Ahmad Shah Massoud

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Ahmad Shah Massoud : biography

September 2, 1953 – September 9, 2001

In early 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud with leaders from all ethnicities of Afghanistan addressed the European Parliament in Brussels, asking the international community to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan. He stated that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had introduced "a very wrong perception of Islam" and that without the support of Pakistan and Bin Laden the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for up to a year. On that visit to Europe, he also warned the US about Bin Laden.

The areas of Massoud

Life in the areas under direct control of Massoud was different from the life in the areas under Taliban or Dostum’s control. In contrast to the time of chaos in which all structures had collapsed in Kabul, Massoud was able to control most of the troops under his direct command well during the period starting in late 1996. Massoud always controlled the Panjshir, Takhar, parts of Parwan and Badakhshan during the war. Some other provinces (notably Kunduz, Baghlan, Nuristan and the north of Kabul) were captured by his forces from the Taliban and lost again from time to time as the frontlines varied.

Massoud created democratic institutions which were structured into several committees: political, health, education and economic. Still, many people came to him personally when they had a dispute or problem and asked him to solve their problems.

In September 2000, Massoud signed the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women drafted by Afghan women. The declaration established gender equality in front of the law and the right of women to political participation, education, work, freedom of movement and speech. In the areas of Massoud, women and girls did not have to wear the Afghan burqa by law. They were allowed to work and to go to school. Although it was a time of war, girls’ schools were operating in some districts. In at least two known instances, Massoud personally intervened against cases of forced marriage in favour of the women to make their own choice.

While it was Massoud’s stated personal conviction that men and women are equal and should enjoy the same rights, he also had to deal with Afghan traditions which he said would need a generation or more to overcome. In his opinion, that could only be achieved through education. Author Pepe Escobar wrote in Massoud: From Warrior to Statesman:

Humayun Tandar, who took part as an Afghan diplomat in the 2001 International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, said that "strictures of language, ethnicity, region were [also] stifling for Massoud. That is why … he wanted to create a unity which could surpass the situation in which we found ourselves and still find ourselves to this day." This applied also to strictures of religion. Jean-José Puig describes how Massoud often led prayers before a meal or at times asked his fellow Muslims to lead the prayer but also did not hesitate to ask the Jewish Princeton Professor Michael Barry or his Christian friend Jean-José Puig: "Jean-José, we believe in the same God. Please, tell us the prayer before lunch or dinner in your own language."

International relations

U.S. policy regarding Massoud, the Taliban and Afghanistan remains ambiguous and differed between the various U.S. government agencies.

In 1997, U.S. State Department’s Robin Raphel suggested to Massoud he should surrender to the Taliban. He soundly rejected the proposal.

At one point in the war, in 1997, two top foreign policy officials in the Clinton administration flew to northern Afghanistan in an attempt to convince Massoud not to take advantage of a strategic opportunity to make crucial gains against the Taliban.

In 1998, a US Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Julie Sirrs, visited Massoud’s territories privately, having previously been denied official permission to do so by her agency. She reported that Massoud had conveyed warnings about strengthened ties between the Taliban and foreign Islamist terrorists. Returning home, she was sacked from her agency for insubordination, because at that time the US administration had no trust in Massoud.