He was a powerful guerilla commander during the resistance against the Soviet occupation between 1979 and 1989. In the 1990s he led the government’s military wing against rival militias and, after the Taliban takeover, was the leading opposition commander against their regime, which he fought against until his assassination in 2001.
Massoud came from an ethnic Tajik, Sunni Muslim background in the Panjshir valley of northern Afghanistan. He began studying engineering at Polytechnical University of Kabul in the 1970s, where he became involved with religious anti-communist movements around Burhanuddin Rabbani, a leading Islamist. He was part of a failed uprising against Mohammed Daoud Khan’s government. He later joined Rabbani’s Jamiat-e Islami party. During the Soviet–Afghan War, his role as a powerful mujahideen insurgent leader earned him the nickname of “Lion of Panjshir” (شیر پنجشیر) among his followers as he successfully resisted the Soviets from taking Panjshir Valley. In 1992 he signed the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement, in the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan, and was so appointed as the Minister of Defense as well as the government’s main military commander. His militia fought to defend the capital Kabul against militias led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other warlords who were bombing the city—and eventually the Taliban, who started to lay siege to the capital in January 1995 after the city had seen fierce fighting with at least 60,000 civilians killed.
Following the rise of the Taliban in 1996, Massoud, who rejected the Taliban’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, returned to armed opposition until he eventually fled to Kulob, Tajikistan, strategically destroying the Salang Tunnel on his way north. He became the military and political leader of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan or Northern Alliance, which by 2000 controlled only between 5 and 10 percent of the country. In 2001 he visited Europe and in high-level meetings with the European Parliament urged leaders to pressure Pakistan on its support for the Taliban. He also asked for humanitarian aid to help the people’s gruesome conditions under the Taliban. Massoud was assassinated at the instigation of al-Qaeda and Taliban in a suicide bombing on September 9, 2001. Two days later the September 11 attacks in the United States occurred, which led to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation invading Afghanistan, allying with Massoud’s forces. His forces eventually won the two-month long war in December 2001, removing the Taliban from power.
Massoud was posthumously named “National Hero” by the order of President Hamid Karzai after the Taliban were ousted from power. The date of Massoud’s death, September 9, is observed as a national holiday known as “Massoud Day”. His followers call him Amer Sāhib-e Shahīd (آمر صاحب شهید), which translates to “(our) martyred commander.” Massoud has been described as one of the greatest guerilla leaders of the 20th century and has been compared to Josip Broz Tito, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara. One of the reasons for this was because he successfully managed to repeatedly defend his local Panjshir Valley from being taken by the Soviets and thereafter by the Taliban.
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