Ahmad Massoud in talks with the French about the Afghan peace process (Photo courtesy: @AhmadMassoud01/Twitter)
His father Ahmad Shah Massoud was known as a Lion of Panjshir. But can Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud also rise and be counted in shaping Afghanistan’s turbulent future?
At the moment, the scion of the famous Afghan commander is pessimistic, as he apprehends a full-blown civil war, yet again, in the Hindukush, if the Taliban refuses to join peace talks, and the Americans pull out of Afghanistan by the September 11 deadline declared by US President Joe Biden.
Ahmad Massooud, the Tajik origin Panjsheri warned the Taliban that the Afghan mujahideen are ready for a military confrontation with the group, which once sheltered the dreaded Al Qaeda and its icon Osama bin Laden, if the Taliban do not abide by their stated commitment to peace.
"We must talk with [the] Taliban, we must make peace with the Taliban," but the insurgents must accept core values such as democracy and women’s rights, Massoud told Tolo News, an Afghan television broadcaster. “At the same time, if the peace process is used to fuel the war machine, then the people are ready to pick up arms one more time.”
A file photo of Ahmad Shah Massoud (Photo courtesy: @realMassoud/Twitter)
According to Tolo news, Ahmad Massoud is in touch with other warlords and “Jihadi’ commanders. He has been telling them to stay unified even though President Ashraf Ghani has been sceptical of the strength of the mujahideen and has side-lined them from the issues at hand. Massoud told the channel: “In case the parties see a military solution as the way out for Afghanistan, then we will also make our own military preparations within the structure of the mujahideen, with the suggestions of the mujahideen, with the support of the people and under the umbrella of the Ulemas to bring an Islamic system that is the genuine demand of the people”.
According to the news portal Gandhara, Afghan warlords are preparing feverishly anticipating a power vacuum should the Afghan government collapse and the Taliban launch a full-scale power grab.
In Herat, along the Iranian border, Ismail Khan, a well-established warlord has begun to mobilise forces to protect his people. Zulfiqar Omid, a Hazara activist and politician, on has setup a “resistance front” in the province of Daikundi, in central Afghanistan. Similarly, there Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an established human rights violator, has staged several rallies with his supporters in Kabul in recent months.
The situation in Afghanistan reminded me of the time when I had met the late Ahmad Shah Massoud in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, during the heat of the anti-Taliban resistance, just before his assassination on September 9, 2011. I asked him about his plans to takeover Kabul. His response was deeply analytical and spot on. “It is linked to certain conditions. It depends on how long Pakistan continues to help the Taliban and how long it stands behind them. Do you know we are not only fighting the Taliban at present but we are confronting three groups of forces comprising the Taliban, Arab mercenaries of Osama Bin Laden and elements from madrassas in Pakistan along with Pakistan's regular army? Among these forces, one is Afghani and the other two forces are non-Afghani.”
This was a time when India had got deeply involved in the Afghan “mess”, following Pakistan backed Taliban’s takeover of the country in 1996. New Delhi was anxious that with the Taliban’s consolidation in Afghanistan, Pakistan would acquire “strategic depth” against India in a future war. Besides, Afghanistan would become the training ground and launchpad to push battle hardened international terrorists into Kashmir. Resource rich Central Asia, where India has also deep cultural connections would also get infected by the terror-virus.
Consequently, for the next five years after 1996, a variety of Indian diplomats would be in touch with the Northern Alliance leader, as they made the difficult journey from Delhi to the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, then travel in rickety planes from the border to the Panjshir valley. India’s assistance to the Northern Alliance ranged from providing ordnance and small armaments to food supplies and medicines.
During my meeting, he was surrounded by his companions and friends, including Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. They all mirrored their leader’s steely resolve to carry on the good fight against an obscurantist foe, sponsored by an avaricious and meddling neighbour.
By the time the Indians established close contacts with Massoud, he was already a legendary commander.
Massoud had been at the forefront of the anti-Soviet jihad, his guerrilla tactics against the mighty Soviet army became the stuff of legends. The “lion of Panjshir”, it was said, would lure the “Soviet bear” into his redoubt; they would walk right into the ambushes laid by Massoud’s men; and when the Soviets withdrew, Massoud and his men occupied those areas.
Massoud was also a unifier. Born a Tajik, Massoud had done more in his short lifetime to try and unite Afghanistan’s very diverse and tribal society riven across several traditional faultlines; Tajik vs Pashtun vs Hazara, Dari vs Pashto vs Farsi, Sunni vs Shia.
After the Soviet backed government fell in 1992 and president Mohammad Najibullah resigned, Massoud, along with several Mujahideen parties, signed the Peshawar Accord and enabled the formation of a coalition government to restore some semblance of peace to war torn Afghanistan. He became the interim defence minister.
After internal political tribulations and conflict within Mujahideen factions, the Massoud led Afghan government attempted peaceful settlement, but by this time the Taliban, backed by Pakistani ISI, had emerged as a major military force. It then laid siege against Kabul for several months, before toppling the government in September 1996 and establish its own regime.
Massoud then, once again went into resistance mode–consolidating the various ethnic groups of Afghanistan under the Northern Alliance, till his death, unable to see the ouster of the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks.
It would unfair to expect the young Ahmad Massoud to step into his father’s very big shoes. But the son of the “Lion of Panjsher” does have a chance to find his place in the sun, as Afghanistan, yet again, undergoes one of its turbulent, and often bloody, political transitions.