In the name of the fathers

(To Andrea Gaspardo)
15/09/21

On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever. However, in these days in which the international community is committed on the one hand to commemorate the "Event" and at the same time to note the failure without appeal of 20 years of American and Western military adventure in the lands of Afghanistan, it is It is also good to remember the lives and destinies of two men who have marked the history of this tormented country and whose ghosts still hover over the skies of Central Asia since today it is their children who have taken up the burden of their respective and contrasting "historical missions"; for those who have not understood, I am talking about the leader of the Resistance, the general Ahmad shah massoud, and the founder and first head of the Taliban, the mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid.

Born in the town of Bazarak, in the Panjshir Valley, on September 2, 1953, Ahmad Shah belonged to the Tajik minority of Afghanistan.

Throughout Afghan history, Tajiks, as well as members of other minorities present in the territory (Uzbeks, Turkmen, Hazara, Nuristani, etc.) have always found themselves in a subordinate position compared to the Pashtun majority (historically also called " afghani ”, hence the name of the country); nevertheless, they played an equally important role in the events that led to the creation of the country.

Son of a colonel of the Afghan Royal Army, Ahmad Shah moved to Kabul while still a child and there he was able to attend the very prestigious Lycée Esteqlal, the French school which together with the German Amani-Oberrealschule and the Afghan-Persian Habibia, has historically formed the elite of country.

Fluent in 5 languages ​​(Dari, Pashto, Urdu and French), he then successfully attended the engineering course at the University of Kabul, a place of higher education but also a battlefield between the different factions of intellectuals (Communists, Westernists, Islamists) who challenged each other to determine what political future the country would have. At that time the young and talented engineer chose the Islamists and joined the youth branch of the political party Jamayat-E-Islami (the Islamic Society) founded by the theology professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, also a leading protagonist of subsequent Afghan political and historical events.

In 1975, the then XNUMX-year-old Ahmad Shah had his "baptism of fire" when, together with other members of the Jamayat-E-Islami, led an insurrection in his native Panjshir Valley aimed at thwarting the process of radical reforms inaugurated in the country two years earlier by President Mohammed Daoud Khan. However, the insurrection proved to be a total fiasco because, on the one hand the panjshiris completely rejected the call to arms of these "improvised adventurers", on the other Daoud Khan quickly and vigorously brought in the special operations forces of the Afghan Army, in particular unity 444 command which gave a merciless hunt for the rebels almost to their "extinction".

Having gone into hiding, Ahmed Shah tried again to light the fuse of the revolt in Panjshir in 1978, after the seizure of power by the Communists and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan proper, however this second attempt also met with failure. .

Luck finally came to the young lion in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a reaction to the takeover of their country by a foreign force, Afghans of all ethnicities and political sensitivities (with the exception of the Communists) revolted en masse, dragging the forces of Moscow and Kabul into an exhausting guerilla warfare. Taking advantage of the situation, the Tajik leader was finally able to take control of the Panjshir, transforming it into his stronghold and starting to work hard to expand his guerrilla force which, despite the inevitable and increasing losses would go from 1000 poorly equipped men in 1980 to well 13.000 fighters trained and equipped in 1989. Thus was born the legend of Ahmad Shah "Massoud", the "Lion of Panjshir".

In the period between April 1980 and June 1985, the Soviets and their Afghan allies carried out 9 major offensives (named by Panjshir I a Panjshir IX) as well as an even greater number of smaller operations aimed at taking control of the strategic valley, destroying guerrilla forces and capturing or killing the elusive opposition commander. Although on more than one occasion the enemy forces managed to break through its defenses and occupy the bottom of the valley, Massoud always responded according to the dictates of asymmetric warfare learned from the manuals written by Mao Tse-tung and Ernesto "Che" Guevara and adapted to the particular Afghan situation, withdrawing his men in the mountains and then going back down to the valley at a later time cutting the supply lines of the communist forces who were therefore forced to retreat again.

Beyond his value as a military leader, Massoud proved to be a precious resource for the Afghan Resistance also thanks to his skills as a politician and communicator, both towards the Afghan population itself and international public opinion, contributing to the creation of the myth of "Resistance of a small proud and independent people against the force of communist oppression".

However, it is not affectionate to believe that Massoud's military path during the Soviet War in Afghanistan was a downhill road because, beyond the inevitable losses and tactical setbacks, the Panjshir forces also had to deal with the shortage of aid from international sponsors. This may cause more than one to curl their brows, but more distracted readers need to be reminded that although Mujahiddeen Afghans received huge quantities of economic, humanitarian and military aid from literally half the world through the so-called "Operation Cyclone", this "lifeblood" reached them exclusively through Pakistan, in particular the most powerful of its intelligence agencies, the 'ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) who worked hard to channel such aid to Afghan Resistance groups that could be more easily manipulated for use and consumption of the long-term foreign policy objectives of the "Country of the Pure", and always being Ahmed Shah Massoud was considered too independent, his warrior force always received an insufficient amount of aid compared to its real needs.

Here is the time to introduce the other protagonist of our narrative because, in addition to marking the rise of Ahmad Shah Massoud's star, the Soviet War in Afghanistan also represented the stage in which even the one who became the founder took his first steps and the first leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid.

Contrary to the case of Massoud, Mullah Omar's youth is not well documented and partly sinks into legend. According to the official biography disclosed by the Taliban only in April 2015 (two years after the death of their leader), Mohammed Omar was born in 1960 (7 years after Massoud) in the village of Chah-i-Immat, in the district of Khakrez located in the province of Kandahar, therefore in the heart of the deep "Pashtunistan".

The education that Omar received was light years away from the elite one that Massoud could enjoy in the capital and took place only within the madrassas (Koranic schools) of his area of ​​origin until 1979, when the handsome nineteen year old moved to Pakistan to escape the repression that the communists had unleashed in the country to study at the prestigious Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia in Karachi, which has always been one of the world's most orthodox temples of Sunni Islam and the cradle of the "Deobandi Movement" which, over time , laid the philosophical-political-religious-juridical foundations for the birth of "plagues" such as: Wahhabism, the Taliban, ISIS and others.

In 1982 Omar returned to Afghanistan to join the ranks of the Mujahiddeen and participate in the fighting for the next 5 years, being wounded at least four times, until the battle of Arghandab, one of the most important of the whole conflict, during which thousands of Afghan fighters resisted bitterly, this time in a conventional way and not asymmetrical, for over a month to the overwhelming power of the Soviet forces and their Afghan Communist allies. During the battle, an artillery shell hit the position garrisoned by Omar in full, killing most of his "comrades" and flooding him with splinters which, among other things, caused him the total loss of his right eye which was shattered. .

Despite the serious injuries and perennial disability, Omar was transported back to Pakistan and never returned to Afghanistan until 1994, instead dedicating the following years to physical rehabilitation, the continuation of Koranic studies, learning the Arabic language and laying the foundations for the creation of his “Movement of Koranic Students”, better known as the Taliban, always acting under the protective wing of the Pakistani ISI.

Conversely, in the north-western part of the country Massoud continued to remain active and, in the following years, played a fundamental role in forcing the Soviets to withdraw from the country (1989), in causing the fall of the Afghan communist regime (1992), and in subsequent civil war erupted between the various factions of the Mujahiddeen victorious.

By 1996 the Afghan Civil War had now reached its peak, with Massoud who, as Minister of Defense of the "Islamic State of Afghanistan", having as its president his old professor, Burhanuddin Rabbani, had defended Kabul from the assaults of the militias of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rashid Dostum and other warlords at the cost of having transformed the capital into a battlefield that had claimed the lives of no less than 60.000 civilians.

It was at that moment that the lives of the "Lion of Panjshir" and the "mullah of Kandahar" entered hopelessly on a collision course. In fact, two years earlier, the Taliban had begun to heavily infiltrate Afghanistan starting from neighboring Pakistan.

Their first "victim" was the city of Kandahar (or rather, "what remained of it") which has always been the beating heart of the Pashtun lands and there, after its fall, they proclaimed the birth of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. with Mohammed Omar holding the position of "supreme mullah" of what was, in effect, a sort of monarchical / oligarchic / tribal theocracy.

After a series of lightning-fast offensives that led them to occupy a large part of southern, central and western Afghanistan, the forces of the "Koranic Students" invested in full Kabul, once again strenuously defended by Massoud.

In September 1996, at the end of one of the longest urban battles in contemporary history (1 year and 7 months of practically uninterrupted fighting), the Taliban finally managed to dislodge their enemies from the capital.

With a skilful strategic retreat, Massoud managed to rescue his forces in that 20% of the Afghan national territory still in the hands of the official government of the country, slowing down the Taliban advance by blowing up the strategic "Salang Tunnel" and blocking the advance of the Taliban forces at the mouth of the Panjshir Valley.

Over the next 5 years, the elusive Tajik commander continued to oppose the Taliban by leading a composite alliance of forces called the "United Islamic National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan" (also known as the "Northern Alliance") composed mainly of minority members. ethnic groups of the country and those Pashtun tribes who were ideologically opposed to the Taliban.

Although the Northern Alliance controlled only 20% of the territory and 30% of the population of Afghanistan, this was still enough to prevent the Taliban and their Pakistani allies and al-Qaeda's jihadists from achieving total victory. such as to transform the country into a real "black hole" of world politics.

During those years, Massoud himself never ceased to denounce both the extremist drift of the Taliban and the increasingly invasive presence of al-Qaeda on Afghan soil and the destabilizing actions that the Saudi "sheikh of terror" Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was planning to perform in different parts of the world; warnings that, one after another, have all turned into reality. Indeed, Massoud had become such a thorn in the side of the Taliban-Pakistani-Qaedist alliance that his elimination became a priority for the enemy leadership, in particular for Osama bin Laden, who personally took charge of liquidating the "Lion of the Panjshir "(which happened punctually on September 9, 2001) through the action of a suicide commando set up for terrorists of his organization who had infiltrated the free area of ​​Afghanistan disguised as journalists under the pretext of interviewing the Tajik leader .

Very cunningly, bin Laden and the high command of his organization did not even inform their allies of the plan that was about to be implemented as, rightly so, they feared that there were hostile elements in the Taliban leadership who were secretly in league. with Massoud and the other Resistance leaders. That is why, when the terrorist attack was completed, the end result shocked the Taliban at least as much as world public opinion. But that shock was short-lived as, two days later, it was literally eclipsed by the events of 11/XNUMX.

What should have been a decisive victory for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar was instead an ephemeral success because subsequent events led the United States of America and its International Coalition partners to intervene directly in Afghanistan, eradicating in a it only hit both the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda's bases. For the occasion, the forces of the Northern Alliance, although orphaned by Massoud, played a fundamental role in guaranteeing the final victory of the Coalition, acting as "infantry" and "eyes on the ground".

Despite the end of his regime, Omar still managed to save himself, along with a good part of the Taliban leadership, and to take refuge in Pakistan. Here he busily went back to work to reorganize his movement and prepare the "counterattack". However, he was no longer able to return to power since, on April 23, 2013 he too died, but not on the occasion of a striking event as had happened for his rival Massoud, but struck down by tuberculosis.

With the deaths of General Ahmad Shah Massoud, in 2001, and of Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid, in 2013, the two men who, more than all others, had governed the fate of Afghanistan during the 90s of the twentieth century disappeared ( and in the case of Massoud, even in the 80s). However, the departure of the "duelists" did not at all pacify Afghanistan which still struggles to return to a semblance of normality. In fact, many thought that, with the new takeover by the Taliban, in August 2021, following the collapse of the government and state structures of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the flight of the military contingents of the United States and their allies to crown a useless war that lasted 20 years, all resistance would be extinguished and the "Koranic Students" would finally impose their will on the whole Afghan society, now exhausted by over 43 years of uninterrupted wars. Instead, in the Panjshir Valley, the local forces, assisted by the remains of the Afghan Armed and Security Forces, gave birth to the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, also known as "the Second Resistance" (in memory of the "First Resistance "Who had opposed the Taliban during the 90s) and the backbone of this movement is no less than Ahmad Massoud, the only son and eldest of the sons of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

When the al-Qaeda bombers seized his father's life in 2001, little Ahmad was only 12 years old; however, even then it was he who pronounced the funeral oration of the deceased father-hero, symbolically collecting his legacy which then became effective in September 2019 when, returning from his military studies in France and the United Kingdom, he was acclaimed leader of the forces of the panjshiri.

In his mission, the "Young Lion" is not alone, being able to avail himself of expert men such as his uncles Ahmad Zia Massoud and Ahmad Wali Massoud, generals Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Mohammad Yasin Zia and, above all, the former Minister of Internal Affairs and ex-vice president Amrullah Saleh, all veterans of the conflicts faced by his father, as well as leading men in the political and military system of the now former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, given the ties he has managed to build over time in the West, the fact that he is the designated heir of a "legend" and having under his command the most numerous forces that oppose the Taliban, does not c 'there is no doubt that XNUMX-year-old Ahmad will become the "face" of the new resistance to the Taliban.

For an even more interesting twist of fate, the main "enemy" of the young Ahmad Massoud on the opposite front, among the leadership of the "new" Taliban, is also a "son of art": Mohammad Yaqoob, the eldest of the children of the late mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid.

Today XNUMX years old, Yaqoob received a religious upbringing like his father and from an early age he was involved in the military activities of the Taliban until he became an important commander in the field. In the new Taliban government that is now preparing to lead Afghanistan, Yaqoob occupies the position of Minister of Defense and, together with Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a candidate to become the real "strong man" of the "Koranic Students" regime.

What the future holds for Afghanistan, no one can say for sure today; however, those who, like me, believe that “the meaning of history lies in those who make it”, can only share the quote attributed to the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino that: “Men pass, ideas remain. And their moral tensions remain, which will continue to walk on the legs of other men ”.

On the legs of the young Ahmad Massoud and Mohammad Yaqoob today continue to walk the opposing ideas and moral tensions not only of their illustrious predecessors, but of an entire country that for decades has been struggling in the sea of ​​history to finally find peace and its own way. future.

For the Muslim faithful, all this "was written", for all the others it is simply "the irony of fate". In any case, fate or not, there is a bet that the two "epigones" will continue to fight again and again in the next few years, always in the name of the fathers, until the battlefield and history will decide once and for all : "Quo vadis Afghanistan?"