New Delhi, Sep 9: This is what Ahmad Shah Massoud had told me more than two decades ago, when I had interviewed him in Panjshir in 1997. Situation is the same. The only change now is, Ahmad Shah Massoud is replaced by his son Ahmad Massoud after his assassination by the Pakistan supported the Taliban and al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001. Today, once again Taliban is back with the support of Pakistan and Ahmad Massoud is fighting to save his fathers Panjshir legacy.
Back in 1997 and the height of the war between the Taliban and Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance. I and my team were on our second visit to the war-torn country with a specific assignment- to interview the chief of the Northern Alliance Ahmad Shah Massoud who has declared that he was still the acting Defence minister of the country after Taliban’s illegal capture of Kabul in 1996.
India had agreed to “help” Massoud, the one who was called the Lion of Panjshir because of his record of having thwarted nine attempts by Soviet forces to take Panjshir valley. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Massoud fled to Tajikistan and started building a coalition to win back Afghanistan. He became the leader of the United Islamic Front for the salvation of Afghanistan or what the world came to know as the Northern Alliance. New Delhi began to provide covert help to ‘Commander’ as Ahmad Shah was called, to build up relations with the Northern Alliance.
It was in that backdrop we travelled to Dushanbe in the winter of early of 1997, the capital of Tajikistan and from there we were taken to the Farkhor air base, maintained by India on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Next chopper ride was across the border to Khwaja Bahauddin village of Takhar province in Afghanistan, which was known as the first stop over on the way to Panjshir valley.
After a night halt at the guest house of the Northern Alliance, next early morning we started for the destination. The 8 hours long drive through treacherous mountain roads remains unforgettable- rusting Soviet tanks and armoured vehicles in mangled heaps, graveyard of the killing machines, huge cannons, silent and rusting. Finally, we reached Bazarak, the capital city of Panjshir province where we met Massoud.
He looked as iconic as Che Guevara – with his trademark double layered felt cap. He told us that he wanted to be an architect when, as a youth, after graduating from a French school in Kabul. He had had then joined a polytechnic college to study architecture. Instead, he was to spend half his life as the architect of Afghanistan’s liberation by mastering guerrilla warfare.
Massoud told us that the Taliban’s claim of controlling 90% of Afghanistan is a lie.
“If they had held 90 percent of Afghanistan’s territory, such a situation would not have existed. The claim is totally false and carries no weight. In fact, over 30 percent of Afghanistan’s territory which matter and heavily populated are under our control.”
He added: “Our main target is to restore peace in Afghanistan and defeat the Pakistanis. We believe that the problem of Afghanistan does not have a military solution. But our achieving a military balance and equilibrium is essential.”
Massoud pointed out that his perception of Islam is different from the Taliban’s preaching.
Massoud said his Islam was as soft where there was no place of discriminations or gender biases.
He told us that he started waging war with just 20 men, 10 Kalashnikovs, one machine-gun and two rocket launchers and was very much influenced by Mao, Che and Ho Chi Minh and their revolutionary tactics to rouse rural peasants. But he didn’t believe that war was the solution.
“I told the Taliban delegations that came here for talks with us in the Panjshir, that you claim to represent the Pashtun tribes – fine, we agree. You say that the majority of Afghanistan is under our control – we agree. You say that the people accept us – we agree. Fine, if there is such a level of confidence – then let’s go toward elections, what are you worried about? In place of so much warfare and bloodshed, move toward elections and legitimately attain power,” he said.
But Massoud was clear in mind that as long as Pakistan was behind the Taliban, there won’t be any peace in his country.
“We have said that Pakistan, since the times of Zia ul-Haq and since the Soviet and communist aggression against the Afghans, has adopted a program and a strategy to enable it in the future to use Afghanistan as a springboard for its affairs in Central Asia and also to become a regional axis and superpower”.
In an hour-long interview, Massoud acknowledged that Afghans had their share of internal problems, and that part of this crisis stemmed from internal causes.
“I repeat that as long as the international community does not exert the necessary pressure on Pakistan, and as long as it does not stop the hand of Pakistani interference in Afghan affairs, it is certain that the flames of war in this country will never be extinguished.”
His hatred for the Pakistan was obvious.
“Pakistan wants to show that Afghans are uncultured and uncivilised and they had nothing in the past and have always led a tribal life and have become accustomed to tribal habits and will always remain so and thus it is their strategy to destroy the identity of Afghans”.
Talking about India, Massoud was very appreciative of the help.
“We thank India for supporting us. We have built a good relationship and we consider it to be a positive step. India does understand us. We have an embassy in Delhi. I am grateful to you, your people of India. Relations between India and Afghanistan are older than Pakistan’s birth. We both have few common enemies,” Massoud smiled.
We stayed there for two days, translating his interview with his interpreter and roaming around the valley with his commanders. This was my second meeting with Massoud. Last I met him when he was waging war against the Russia supported regime in 1990.
Back to present : Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son Ahmad Massoud is fighting against the same force but this time he still does not have similar outside support, like his father had. Nothing has changed, same Pakistan and same Taliban – will history repeat itself?