Ahmad Shah Masud (1953-2001)
man, every afghan bears living testimony to this. If the landscape of Afghanistan bears
the craters of the endless war, the political and military leadership in Afghanistan also
carries wars indelible scars. It is important never to lose sight of this.
Masud was born to an army family in 1953 in the Panjshir Valley north of the Afghan
capital Kabul. His father was a colonel in the Afghan Army and enrolled his son at
Kabuls Lycee Istiqlal High School. Upon graduation Masud joined Kabul's
Polytechnic Institute. In 1973 King Zahir Shah was deposed and exiled by his cousin
Muhammad Daud. For the young, idealistic,
afghan nationalist Masud, this was unacceptable. He plunged headlong into politics,
and though still a student led a revolt against the regime. Dauds agents crushed the
revolt and gave Masud a bullet-wound in his leg. Masud escaped to Pakistan.
gave the Afghan opposition military and political aid. A secret cell under the IG Frontier
Corps coordinated the Pakistani effort. The money for this came from Saudi Arabia.
Initially Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Rabbani, Younas Khalis, Ahmad Shah Masud, and others
were trained in sabotage, and upon instructions from Pakistani officers in 1974, enticed
revolts in Afghanistan. Masud returned to Panjsher, but as elsewhere his revolt too
faced a brutal government crackdown and failed miserably. Most of the rebels barely made
it back to Pakistan.
government fell in 1978, the victim of the communist coup of 1978, this created more
political upheaval in Afghanistan. The entry of the Soviet Army in 1979 caused a large
number of political leaders to flee Afghanistan. This gave Pakistani planners more choices
and massive sums of American money and military support. The Pakistanis emphasized on
Islam to counterbalance the Afghan nationalism and came to have a controlling influence on
the flow of American aid. Pakistani support focused on the `gang of seven, i.e.
Hekmatyar, Khalis, Rabbani, Abdul Rasul Sayaf, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gilani, Sibgratullah
Mojadidi, and Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi.
joined Burahanuddin Rabbanis Jamiat-i-Islami (Society of Islam) and returned to
Afghanistan. He established bases in the Panjshir Valley. Masud placed great
emphasis on training, coordination and discipline in battle. His appeal drew thousands of
volunteers from local villages. He assigned administrative and political responsibilities
of the villages that sustained his movement to some of these volunteers. He also formed
mobile units, local defense elements and support units with proper operational areas. This
policy paid rich dividends on the field. His successes around the Salang Tunnel provoked a
response from the Soviet army. Operations
began in 1981 and employed corps size formations of Soviet and DRA Army troops equipped
with armored personnel carriers and tanks, supported by artillery and Mi-24 helicopters.
The campaign was
very bloody, the Soviets took massive losses; defections plagued the DRA Army.
Masuds display of raw courage and tactical genius during the conduct of these
battles earned him the title of `Shir-e-Panjshir (The Lion of the Panjshir Valley),
and his fighters became very skilled. The repeated Soviet offensives (PANJSHIR I- PANJSHIR
VI) eventually took their toll on Masuds forces. By 1983, Masud utilized
a delaying tactic, he agreed to a six-month truce in the Panjshir Valley. Neither side
even remotely anticipated an end to war but hoped for near-term advantages. The truce lasted till 1985, and Masud used
the time to build up political support and to give his troops much needed rest. The
Soviets went to war elsewhere in Afghanistan, most notably in Herat. The truce was not
well received in Pakistan, many Mujaheddin, labeled Masud a traitor to the cause.
Masud managed to overcome the political
drawbacks of his decision. His meetings with the American CIA helped rebuild strength and
eventually gave his men access to the Stinger Missile system. By late 1984 the truce had
completely broken down, and Masuds forces once again posed a major threat to
the Salang Tunnel. In 1985, Masud expanded his administration, establishing the
Shura-e Nizar (Supervisory Council), which oversee the affairs of the vast area from
Panjshir to Badakhshan. But this administration faced great difficulties as the Soviets
returned to the Panjshir valley in stunning form. Using vast numbers of airborne assault
troops (VDV) and helicopters, they took the bulk of the valley in the massive Operation
Panjsher VII. This forced Masud out of the valley and created a refugee crisis
in the parts administered by Masud. The
Soviets set up a system of forts to dominate the valley. Masud was undeterred; he
absorbed the hit and soon re-tasked his men to harass these forts and their lines of
communication. Investing still more in training and coordination, his raid on the DRA Army
position at Pechgur Fort, resulted in the death of the DRA Army
Central Corps Chief of Staff Brig. Ahmaddodin and the capture of several
officers. Despite counter-offensives Masud continued his campaign against the
Soviets with much vigor.
growing cost of war forced the Soviets to leave Afghanistan in 1988, Masud yet again
struck a deal with them, allowing them safe passage across the Salang Tunnel, in exchange
for weapons and expanding his military control in areas north of Kabul and northern
Afghanistan. With Iranian backing, Mas'ud helped set up the Ittehad-e Samt-e Shamal
(Northern Alliance) in early 1992. He allied with Gen. Abdulrasheed Dostum to capture most
of Kabul after Najibullah's fall in April of 1992. This came as a rude surprise to the
Pakistani intelligence community, who were hoping that their `favorite Gulbudin
Hekmatyar would march in Kabul ahead of Masud. In the first government of the
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Rabbani was President, and Masud was made Defence
could not unify the fractious allies. His inability to get along with Gulbudin Hekmatyar
during his exile in Pakistan had always been a source of trouble. His group was constanly
involved in bloody clashes with Gulbudin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami. The clashes resulted
in considerable causalities on both sides even during the fighting against Soviet backed
Kabul regime. This discord continued long after Mujaheedin took over of Kabul power in
1992. Masud was suspicious of the
Pakistanis, and when the Benazir Bhutto government brokered a new alliance aimed at
forcing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as the prime minister of Afghanistan by way of the Islamabad
Accords, Masud opposed it. Masud and Hekmatyars power struggle
intensified and spilled over into Kabul City. The façade of Mujaheddin unity was shredded
to bits as Gen. Abdulrasheed Dostum and Hazaras defected to Hekmatyars side exposing
Masuds flanks. This prolonged the conflict, eventually, Masuds
forces wrested control of Kabul City, but the victory came at a horrific cost to its
citizens and almost totally polarized Masuds relations with Pakistan. Still
recovering from a bloody confrontation with his former allies, Masud could only
watch the march of the Taliban.
Taliban met Masud for the first time in February 1995, they demanded he surrender
and disarm. True to form, while meeting Masud on the side the Taliban also opened
negotiations with the Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari. Masud moved to unbalance the
Hazaras in south Kabul in a swift offensive on March 6, 1995. In the ensuring fracas, the
Hazara leader Mazari was killed in Taliban custody. This permanently destroyed any hope of
a Taliban-Hazara peace, and later resulted in the worst sectarian massacres that the
region has seen. Regrouping quickly on March 11, 1995 Masud launched a major
offensive against the Taliban and drove them out of Kabul city. The bloody street fighting
left hundreds of Talibs dead. Masuds
victory brought the Talibans `Unstoppable March to a sudden halt. Against the
superior military force of Ahmad Shah Masud, the as yet weakly organized Taliban
stood no chance.
Taliban shifted their attention and advanced on Shindand airbase held by Ismail Khan,
Masud airlifted 2000 of his fighters to Shindand and with the help of aerial
bombardment by ex-DRAAF officers, and he broke up the Taliban offensive. The Taliban
suffered 3000 casualties in this campaign. The
Pakistan ISI now brokered and agreement between Gen. Abdulrasheed Dostum and the Taliban.
Gen. Dostum then rebuilt the Taliban Air Force at Kandahar, and the Talibs built up an
army of 25,000 troops. They used these to overrun Herat City in October 1995. The Taliban
also initiated operations against Kabul in November, but Masuds men were able
to stop these offensives. The relationship between Masud and Pakistan grew worse
with each passing day.
26, 1996 Gulbudin Hekmatyar once again changed sides and joined the Rabbani Govt. as the
Prime Minister. This angered the Taliban and the Pakistanis, as it made a mockery of their
`Anti-Rabbani Alliance efforts. The Taliban intensified rocket attacks on Kabul
city. This marked the beginning of the Talibans second assault on Kabul. The Taliban
quickly doubled back to seize Jalalabad in August 1996 after bribing the reigning warlord.
Then in a swift campaign, they seized the provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman, and Kunar. Next
they advanced with lightning speed taking Sarobi and finally entering Kabul city itself.
The speed of the advance paralyzed the Rabbani Govt, Masud accused the Pakistanis of
involving regular troops in Taliban offensives. On
26 September 1996, Mas'ud lost control of Kabul to Taliban. He retreated to his main bases
in Panjsher. After the loss of Kabul, Masud chose to be more open in his opposition
to the Pakistan army. He engaged in military confrontations with the Taliban at Bagram,
and later in Konduz, Takhar, and Baghlan. His position grew precarious with each battle.
Pakistani manipulation and the worlds short attention span brought many hard days on
him. As the Pan-Islamist agendas of the
Taliban became clearer, international support for Masud returned and slowly despite
murderous losses in the battles against a Taliban army composed increasingly of Pakistani
Army regulars, Masud continued to pose a serious military and political challenge to
the Taliban and Usama Bin Ladens Al Qaida.
September 9, 2001, two suicide bombers posing as Algerian news reporters assassinated
Ahmad Shah Masud at his headquarters in Khwaja Bahauddin. Before detonating the
explosive packed into a TV camera, the assassins repeatedly asked Masud why he
rejected Usama Bin Ladens leadership and the International Islamic Jehad. A few days
later on September 11, 2001 hijackers loyal from Al Qaida carried out suicide
attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. The
apparent connection between these two events seems impossible to ignore. It seems as
though just before launching the first war of this millennium, Usama Bin Laden eliminated
his most immediate and dangerous adversary, and thus extinguished one of
Afghanistans brightest stars.
summarize, Ahmad Shah Masud represents the violently independent spirit of the
Afghan people. Like most Afghans, Masud had a predisposition towards infighting.
This otherwise mild discord was amplified in minor part by the circumstance of war, and in
greatest part by the cynical manipulations and sinister machinations of the Pakistan Army,
which tried to enslave the Afghan people via Pashtun proxies. Some liberals and intellectuals seek to defame
Masud as an opportunistic ethnic warlord, and yet even a casual glance shows that
his actions pale into nothingness when compared to the acts of the Taliban.
passage of time, Masud's minor transgressions will be forgotten and his military
brilliance, his will to oppose the systematic murder of civilians in the name of faith,
and most of all his commitment to the freedom of the Afghan people will remain the
dominant motifs in his memory. The people of all civilized nations shall mourn his
Weekly carries the following words on its website:
In remembrance of, and tribute and respect to Afghanistan's greatest son,
True Hero of the Islamic world,
Heir to Hussein, Abu Muslim Khorassani, and Yaqub bin Laith, Patron saint of the future defenders of Aryana and Khorassan,
Prince of the successful Jihad against the Soviet Union,
And forever leader of
Afghanistan's will for freedom and independence,
Ahmad Shah Masud
alaih - God's blessings upon him)
The author feels
such qualifications are unnecessary, in the difficult years that lie ahead; the mere words
`Ahmed Shah Masud shall come to mean praise in themselves.
Photo from: http://www.ahmadshahmasood.com/