The Return of the Lion of Panjshir
Ahmad Massoud, born in 1989, resembles his father as a young man: a sharp face, well-groomed beard, pronounced nose, raven hair and an inseparable pakol, Panjshir’s wool, donut-shaped headdress. Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary and undefeated Afghan commander who fought against the Soviets and the Taliban, was killed in 2001 by two Al-Qaeda terrorists disguised as journalists. He was the first victim of the September 11 attacks, blown up on the eve of the attack on America.
“I had decided not to give any more interviews on the eve of the vote for the president, but you are one of the family,” explains a young Massoud in his fortress home in Kabul protected by guards armed to the teeth. At his side is his maternal grandfather, “kaka” Tajuddin, one of the most famous Islamic supporters of the Lion of Panjshir during the war against the Soviets. With a big white beard, the weight of the years is felt, but the blue eyes are the same as during the battle of Keran in 1987, when I spent three months with Massoud before he was captured by Soviet supporters. After so many years of war, it is moving to embrace the old mujahid alongside the young Lion, the “predestined” as they call him in the impregnable valley of Panjshir.
Ahmad Massoud was only 12 years old when his father died. To protect him, the family had him study in London where he was trained at Sandhurst military academy. Then he graduated in studies on armed conflict at King’s College. For the past two years, he has been travelling between London and Kabul, but a few months ago he founded a movement, named after his father, to take up the baton of the Lion of Panjshir.
Will the Taliban return to Kabul?
“The people have no desire for an extremist group to regain control of the country. Do they plan to return to Kabul? Let them come, but first of all, they must accept our most important value, democracy. If they want to regain power, they can do so only through the use of ballot boxes. If, on the contrary, they think they will return to Kabul through weapons and bullets, let them try”.
Did you breathe a sigh of relief when the talks with the Taliban were abruptly interrupted by the White House?
“The way the peace process was managed, the secrecy, the direct negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban, without the Afghan authorities being involved, was unacceptable. We opposed this method, but we never said that we were against peace “.
One of the conditions of the Taliban was to rename Afghanistan “Emirate” instead of Republic. What do you think?
“No negotiation or superpower starting from the American one or even the government has the power to change the name of the country, but only the people can through a referendum. We will never accept that a peace agreement, a governmental or foreign decision transform the Afghan Republic into an Emirate”.
What do you think of today’s presidential elections?
“These elections have raised many doubts since the beginning about the fairness of the vote. I don’t think they will be free and fair, but I hope, at least, that they are better than the previous parliamentarians, the worst case in the world”.
The vote should have been postponed to facilitate peace talks. Do you think going to the polls is a good idea?
“For me, peace has always been a priority over any election. Only peace can put an end to the bloodbath in Afghanistan. I prefer a fair, unrigged vote under peaceful circumstances rather than having, as now, a sham election, which can create further chaos and crisis in this war zone “.
In Panjshir and also in Kabul flags with the green, white and black colors of the resistance of the mujaheddin against the Soviets and the Taliban are already flying, instead of the Afghan standard. What does it mean?
“I love both flags, which I display in my office. That of the mujaheddin is steeped with the blood of our people who fought against the totalitarian communist regime and terrorist extremism. How can people forget this identity, which has meant so much sacrifice, but of which it is proud? “.
Is the solution to the country’s crisis federalism or the birth of two separate nations?
“I have always strongly believed that the decentralization of powers in Afghanistan would solve many problems. The war with the Taliban and the rivalries between ethnic groups is largely caused by the centralization of power. For this reason a federal system must be debated and carried out”.
Your father had foreseen September 11 organized by al-Qaeda. Now the Islamic State has also sprung up in this country. Can terrorism from Afghanistan threaten the West again?
“Then it was al-Qaeda and now it’s called Isis, but it’s the same threat with the same face and the same tactic even if they use different names. The international community must be on guard and not forget the danger. The Islamic world especially should mobilize and issue a fatwa of all Muslim countries against the ideology of terror to eradicate it once and for all “.
You have an important and heavy legacy on your shoulders. What does the foundation of the new movement “the Path of Ahmad Shah Massoud” offer?
“Afghanistan is increasingly divided: terrorism, insurgency, corruption, ethnic and deftly encouraged religious conflicts. All of this clashes with my father’s values and sacrifice. Now it’s up to me to carry on his legacy, his ‘path’. He wanted an independent, strong and peaceful Afghanistan, where proxy wars were no longer waged in behalf of other countries and especially, democratic. This movement is the symbol of a united Afghanistan that is fighting for a clean country, of honest leaders, free from corruption. Not only that: my father has always fought and protected Afghanistan from foreign invasion and totalitarian groups (the Taliban, author’s note). If it happens again, we are ready to protect the country by conserving its legacy. ”
Should NATO troops stay in Afghanistan?
“To solve Afghan problems we do not need foreign troops, only logistical support. Some countries try to intimidate us by repeatedly threatening withdrawal. We Afghans will never say, “please stay”. If they want to leave, leave. We survived communism with nothing and an empty stomach. We survived terrorism and the Taliban in the 1990s when they were much stronger and murdered my father. Whatever happens, we will survive. The mistakes made by the international community in Afghanistan in the last 18 years of intervention are the real reason that brought the Taliban back to life in their new momentum “.
Have you ever thought of coming to Italy?
“I love Italy and I would like to also visit the Vatican. I would like to have the opportunity to meet the current Pope, who follows the true path of Jesus, peace be with him ”.