Good at war, poor at peace
As Lion of Panjshir bleeds,Taliban hits his heartland
Luke Harding - Wednesday September 12, 2001 - The Guardian
The shelves of his home deep in the Panjshir valley are lined with books of military strategy and political analysis. There are a dozen books on Afghan history as well as on Stalin and Alexander the Great.
It is, perhaps, his keen political mind and acute sense of history that have made Ahmed Shah Masood such a formidable foe, first for the Soviet army which invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and never managed to defeat him, and now for the extremist Taliban.
Now aged 49, he was the most brilliant commander and charismatic personality to emerge from the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan 20 years ago. Dubbed the Lion of Panjshir, he eluded and then fought to a standstill seven huge Soviet offensives against the valley in the 1980s.
The story of how he forged a mojahedin army from a band of a dozen fugitives living on mulberries helped to turn Commander Masood, with his trademark brown hat, and habit of praying in the middle of battle, into a legend.
Ahmed Shah Masood attended the French lyc*e in Kabul before studying architecture. In the mid-70s he led a failed uprising against Afghanistan's president of the day and escaped to Pakistan.
After the Russian withdrawal in 1989, as Afghanistan descended into civil war, Commander Masood was one of many mojahedin leaders who kept fighting. His forces controlled Kabul between 1992 and 1996 after the demise of Afghanistan's pro-Moscow government.
While Commander Masood is often portrayed as a romantic figure, his troops carried out numerous abuses during his four-year rule.
An estimated 50,000 people died, most of them civilians, as rival Islamic factions struggled for control of the city. In September 1996, in the face of a devastating Taliban advance, Commander Masood abandoned Kabul and fled back to the Panjshir valley.
Kabul's residents, weary of outrages from Masood soldiers, initially welcomed the Taliban fighters. Later they realised their mistake.
In the late 1990s, as other veteran mojahedin leaders gave up, or went abroad, Commander Masood went on fighting. He remains the last great obstacle to the Taliban's complete control of Afghanistan.
All sides hail this ethnic Tajik as a brilliant fighter, but say he is bad at building alliances, a necessary skill given Afghanistan's complex and fissiparous ethnic mix.
Before Sunday's assassination attempt Mr Masood would frequently entertain journalists who visited him in his base in northern Afghanistan. He had a fear of assassination and made it at rule never to spend two nights in the same location. The fear, it seems, was well founded.
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