradite bin Laden.
Foreign involvement in the Afghan conflict would increase if the Taleban forces succeeded in taking opposition-held territory. Iran, Russia and former Soviet Central Asian states supply weapons and other military assistance to the opposition.
A further danger would be escalating tension between a Shia Muslim Iran and a hardline Sunni Muslim Afghanistan, which could develop into open conflict.
Russia, which accuses the Taleban of supporting Chechen Muslims fighting against its troops and which fears the spread of Islamic fundamentalism to the Central Asian states, plays a crucial role in enabling Iranian military aid to reach the opposition forces. It also provides direct assistance and support.
Iranian involvement in the Afghan conflict has deepened, not only because of sectarian and regional interests but also because of widening economic concerns. Tehran and Moscow have been compelled by their mutual fear of total Taleban control over Afghanistan to join hands, despite differing long-term interests.
Washington shares Moscows concern at the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and the prospect of Afghanistan becoming a centre for international terrorism, but it remains suspicious of Russias use of the Afghan issue to consolidate its military presence in Central Asia.
Pakistan is one of the three countries that recognises the Taleban regime. Declaring the survival of Taleban rule to be crucial to its security and regional interests, it allegedly provides Kabul with military aid, despite UN sanctions.
Are you aware of any good books on the "Lion"
There must be some books about him, but I'm not aware of them. The portrayal of him in "Path to 911" was outstanding.
Several years ago, there was a Travel Channel special about Massood, with interviews conducted by Robert Pelton Young, if you can find them.
Did they mention in the "path to 911" the installation of bin Laden as defense minister of Afghanistan a month prior to 911?
Before I viewed The Path To 9.11 I did not realize his extensive and invaluable interaction with the CIA in the hunt for UBL.
Here's a link to a page on amazon.com if anybody else is interested. On a related note, there is an excellent book about the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan called "Charley Wilson's war". Charley was a congressman from east texas who was a champion for the Mujahadeen.
It was good,thank you for your work,fatima
I believe Charlie Wilson's War will be released as a movie soon.
HAL... Wow... please... if you have a list. Ping me to it. I knew Masood was important, after watching Path to 9/11 it really opened my eyes. BUT, seeing what you had before 9/11 I want to study this man.
Thank you for posting these. Probably not a lot of people got to read them live, as it were.
As an aside... .Whoever played him in Path to 9/11 did a fantastic job.
Ok, watched part 2 way past my bed time... Have to go back to work in the morning.
HAL- thank you for letting me know more about this man.
The actor did a great job. He got the best line of the film and he was the best looking guy in there too.
As I mentioned above, after I posted this article in the early morning hours of 9/11, I went to bed terribly depressed about the death of Massood.
I'll add a bit more about that night - I had a terrifying nightmare about the end of the world, and all of humanity was in a hellish agony and suffering. Then my wife woke me up and told me that the World Trade Center was on fire. I turned on the television just before the next plane hit the other tower, and it was like my nightmare had come true.
Fortunately, the world did not end - but I had trouble sleeping again on this anniversary.
Great book. You're right...a movie seems to be in the works.