There was a man who broke the shackle of tyranny. He was the human version of the unknown and intrepid legendary characters depicted in mythology and the heroic figures sought in poetry, who gave the people of Afghanistan a choice whilst the ubiquitous disparity. “There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness,” said Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. The legendary hero, Massoud, became Afghanistan’s hope and many suns during the dark days of the Red Army’s invasion (1979-1989) and the Black Army’s totalitarian regime (1996-2001).
The story of Commander Massoud, Afghanistan’s National Hero, began on September 2, 1953, in the Panjshir Valley, 90 miles north of Kabul. Born into an educated middle-class family, Massoud spent his early childhood years in his birthplace. Graduating from Kabul’s prestigious Lycée Esteqlal, a public high school with a French curriculum, Massoud enrolled at Kabul Polytechnic University to study engineering—refusing the fully-funded scholarship to study in France. However, his participation in political organisations put him on Daud Khan’s intelligence agency’s radar, eventually costing him his engineering career—dropping out of college, Ahmad Shah Massoud went into hiding and kept a low profile.
Commander Massoud is known throughout the world for his guerilla warfare tactics. In the late 70s and while in exile, he read many books about tactical warfare. According to Sandy Gall, a renowned British journalist and the author of Afghan Napolean, he mostly read about Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung, but above all, he admired General de Gaulle and read extensively about him. Massoud also loved reading history books, classical Persian poetry, playing chess, and football. He also enjoyed writing and has left behind about 27 diaries about himself, his plans, and his wishes.
Taken from one of his diaries, “I am lazy in body and soul, which is a bad habit, causing me to be indecisive, and I used to give up quickly after only a weak try. It was in the twelfth class that I became a bit more self-reliant, and, by the mercy of God, my struggles ended happily, and I became a different person.” After his high school graduation and two years at university, Massoud’s character began to take shape as a decisive decision-maker and leader.
Afghanistan needed to take a new step toward social justice, and the people of Afghanistan needed to be given the power to determine their future. From Daud Khan’s oppressive actions, which severely limited the space for political and cultural improvements, to the communists and their Soviet masters’ unjustified and excessive atrocities, Massoud was convinced that picking up arms was necessary to bring reforms and gain freedom.
Freedom is a sacred gift that can transform one’s state from predestination to free will. It is the most crucial essence that exists in the nature of all human beings and is one of our distinguishing traits. Throughout history, we have witnessed revolutionary movements and humans’ determination to sacrifice themselves for this precious and magnificent blessing of freedom and Commander Massoud, more than anyone, understood its value.
The Lion of Panjshir was already organising his newly trained guerilla forces and had a large area under his control when Hafizullah Amin was assassinated and replaced by Babrak Karmal, following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Sixty-two-year-old Abdul Majid, who fought alongside commander Massoud during the 80s in Panjshir, describes to me the key aspects of the Red Army’s offensives: “They usually started with airstrikes, bombarding not only our outposts but also destroying civilian houses from the air. Then came their helicopters and paratroopers. While retreating to the mountains and side valleys, they used choppers to position soldiers to impede the retreat of our troops and confront us from unexpected angles.”
Panjshir was repeatedly attacked by the Red Army and allied Afghan communist forces, all ending in a fiasco. However, there were seven major and large-scale assaults where both the Russians and the Afghan regime used their full potential to seize Panjshir and get rid of the commander, again repelled by Massoud. By early 1989, the Soviets were convinced that Massoud was undefeatable and even considered offering him Dr. Najib’s place.
During the nine years of presence in Afghanistan, 15,000 Soviet troops were confirmed dead on the battlefield all across Afghanistan. The Soviet Union saw tremendous unrest as a result of the Red Army’s inability to quell the insurgency and the costly war in terms of Russian lives and resources. After years of conflict, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev eventually agreed to sign a peace treaty with Afghanistan in April 1988. Massoud, “the Afghan who won the cold war.”
Not only was Massoud a great military and guerilla war genius, but he was also a charismatic and well-mannered human being, whose enemies admitted to calling him a hero and whose captives remembered him fondly. From the Soviet generals, including Boris Bromov, to the Taliban commanders, all have acknowledged the greatness of Massoud. Commander Massoud’s humane treatment of captives led many times to their defecting and pledging allegiance to the lion of Panjshir, throughout the resistance against the Taliban, and in some instances, even during the Soviet occupation.
Massoud was the first of the Mujahideen to form a resistance against the Taliban. He fought against them and their Al-Qaeda associates from the late 90s up until his death on September 9th, 2001. The only leader who warned the world of the dangers of religious extremism and the presence of international terrorists within the borders of Afghanistan who intended to go beyond, was indeed Commander Massoud.
Massoud’s enemies, even after his death, still fear him. The Taliban have repeatedly been recorded insulting and walking on his grave in Panjshir, which reminds us of Salahuddin Ayoubi. Commander Massoud is respected throughout the country for his ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of his country and standing for his values. His vision and values are alive in the hearts of the people of Afghanistan, in particular the younger generation. The struggle for freedom continues.
Article by Maher Saadat (@SaadatMaher) for Epistle News. All views expressed are the author’s personal.