The Lion of Panjshir
September 8, 2011 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Two hours north of Kabul is the Panjshir Valley. Remote, rugged, and filled with beautiful scenery, it is also the birthplace of Ahmad Shah Massoud who was assassinated ten years ago today, though his legend lives on.

After more than 20 years of fighting against the Soviet occupation and the subsequent takeover by the Taliban, he tried to gain the moral support of the United States and European Union. Defense Intelligence Agency documents show that in the spring of 2001 he tried to warn the U.S. that al-Qaida was planning something larger than the 1998 embassy attacks, though there are those who remain unconvinced.

Massoud, named a National Hero by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2002, had a memorial dedicated to his honor that same year. He was also controversially nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He is much beloved by many in Afghanistan where September 9th is a national holiday, marked with the laying of a wreath at Massoud's Tomb, though sometimes marred by violence.

Ten years later, the assassinations continue, but The Lion of Panjshir still inspires the Afghan people.
posted by ob1quixote (19 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'm just going to point out, for anybody who Googles this page years from now, that we in America are experiencing, or about to experience, a ten-year anniversary celebration of the horrendous act most ever celebrated by a world power. 9/11 was a bad bad thing, and many bad things happened because of it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:34 PM on September 8, 2011

I actually remember reading about Ahmad Shah Massoud's assassination (or maybe watching a television news report about it) and thinking it would provoke some sort of retaliation or further violence. And then, 2 days later...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:45 PM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Great post. I wish the video was a bit more educational than just showing random clips of him, but its still very moving. World leaders in some of the world's most difficult places certainly don't live a life of uber-safe luxury, and there's something to be said for those who would persevere to serve their people under such harsh and dangerous conditions.

These are great links and this is a very educational post, but what is sad for me is that knowledge like this will very likely never penetrate the national consciousness of America. I will be humbly honest: I never knew who Massoud was before I left the US a few years ago. If you had shown me this video back then with no context, might I have just assumed that here was another Islamic militant bent on the destruction of the capitalist free world? I very well might have.

Yet in the video he wears no turban. None of the shots are of him showing a news paper to prove the date of his threats, none of them transition to a POW with an AK to his head.

Instead, here was one man struggling against a massive tide of political, economical, and fanatical religiosity. Not just on one side, but on all sides - he fought against the extremes of both the Islamic powers of his day, as well as struggling against what I can only now sadly admit must have been corrupt powers on the western side of the world that saw no benefit of pro-actively or preemptively supporting his fight against those they would soon take arms against themselves. Were there not massive ethical and political considerations to be made in supporting such a man in an independent struggle on the other side of the earth? Certainly. But perhaps more pertinent: do those outweigh the same considerations, now exacerbated tenfold, by the nearly decade long presence of foreign armed forces in this man's country?

Here was a man who very well may have tried to warn the US about 9/11 before it happened. Although the evidence may not conclusively prove it - in my mind there can be no doubt when I consider the timing of his assassination and the 9/11 event itself. And yet the US still takes pride for the toppling of the Taliban that he was so long already fighting for.

Shame on us. Shame on us for being the richest and most powerful nation in the world and for still being too weak to help freedom fighters like Massoud because he identifies with a religion that fanatics we are diametrically opposed to identify with the same. Shame on us for being too afraid to intervene when it might be politically unpopular, for failing to support a rebellion effort that we were all to ready to take on ourselves, once we had the "right."

Shame on us for not caring about the least of our world, in so many other places, where they still exist today. It shouldn't take another 9/11 to make that happen again, but I'm afraid that or more might always be what is needed to shake a nation like ours out of its stupor.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:05 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

horrendous act most ever celebrated by a world power

posted by the noob at 11:20 PM on September 8, 2011


Yes. I sticking to that term. The U.S. has always celebrated massive acts of destruction. It's in the national anthem "rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air". Do not underestimate Amercan's appetite for wanton destruction.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:28 PM on September 8, 2011

maybe commemorated is a more appropriate.
posted by the noob at 11:38 PM on September 8, 2011


but yes,i see what you mean
posted by the noob at 11:39 PM on September 8, 2011

Sebastian Junger spent a month with Massoud in 2000. Here's a piece he wrote about him in 2002: Massoud’s Last Conquest
posted by homunculus at 12:05 AM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

The standard argument about the timing is that the Taliban wanted him out of the way before 11th September so the Americans wouldn't have this key ally on the ground.
posted by imperium at 12:19 AM on September 9, 2011

The standard argument about the timing is that the Taliban wanted him out of the way before 11th September so the Americans wouldn't have this key ally on the ground.

Not quite. His assasination was basically contracted out by the Taliban to Al Qaeda in exchange of protection for Bin Laden. The Taliban were probably even unaware why Bin Laden wanted them to owe him so much...
posted by Skeptic at 3:05 AM on September 9, 2011

He was for years rather entertainingly styled "the Loin of Panjshir" in the sign as you enter the Panjshir, now regrettably removed. Many would not agree with the hero-worship. He was certainly extremely effective, courageous and indeed brilliant as a warlord of the mujahed against both Soviets and Talibs, but his reputation was probably permanently soured for all but the Tajiks during the bloody civil war of the 90s. He himself is implicated in attrocities conducted by Jamiat and Shura-e Nazar militias, including the Afshar attacles in early 1993.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:08 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nice, informative post. Stirs up some of the cobwebs of memory in my brain.

I can see someone coming up with an iconic image of him to put on t-shirts and stencils, and he could become the Che for a new, hip generation of American youth.
posted by Eekacat at 5:49 AM on September 9, 2011

Well, I don't underestimate Guns 'n Roses' Appetite For Destruction. That was a great album.
posted by symbioid at 6:42 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do enjoy fantasizing about an Afghanistan War where we had him to train and lead the Afghan people in overthrowing the Taliban and booting Al Qaeda, and then everyone flies kites and lives happily ever after.
posted by georg_cantor at 7:16 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I actually remember reading about Ahmad Shah Massoud's assassination (or maybe watching a television news report about it) and thinking it would provoke some sort of retaliation or further violence. And then, 2 days later...

Me too. I also remember in August of 2001, watching CNN during the day when they had a quick story about how intelligence agencies were picking up increased chatter on terrorist communication networks, which might mean they are planning a new attack. I wanted to hear details, but the report was brief and I didn't see it shown again because this was the summer of shark attacks and Gary Condit.

A few weeks after 9/11, that report popped back into my memory. It's why I couldn't believe that the Bush administration has thew audacity to claim they has no advanced warning of the attacks.
posted by riruro at 9:20 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's why I couldn't believe that the Bush administration has thew audacity to claim they has no advanced warning of the attacks.
Same here. People forget so easily that terrorism was a major concern during the Clinton administration. There was the original attack on the WTC, the attack on the Oklahoma federal building, attacks on US bases in Saudi Arabia that looked the same, attacks on US embassies in Africa, an attack on the USS Cole, and with Clinton's attempt to kill OBL, many people were waiting for a retaliation.

There was plenty of worry leading up the millennium celebrations (and apparently at least one attack was supposedly thwarted). I was in New Orleans at the time, and spoke openly with friends about how easy it would be to drive a car bomb onto Bourbon and take out hundreds of people in one. We also saw plenty of federal, undercover agents all over the city.

I spoke frequently about terrorism with a friend of mine (he invested in the stock market for a living, and now runs his own firm). We were expecting a major terrorist attack on American soil that summer. A lot of people were. The Bush administration was too (or at least, seemed to be given how much time Bush was spending outside of Washington DC), and how members of his cabinet like John Ashcroft stopped flying commercial jets.

We specifically discussed the WTC as a target, along with the Sears Tower, The Capitol building, the White House, nuclear power plants, the Library Tower in LA, and other high density gatherings like football games (which I go to regularly), malls during holiday events, the Rose Parade, etc.

The WTC was the target he fixated on because of its symbolism, its location in Manhattan next to the stock market, and because he assumed the death toll would be in the 10's of thousands.

Given the nature of the first attack, I thought it a fair assumption that security at the WTC would have taken measures to prevent a repeat attack by car bombs. I assumed that meant they were safe. But he specifically talked about flying planes into the buildings. After all, the two Columbine shooters had fantasized about doing just that.

I assumed private planes would be too small, and that passenger jets were out of the question because of airport security (recall that Clinton stepped up airport security at airports, started requiring IDs, and so on, and often set up checkpoints at LAX to stop and search cars, etc.). He thought American airport security was a joke, and anyway that you didn't need a gun to hijack a plane. Smart guy (btw he's not an American, so that probably helped his objectivity).

I remember discussing Massoud before the attacks (I frequented a forum where international issues were the primary topic, and one of my favorite posters was a Pashtun guy who railed against the Taliban with all the venom and elegance of Christopher Hitchens). Some were convinced his assassination was a prelude to the much anticipated terrorist attack, others thought/hoped it meant the Taliban was making a move on the Northern Alliance (presumably not both).

When the Bush administration said they had no idea the attacks were coming, and that nobody could have dreamed people would fly planes into buildings, it seemed like such a risible, bald faced lie (Bush had specifically ridiculed Clinton for focusing too much on 'one man' -- OBL -- and conspicuously diverted money and focus from anti-terrorism efforts as a public snub to Clinton) that I half expected him to be laughed or chased out of office.

But people were scared to death after 9/11, and they administration had free reign to say and do anything they wanted without anybody daring to raise an eyebrow.

Amazing how Bush and the GOP managed to turn one of the worst days in America's history into one of their best opportunities for political exploitation.
posted by Davenhill at 3:09 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hell, terrorism goes back to Reagan and earlier. Under Reagan the marine barracks and the embassy were bombed. The new thing there was the suicide bombing. Terrorism goes back much farther. I bet we could think of things further back. Munich games? Oh yeah, that wasn't against Americans, so it's off the radar. Any administration that hasn't taken terrorism seriously since at least Reagan (including him) was a real screw-up. Bush II was a fuck up in so many ways, this is just one of the many.
posted by Eekacat at 4:48 PM on September 9, 2011

In the early nineties I was very close friends with one of his nieces, a filmmaker. She and I had a lot of talks about going to Afghanistan together to make a documentary on her family. At the time this seemed like a great idea.

One day she called him and discussed the idea with him. She also talked to her parents about it. Luckily, Massoud gave her a flat 'no' as he felt that the time just wasn't right.

I remember being saddened by his murder. And such an ugly way to go. At the time I didn't have a full understanding of who the guy was, but since then I've learned more. He was a real hero in the fullest sense; a tremendous force with both good and horrible powers attached.
posted by artof.mulata at 5:24 PM on September 10, 2011

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