Anti-Taliban resistance with a controversial past

Ahmad Shah Massoud's son barricades himself in Panjshir Valley and appeals to the US, France and the UK for military assistance

3 min
Members of the anti-Taliban resistance in the province of Panjshir

BarcelonaDuring the last days there has been a lot of talk about a supposed anti-Taliban resistance that could take up arms against the Islamist movement. It is the so-called mujahideen, which would be led by the son of Ahmad Sha Masud, a controversial person that some Western media -especially French- present as a hero, but that human rights reports accuse of war crimes. The son's name is almost the same as the father's: Ahmad Masoud. Be that as it may, if the mujahideen are the ones who have to save the Afghan population, the medicine is probably worse than the disease.

To understand why, it is necessary to review the last 42 years of Afghanistan's history. The mujahideen are Islamist factions that fought against Soviet troops in the 1980s and received funding and weapons from the United States. At that time Afghanistan became just another battlefield in the Cold War. After the withdrawal of USSR troops in 1989, the mujahideen factions engaged in a war among themselves for power in Kabul in which they did not mind bombing civilian areas. In those years, between 1992 and 1996, is when Kabul was almost razed to the ground.

Specifically, Ahmad Sha Masud - who spoke French, hence his good relationship with Paris - led a federation of military factions called the Shura-e-Nazar. The Afghanistan Justice Project think tank published a report in 2005, Casting shadows. War crimes and crimes against Humanity: 1978-2001, which literally states: "All factions involved in the conflict in Kabul carried out indiscriminate attacks. Shura-e-Nazar was a particularly lethal force, and a significant proportion of the destruction of the Afghan capital was due to its shells and artillery fire. Masud is repeatedly named as the person who directed operations, whether short- or long-range artillery was used or attack pilots were given orders".

In fact, just ask in the neighbourhoods of Kabul that were bombed by Masoud's men. The people there speak ill of him. The mujahideen factions did so many barbarities during those years that, when the Taliban movement appeared in 1994, part of the Afghan population did not dislike them. Not because they agreed with them, but because in the areas where the mujahideen fought, bombings, looting and rapes were so common that the areas under Taliban rule were considered almost an oasis.

Faced with the emergence of the Taliban, the mujahideen allied again to fight them and created the so-called Northern Alliance. It was so called because the Taliban took control of 90% of Afghanistan, while the mujahideen factions were relegated to a northern part of the country. They prevented the Taliban from conquering it because they blocked the Salang tunnel, a tunnel more than two and a half kilometres long, which is the only connection between the south and the north of Afghanistan. The mujahideen also entrenched themselves in the Panjshir valley, located around 100 kilometres north of Kabul, which is also a difficult area to access. To enter there is a single curvy road along a river. By disabling that road, it is impossible to enter.

The war between the Mujahideen and the Taliban lasted for the five years that the Taliban were in power. Everything changed, however, with the 9/11 attack on the United States in 2001. Two days before the attack, Ahmad Sha Masood was killed in Afghanistan by al-Qaeda terrorists posing as journalists: while he was being interviewed, they detonated an explosive device hidden in their camera. When the United States began its intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, it did not send troops on the ground. It simply bombed the country and toured the mujahideen factions to help bring down the Taliban regime. And that is what happened.

A giant portrait of Ahmad Sha Masood at Kabul airport

After the fall of the Taliban regime, the mujahideen demanded compensation for their help and Washington agreed to allow them to become part of the new Afghan government. Since then, Kabul has been full of posters with Masoud's portrait. Some shopkeepers opted to put it in their shop windows simply to save themselves trouble. During the last few years, Masoud's picture has also presided over the entrance of some ministries and even the facade of Kabul's international airport, where there was a giant image of the mujahedin leader next to one of the hitherto Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani. The mujahideen who were part of the administration replaced the Kalashnikov with a suit and tie, giving an image of respectable politicians, with whom the international community has been dealing for the past two decades.

Ahmad Sha Masood's son has no blood on his hands - he is 32 years old and has spent much of his life in Iran or the UK - but he drinks from his father's legacy. He has barricaded himself in the Panjshir Valley, claims to have the support of thousands of soldiers, and has asked for military aid from the United States, France and the United Kingdom to fight the Taliban. Providing him with weapons, however, would mean poisoning the complicated Afghan hornet's nest even more.