How do Afghans see Ahmad Shah Massoud

Afghanistan's cold warrior and legacy

The West is also responsible for the transfiguration of Massoud as the hero of the resistance against the Soviets in the Cold War

Ahmad Shah Massoud is considered Afghanistan's national hero. He was killed on September 9, 2001, two days before the World Trade Center attacks. This was certainly not a coincidence. Massoud is revered not only in his homeland, but also in the west. But de facto, like most other actors in the war in Afghanistan, he can justifiably be called a war criminal.

On the day of his death, which also marks the beginning of the so-called martyrs week, the Afghan political elite gathers annually in the capital and gives speeches on the former Northern Alliance leader, who - at least that's what the US wrote Wall Street Journal - won the Cold War and later became a protagonist in the fight against the Taliban.

In Kabul, however, the annual enthusiasm was limited. Apart from the fact that Massoud's militias were responsible for numerous massacres during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s and that they devastated the Afghan capital while fighting with opposing factions, it has become a ritual of his followers, some heavily armed by the on the day of his death To draw the streets of the city to show their supposed dominance. Young men then march in the middle of downtown Kabul with guns and swords. Massoud's likenesses are omnipresent. Those who do not participate can run into problems.

Many motorists only put the warlord's image on their car on this day to be left alone. Not infrequently there are riots with fatalities.

A dubious hero

Massoud, then the celebrated leader of the Northern Alliance, was murdered in the northern Afghan province of Takhar by two Arab suicide bombers disguised as journalists. To this day there are numerous legends surrounding Massoud, also known as the "Lion of Panjshir", which describe him as a charismatic warrior and godly Muslim, among other things.

The West is also responsible for the transfiguration of Massoud as the hero of the resistance against the Soviets in the Cold War. The French especially loved the eloquent Massoud, who spoke their language among other things. To date there is practically no documentation about the Afghanistan war in which Massoud is not mentioned in detail. The main reason for this was always the fact that Western observers and interveners in distant wars are always looking for actors with whom they can identify in some way.

Massoud was considered "moderate", spoke French and looked "like a young Bob Dylan". In addition, it was he who successfully defended his home province Panjshir for years against the Soviets, that is, against the "godless communists", while at night he occupied himself with Persian poetry or the writings of Ho Chi Minh, Sun Tzus or Che Guevara. An intellectual warrior who fought for his people - or at least successfully presented himself as such.

Competition with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Massoud's life was shaped by his competition with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the leading mujahideen warlords during the war against the Soviet Union and in the following years of civil war. Both had known each other for a long time. During the lifetime of the first President of the Afghan Republic, Mohammad Daoud Khan, Massoud, Hekmatyar and other young Afghans of their kind were trained by the Pakistani intelligence service ISI to put a coup on the president, who was using increasingly nationalist tones against Pakistan.

However, the action failed. The president reacted harshly by imprisoning Massoud, Hekmatyar and others involved, such as the future president and Massoud's ideological foster father, Burhanuddin Rabbani. In April 1978, however, Khan was pushed by the Afghan communists, who massacred the president and his family and plunged Afghanistan into a reign of terror that became too radical even for the political bureau in Moscow.

Later, Massoud's rivalry with Hekmatyar turned into open hostility. This procedure was also in the interests of the Soviets, as Hekmatyar received massive support from the USA and Pakistan. For foreign camera teams from Europe, Massoud flaunted himself by pretending to be fighting the Red Army.

Afghanistan veteran Yuri Korbert, who was stationed in Panjshir at the time, confirmed this during a later interview, claiming that not a single fight against Massoud had taken place in all those years.

In the event of a confrontation with Massoud, it was also no problem to defeat him and his fighters. This would not be surprising, said Korbert, because Massoud and his troops lacked weapons and logistical means to be able to hold their own against the Red Army in the long term. In addition, Panjshir was not the center of the war at all.

In many other regions of the country, such as southeastern Khost, where the mujahideen were led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the war was much more violent. Haqqani was then described by US President Ronald Reagan as the "personification of the good" and enjoyed the support of Pakistan and the USA.

When the Americans themselves invaded in 2001 and Haqqani, now a leading head of the Taliban, turned against them, he was - of course - quickly branded a new enemy and "terrorist". The so-called Haqqani network is still considered to be the blocking point of the Taliban and has been responsible for numerous brutal attacks over the past two decades, including the victims of numerous Afghan civilians.

Repressed massacres

Nonetheless, the Panjshir commander is referred to by numerous Western historians as a "brilliant guerrilla tactician" alongside Ché Guevara or Ho Chi Minh. The American journalist Eric Margolis claims in his book "American Raj, Liberation or Domination, Resolving the Conflict between the West and the Muslim World" that Massoud wanted to convince the government in Moscow to overthrow the then Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah in order to do so whose place could take.

In 1993, four years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, there was a momentous massacre in the Afshar district of Kabul, which mainly killed members of the Hazara, a Shiite minority. The main people responsible for this massacre were the then Prime Minister Burhanuddin Rabbani, the warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was then Minister of Defense. Around 750 people were killed or abducted. The soldiers of Massoud also participated in murders, looting and rape.

But in the memory of Massoud's supporters, the atrocities committed by his militias only play a subordinate role. He is also credited with having set up an alliance against the Taliban when they had brought most of Afghanistan under their control in the mid-1990s - and most of the governments in the West had come to terms with Taliban rule. However, in the course of the fight against the Taliban, Massoud's ties to the Russians became clear once again. His greatest sponsors were not only Iran, but also the government in Moscow.

Warlords benefited from Massoud's death

Nonetheless, some argue that Massoud's death shortly before the 9/11 attacks was no accident. Massoud had long warned the West against al-Qaeda and its friends. The nationalist-minded warlord would not have tolerated a US invasion of Afghanistan. Not only the USA benefited from Massoud's death, but also the warlords from his closest circle. All of them had allied themselves with NATO in the fight against the Taliban and secured their positions of power.

Most of them are now in the government, the military and the secret service. In 2001, Massoud was officially declared "Hero of the Afghan Nation" by Karzai. In 2002 France nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Amazingly, he can - just like all other Afghan warlords - justifiably be called a war criminal. (Emran Feroz)

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