(Speech delivered at Kabul on 8th September 2005 to commemorate
the fourth anniversary of the martyrdom of Ahmed Shah Masood)
I had been hearing about Ahmed Shah Masood from earlier times the first
real exposure of the living-talking persona
came through in a documentary
I happened to see on a French television channel in Paris in the second
half of the 1980s. I recall downloading the programme and sending video
copies back to several government departments in India,
inviting their attention
amazing leadership qualities of the doughty warrior whom the world had
the “Lion of Panjshir”. In fact, if I mistake not, I remember
touching upon those leadership qualities in several talks that I delivered
when I was
commanding a mountain division on the Sikkim-Tibet watershed almost immediately
after my return from France.
however, I am not going to dwell on Commander Masood’s
leadership qualities. They have already been woven into
the legend of one of the
greatest warriors of Afghanistan of recent times, if not
all times. My reason for
showering such fulsome praise on the towering personality is completely
devoid of the
emotion or sentiment that would be pervading the hearts of many, if
not most, of the
personages gathered at this conclave. I, for one, had never met Ahmed
Shah Masood. My assessment, therefore, is based entirely
upon the non-subjective
his military prowess that I have gleaned over the years.
an outsider looking in on Afghan affairs through the 1980s
and 90s, all the way up to September
2001, Commander Masood hardly ever seemed
to be on
side. The tales of fierce resistance, which earned him the sobriquet ‘Lion
of Panjshir’, were always reminiscent of a touch-and-go situation,
where the outcome hung finely in the balance. He and his hardy band
of warriors seemed
almost perpetually on the verge of disaster, invariably surviving
by the skin of their teeth. Perhaps therein lies his military genius.
It was not
a case of fighting a bigger foe. It was not a one-time fight between
It was a perpetual
cliffhanger over two decades. His resources were pitiful.
In comparative terms almost non-existent. His enemies
spring up wherever he turned. Neither was it a slight mismatch
in numbers. His opponents
not only had larger numbers than those that he could field from
his limited manpower base, at times the enemy superiority
been counted as
high as 10, 20
or even more than 30-to-one during his bitter campaigns against
the Russians. The same adverse ratios obtained in the final
the rearguard battles
against the combined Taliban-Al-Qaeda-Pakistan military juggernaut
pushing onwards to wind up the remaining pockets in Northern Afghanistan.
he should have been swamped by the weight of sheer numbers.
as he could have been defeated by the numerical superiority
against him, the equipment inferiority
also worked against Masood,
the quantity and quality of the equipment used. During the 1980s
artillery, masses of tanks and armed helicopters and all types
of close air support. After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban
equipment and numbers superiority for the final push against the
Northern Alliance as they approached the winter of the year 2001.
was the myth
of invincibility surrounding the Lion of Panjshir, that even with
the full might
of the Pakistan military, in addition to the funding from Saudi
Arabia, the vastly superior Taliban forces were still not
sure of the outcome.
had even mesmerised the top military brass in Islamabad. They felt
that unless Masood himself was done away with, their protégés
would not be able to defeat him. Their only salvation lay in the
the man who stood rocklike between them and their ambition to debouch
Asia. They had been plotting his death for years. Finally, they
succeed. Ahmed Shah Masood was assassinated on 9th September 2001.
as his end might have been, Ahmed Shah Masood does not
to have been a
tragic figure. Later day historians are
bound to romanticize
him, for adversity invariably brought out his finest skills as
a military commander. His greatest asset, however, was the forbidding
the terrain in which
he operated. He knew how to use its ruggedness to advantage.
parlance he had an unerring feel for the ground. Occasionally
he made intuitive decisions
that seemed incomprehensible to people – both his opponents
and his own forces. Because of those decisions and his uncanny
feel for the situation he
lived to fight another day. More than that, it must have been
his ability to sustain the morale of his men that compels admiration.
was not leading
a guerrilla force, far from it. Many were the occasions when
he fought pitched battles, often being forced to retreat. When
his beloved Panjshir Valley was
threatened he stood his ground, ready to die till the last
man and the last round. Leaders on the losing side, who are
to fight pitched battles, generally
face annihilation when the battle is lost. Their men lose heart.
They melt away. At best they can be mobilized for one more
battle, and, should that battle be
lost as well it spells their end as a cohesive fighting force.
It was Masood’s
ability to keep rebounding after each setback - again and again
and again - that puts him in the front rank of military commanders
of all times.
that comes to mind is Frederick the Great of Prussia. Ahmed
Shah Masood did not let the morale of his men sag for full
The Pakistani generals must have
hoped for a quick collapse of the Northern Alliance, once
Masood had been removed from the
the force that he led did not
collapse as expected, but moved in swiftly to capture Kabul
a few days after the US- led offensive is a post-mortem tribute
of Commander Masood.
Although it would be fanciful to speculate on what might have
been, coming historians will, nevertheless, ponder over the
Afghanistan had Masood not been
assassinated? Had Masood remained at the head of the forces
that moved into Kabul after the rout of the Taliban, it is
the uppermost thought
in his mind would have been the unity of Afghanistan. He had
the charisma to bring about that unity. Even now his successors
the helm of affairs
must build on his legacy to rid Afghanistan of internal strife
and external aggression. It would be the most befitting tribute
memory of a legendary warrior.
book Restructuring Pakistan was completed around the end
of November 2001 and came out in
January 2002. Approximately
assassination I had a discussion in New Delhi with few of
his very close associates on the situation in Afghanistan.
Some questions that had remained
at that time found an answer by the time the book was completed.
At the end of the day a quotation
from the great philosopher-sage of India, Sri Aurobindo comes
Wherever thou seest a great end, be sure of a great beginning”.
Ahmed Shah Masood’s enduring legacy is going to be
will depend to an extent on the people, some gathered here,
who were close to him.