Tag Archives: Afghanistan

2001 ➤ The other 9/11 assassination: could Massoud have become his nation’s spiritual leader?

Ahmad Shah Massoud and followers photographed by the Japanese photographer and anthropologist Hiromi Nagakura who knew him over two decades... “Massoud said to me, ‘We are fighting against terrorism. If we don’t fight here, the war will only expand.’ After September 11, I finally understood what he was talking about.”

❚ SUNDAY IS THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, but this week also marks a decade since Al Qaeda assassinated the one figure who was holding out against its protectors, the Taliban. This was Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghan guerrilla commander known variously as The Lion of Panjshir and the Afghan Che Guevara who became the nation’s defence minister. Following his death he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, declared a National Hero of Afghanistan and Sept 9 is now observed there as a national holiday known as Massoud Day.

He was assassinated at the age of 48 two days before the Twin Towers fell, ostensibly as part of the 9/11 process to draw the US into the Afghan war in 2001. Two Tunisian suicide bombers posed as overseas television journalists to interview Massoud in Khvajeh Ba Odin, a small village in north Afghanistan, where they detonated a bomb hidden in their camera.

Ahmad Shah Massoud, postage stampIn 1996, during the civil war in Afghanistan, the Taliban seized the capital city, Kabul, and soon the majority of their fighting force were soldiers imported from abroad by Al Qaeda, the Sunni Islamist militant group founded by Osama Bin Laden and designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.

In 1989, Massoud had been instrumental in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan. In the 90s, with the Taliban gaining control of 90% of the country, he opposed them by creating the United Front (Northern Alliance), and so posed a constant threat to Al Qaeda.

What was revealed only last December, when the 30-year rule released previously secret UK Cabinet papers, was that western powers had decided in 1980 to provide “discreet support for Afghan guerrilla resistance” after the Soviet invasion of their country. This not only meant Britain secretly supplying arms to Massoud, but also that one faction of the mujahideen fighters were covertly funded by the CIA. These went on to become founding members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

➢ Afghanistan’s “lost pillar of stability” — Listen to yesterday’s flagship Today show on BBC Radio 4, when security correspondent Gordon Corera discussed why Massoud had to die before the Twin Towers fell. If he had lived, many believe Massoud would have become a vital pillar of stability for his nation.

Massoud Tomb, Afghanistan,video,DocsOnline

Annual pilgrimage: Ahmad Shah Massoud’s chauffeur brings flowers from his leader’s garden to his tomb overlooking the Panjshir Valley. (Grabbed from video documentary by Iqbal Malhotra)

➢ VIEW a scene from Ahmad Shah Massoud, a documentary (above) by Indian film-maker Iqbal Malhotra (from DocsOnline)

An Intimate Portrait of the
Legendary Afghan Leader

A freedom fighter, a warrior, a man of God, an intellectual, a humanitarian, a liberal… the list goes on. Massoud was a renaissance man, though his modesty would never acknowledge it. This is perhaps his greatest quality – humility. Unlike radical leaders such as Che Guevara, his desires were modest: Freedom and prosperity for his people.

Massoud was a passionate enemy of terrorism. He strongly objected to any terrorist-style actions by mujahideen during the war with the Soviets, and identified the war against the Taliban as a war against terrorism.

Massoud was a deeply spiritual man and a devout Muslim. It is important to make these distinctions, for “Massoud the man” has perhaps more in common with Mahatma Gandhi than Che. We are exposed to a man of grace, who revelled in the beauty of his country and his creed.

➢ Read more: the biography of Massoud by Marcela Grad is appraised by Justin McCauley in the Vienna Review of Books


1980 ➤ Secrets revealed about the SAS, arming Afghanistan and death of the tanner

Yes Minister, Nigel Hawthorne, Paul Eddington

Rt Hon James Hacker MP (right): “This is a democracy, and the people don’t like it.” — Civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby: “The people are ignorant and misguided.” — Hacker: “Humphrey, it was the people who elected me.” (From Yes Minister, BBC TV’s satirical sitcom set in Westminster, launched Feb 25, 1980)

❚ PREVIOUSLY SECRET UK GOVERNMENT RECORDS are routinely declassified after 30 years. Cabinet documents for 1980 were released by the National Archives at noon today, Dec 30 2010. Here’s a selection of titbits most of us have been unaware of…

➢ SAS to be given immunity for killing foreigners — The televised storming of the Iranian embassy building in London in 1980 boosted the SAS’s international prestige and generated invitations to deploy them on overseas hostage rescue missions. (Guardian)

➢ Margaret Thatcher in cover-up after Czech spy exposed John Stonehouse — Did you know that John Stonehouse, the former Labour minister who “did a Reggie Perrin” and vanished abroad, was said to have been a spy? (Guardian)

➢ Britain secretly agreed to back Afghan resistance fighters after the Soviet invasion of their country — One faction of the Mujahideen fighters, who were also covertly funded by the CIA, went on to become founding members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. (Daily Telegraph)

➢ Unflappable Douglas Hurd stunned into silence during Afghan revelations — UK Confidential on the BBC iPlayer

Ahmad Shah Massoud ,Afghanistan, 1983, Nagakura

Ahmad Shah Massoud (left): on the ground in Afghanistan in the Panjshir province of Afghanistan 1983. Photographed © by Hiromi Nagakura

❏ Listen online to BBC Radio 4’s response to today’s revelations in an excellent edition of UK Confidential chaired by Martha Kearney. After hearing that western powers had decided in 1980 to provide “discreet support for Afghan guerrilla resistance”, former Labour minister Roy Hattersley and former BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant wrong-foot Douglas Hurd who had been a foreign office minister at the time. How much aid was spent on arms? Had we armed the wrong people? Kearney herself notes that “arms were going to Shah Massoud” (later dubbed “the Afghan who won the Cold War”.) Twice Hurd is forced into silence, as he formulates his eventual reply: “I’m not saying. Of course I’m not saying.” Terrific radio, from the 32-minute mark.

Other topics include Margaret Thatcher’s patrician scolding by Harold Macmillan… her furious row with the Bank of England… her moderate reaction to early trade-union strikes … and how the government tackled an Iranian warship on the River Tyne.

➢ Cabinet ministers feared 30 years ago that MPs were abusing their expenses — Margaret Thatcher was warned that there was a “grave risk of serious public scandal” over Parliamentary allowances and that some politicians may have to be prosecuted. (Daily Telegraph)

Harold Macmillan, Supermac, Vicky

Harold Macmillan: depicted as Supermac by the cartoonist Vicky

➢ Macmillan’s 11-page private warning to Margaret Thatcher — “Supermac”, the Conservative prime minister from 1957-63, sent a remarkable letter criticising the PM’s economic strategy. (Guardian)

➢ The sixpence was killed off to raise £3.5m by melting down the old coins — Margaret Thatcher ordered the “death of the tanner”, introduced in 1551 and made obsolete by the decimalisation of sterling. The last coins were struck in 1967. (Daily Telegraph)