Images of Ahmad Shah Massoud (1953-2001) are everywhere in his native Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul, where a small group of us traveled to recently by taxi. Here his likeness hangs over a newly constructed bridge straddling the Panjshir River and linking a small community with the main highway.
Massoud, an ethnic Tajik, was a university engineering student before he became a military leader and, with support from the United States and other foreign powers, played a decisive role in expelling the Soviet army. Massoud was arguably the most moderate and popular of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen leaders and earned the title Lion of Panjshir. After the collapse of the Soviet-backed government, Massoud became Afghanistan’s defense minister in 1992 under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. When the Rabbani government fell apart, ushering in the Taliban regime, Massoud returned to the role of an armed resistance leader, serving as the military commander of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan.
On September 9, 2001, two days before the Word Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda agents, allegedly with the support of another Afghan warlord. The following year, he was named a national hero by the new and current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Though not universally revered by all Afghans, many still call him Āmir Sahib-e Shahīd, which translates to Our Martyred Commander.
On our back into Kabul after leaving the Panjshir, we were routinely stopped by members of the Afghan national police. “Where are you coming from?” asked one officer sternly. Our driver explained we had visited Massoud’s tomb, which offers a spectacular view of the valley. The officer’s face broke into a smile and he waved us through the checkpoint.