Visiting The Tomb Of Ahmad Shah Massoud. The Mujahideen were painted as courageous and resilient freedom fighters as they defended their lands from the Soviet invaders in the 1980s. None were more lionized than Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud was an Afghan politician and a military commander who led the guerrilla resistance in the Panjshir Valley. And for many years after, Massoud battled the Taliban as they sought complete control of Afghanistan. Massoud and his Mujahideen preserved the independence of his lands from both the Soviets and the Taliban over two decades of war.
Massoud’s home, the Panjshir Valley, is only 93 miles (150 km) from the capital of Kabul. It is about a three-hour drive with the opportunity to pass by the vast Baghram US military base. Over 1,000,000 people make their home in the valley with Afghanistan’s largest population of ethnic Tajiks. Panjshir means Valley of the Five Lions and Massoud is known as the Lion of Panjshir. The Panjshir is a stable and secure area, compared to the rest of Afghanistan.
The Lion of Panjshir was heralded as a tenacious military commander but he was also a scholar. Massoud was schooled in France and was fluent in four languages. The CIA officers (as quoted by author Steve Coll in Ghost Wars) admired Massoud greatly. “They saw him as a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage. Massoud was a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability, they thought. … In his house there were thousands of books: Persian poetry, histories of the Afghan war in multiple languages, biographies of other military and guerilla leaders. In their meetings Massoud wove sophisticated, measured references to Afghan history and global politics into his arguments. He was quiet, forceful, reserved, and full of dignity, but also light in spirit. The CIA team had gone into the Panshjir as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened.”
The Lion was tragically assassinated on September 9, 2001. The assassination is thought to have been organized by Osama bin Laden in anticipation of the terror attacks on 9/11. Bin Laden killed Massoud to protect Bin Laden’s allies, the Taliban, and to ensure their cooperation as a continued protector with the anticipated future attack of the US after Bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center. The assassins deceptively posed as journalists hoping to interview Massoud. Upon meeting him, the assassins detonated a bomb hidden in their camera. Later that year, Afghan President Karzai awarded Massoud the title of “Hero of the Afghan Nation”.
On a cool, crisp autumn morning in November, our group of travelers departed our generic, guest house in Kabul. Our group of eight (six travelers and two guides) spread ourselves over three battered cars. The rationale was for our group to blend in, not to stick out in brand-new, black Land Rovers with tinted windows.
I traveled with Untamed Borders, who specializes in challenging locales like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan. Untamed Borders was the sponsor of my adventure in Afghanistan. The traffic in Kabul is thick, overflowing with vehicles of every size. Smoke and fumes seem to continually waft into my car, making me wish for clean air
We exited the city and followed the road to Panjshir Valley. While there were less cars, the traffic was no better. The roads were not built for this slew of cars. We passed small villages, a tank graveyard, and military bases as we progressed to the valley.
We entered the mouth of the valley and we stopped at a military checkpoint. A group of soldiers with smiles looked over our passports, a bit surprised of our visit. The mountains provided a natural barrier for Massoud to protect his people. And this military checkpoint served the same purpose. These soldiers controlled who came in and out of the valley.
The road winded through the mountains and hugged the Panjshir River. We passed a handful of villages, one just a remnant after being destroyed by the Russians years ago. And occasionally, we noted the shell of a tank dotting the landscape. Portraits of Massoud are ubiquitous, his profile maybe the most well-known in all of Afghanistan. He is commemorated across the nation every September 9 on Massoud Day. Visiting The Tomb Of Ahmad Shah Massoud.