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In Afghanistan, Assessing A Rebel Leader's Legacy

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In Afghanistan, Assessing A Rebel Leader's Legacy

In Afghanistan, Assessing A Rebel Leader's Legacy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. Ten years ago today, a team of al-Qaida agents carried out a shocking assassination in the north of Afghanistan. It soon became clear that the killing formed part of their September 11th plan. Suicide bombers posing as journalists killed Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was the most famous Afghan resistance leader during the Soviet occupation and he later fought the Taliban.

These days, posters of Massoud still adorn shops in northern Afghanistan and today his admirers held a huge commemoration, but as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, Massoud's legacy has not lived up to the legend.

QUIL LAWRENCE: If the people of the Panjshir River Valley are the proudest in Afghanistan, it's because of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who defended their region over three decades of war. They called him the Lion of the Panjshir.

SAID AKBAR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Soviet forces never managed to hold this place during their 10 year occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban never made it here either, says Said Akbar, who fought for Massoud in the in the 1990s. He's picnicking up a narrow terrace in the shadow of the cliffs that vault up from the Panjshir River, part of the natural defenses that made the valley impossible to conquer.

His companion, Malik Jan, says 10 years ago, rumors spread that Commander Massoud had been wounded in an al-Qaida attack.

MALIK JAN: (Through Translator) As soon as I heard that he was injured, I knew he'd been killed because all the trees were all of a sudden - they looked very sad. The mountains, the rocks, everything was crying. There was a black cloud over the mountains for a couple of days.

LAWRENCE: Jan says tens of thousands of people turned out for the funeral a week after his death. They were afraid of facing the Taliban without Massoud to lead them, but news had begun to reach Afghanistan of the September 11th attacks and that allowed some to hope that the Taliban's days were numbered.

Up the valley, a windy hilltop mausoleum commands a view over the Panjshir. Every weekend, Afghans come to visit Massoud's white marble tomb. Women, men and children come and not just from Massoud's Tajik ethnic group.

AMRULLAH SALEH: Commander Massoud was fighting for a pluralistic Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: Amrullah Saleh was a close advisor to Massoud and later served as the Afghan government's intelligence chief. He believes if Massoud had lived he would have united the country and Afghanistan would look much different now.

SALEH: He would have articulated a vision for Afghanistan so the people would have understood the direction of the country. That narrative is no longer now in the country. It is blurred. It is blurred by the wrong policies of President Karzai. There is confusion, massive confusion.

LAWRENCE: But some of Massoud's critics say he might have only added to that confusion, just like in 1991 when he and other resistance leaders fought a civil war after driving out the Soviet-sponsored government.

The criticism of Massoud gets more pointed if you ask around the west Kabul neighborhoods that saw the fury of Massoud's Tajik troops during the civil war.

ALI MAHMAD: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Ali Mahmad says he was a young boy when the warlords, Massoud among them, fought over Kabul with no regard for civilians. Mahmad's father didn't come home one day. He was an ethnic Hazara, and bystanders say he was shot after passing a Tajik checkpoint on his bicycle.

Mahmad says Ahmad Shah Massoud was a warlord just like all the others.

MAHMAD: (Through Translator) I hate all of them because they have never done anything for the national interest. They've always looked, you know, to fill their own pockets.

LAWRENCE: Critics say Massoud's lieutenants have not measured up, either. In the aftermath of the American invasion, many of them appropriated land and houses and soaked up massive profits from the continuing occupation.

That's a sore point with former foot soldiers like Said Akbar, who points up the Panjshir River to where Massoud's modest house still stands.

AKBAR: (Through Translator) Massoud's home is just only two blocks away from here. You saw that it's not a fancy house. Look at his friends today. Those who fought with him have now hundreds of homes in Kabul, making money. It's become a money-making business for them.

LAWRENCE: Akbar is now a captain in the new Afghan army and he's been fighting the insurgents down in the troubled south, something he sees as a much better way to carry on the legacy of Massoud.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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