A date for the diary...
September 7th - make a note.
Looking forward to this one for several reasons: the subject matter, the author involved, the timeliness, and because I was struck by a prickly sense of déjà vu.
As stated on the jacket, the book concerns the life and times of Ahmad Shah Massoud, and it's penned by Sandy Gall, with an introduction by Rory Stewart.
Not heard of Massoud?
Allow me to enlighten you.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the forces of resistance were made up of a group of disparate and divided mujahideen groups, as interested in fighting each other as they were opposing the Russians. The exception was Ahmed Shah Massoud, a military strategist and political operator who solidified the resistance and undermined the Russian occupation by leading its members to a series of brilliant defensive victories.
Sandy Gall was embedded with Massoud during the Soviet offence and reported on the war in Afghanistan for a number of years. Rory Stewart, who's written the introduction, has probably forgotten more about Afghanistan than most people remember. He's travelled widely in the country, mostly on foot, and written a terrific account of his adventures there in his book The Places In Between.
Between them, they've produced what looks to be a fascinating biography of a charismatic guerrilla commander. What makes the book even more inviting is that it includes extracts from the surviving volumes of Massoud’s own diaries. Little was known about the diaries during his lifetime, and the entries detail crucial events as well as his struggles not only in the resistance but also in his personal life.
Born into an ostensibly liberalising Afghanistan in the 1960s, Massoud ardently opposed communism and Mohammed Daoud, Afghanistan’s puppet leader. He quickly rose to prominence and distinguished himself by coordinating the defence of the Panjshir Valley against repeated Soviet offensives, and thus he became the resistance’s unifying force.
In the 1990s, he became Defence Minister in Burhanuddin Rabbani's Cabinet. In April 2001, it was Massoud who warned the West that his own agents had gained limited knowledge of a possible huge scale and imminent terrorist attack on US soil.
On 9th September, 2001, two days before the terrorist attacks in America, Massoud was fatally injured in a suicide bombing. The bomb was activated by two men posing as Belgian television journalists who had concealed the device in their video camera. His murder is widely believed to have been ordered by Osama bin Laden.
He is recognised today as a great national hero.
That sense of déjà vu I mentioned..?
It's because he was also one of the main characters in my early novel Crow's War, set during the Russian invasion. it was my attempt to emulate the high adventure novels of my favourite authors: Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes, Berkely Mather, Geoffrey Jenkins, Duncan Kyle and the great Desmond Bagley. Not entirely sure to this day if I succeeded but readers seemed to like the book, so I must have done something right.
But I digress. Jump forward to today's headlines - late August 2021, a week and a bit away from the 20th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre - and the book seems even more relevant, especially now that Massoud's son Ahmad, is following in his father's footsteps and leading the fight against a new occupying power.
What makes this fact so poignant is that Ahmad is spearheading the resistance from his father's former stronghold, situated to the north of Kabul in the Panjshir Valley.
Ahmad was just 12 when Massoud was killed by Al-Qaeda. His first public appearance was as a tiny figure walking with his head down beside his father's coffin. Two decades later, he's ready to step into the spotlight again.
A graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy, with a Bachelor's Degree in War Studies from King's College, London and a Master's Degree in International Politics from the University of London, he hopes to continue his father's mission.
He leads a coalition known as the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan or the Second Resistance/Panjshir resistance. It became one of several independent military forces built up ahead of the United States military withdrawal.
He has only two goals: to drive out the Taliban and to restore power to the people.
Having served as Afghan Ambassador to the UK, Special Representative of Ahmad Shah Massoud in Europe, and as the representative of the Jamiat-e Islami Party in London, he is the founder of a political party called Nahzat-e-Melli-ye Afghanistan (National Movement Party of Afghanistan). He is also the founder of the Mandegar Daily newspaper and the history magazine Yad–e-Yar (The Memory of Friends). His first book, The National Agenda, was published in 2012. He was appointed as the Massoud Foundation's CEO in November 2016.
He has stated that the Taliban poses a threat beyond Afghanistan's borders:
"Under Taliban control, Afghanistan will, without a doubt, become ground zero of radical Islamist terrorism; plots against democracies will be hatched here once again."
Ahmad told CBC News that his new alliance wants to foster a country with a moderate Islamic system that supports social justice and to be able to solve the country's problems with unity.
With the Panjshir being the only province that has stayed out of the Taliban’s control so far, it remains to be seen, whether Ahmad's earlier readiness to 'create an inclusive government with the Taliban' is a possibility or not. He accurately predicted that a precipitous American troop pull out could lead to a collapse of Afghanistan's security forces, where corruption and poor leadership remain prevalent.
As he also told The Straits Times:
"Unfortunately the government is not capable to continue fighting against the Taliban."
Sadly, as the last couple of weeks have proved, he's been right on just about all counts.
Watch this space.
Afghan Napoleon rear jacket
Update: Aljazeera, 7th September 2021:
'The Taliban has claimed total control over Afghanistan after claiming capture of the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining enclave of resistance against their rule.
But the leader of the resistance forces in Panjshir, Ahmed Massoud, did not concede defeat, saying his forces, drawn from the remnants of the regular Afghan army as well as local militia groups, were still fighting.'
“We are in Panjshir and our Resistance will continue,” he said on Twitter.
He also said he was safe, but gave no details on his whereabouts.