Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Myth of Masood Endures in Afghan Halls of Power ; Five Months after His Murder, Supporters Still Use Him for Leverage

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Myth of Masood Endures in Afghan Halls of Power ; Five Months after His Murder, Supporters Still Use Him for Leverage

Article excerpt

Masood Khalili recalls the "poisonous" smile and eerie calm of the Arab reporter as he prepared to interview Ahmad Shah Masood, the head of the Northern Alliance.

By the time the reporter had poised his explosive-laden camera in front of a seated Masood on Sept. 9, and admitted that he and his cameraman were in fact representatives of Osama bin Laden, Khalili, Masood's good friend, realized it was too late. The ensuing explosion killed the visitors, left Khalili handicapped, and ended the life of a man known as Afghanistan's best hope for a unifying post-Taliban leader.

His enemies see him as another ruthless warlord, but for many Afghans, Masood has become his nation's Che Guevara, a martyr-in- chief, rendering him an ongoing force in the halls of power.

The posters and photos of Masood on street corners and in most shops are expressions of continued factionalism within the interim government - and are an attempt by Masood's Tajik-dominated party, the Shoora-e-Nizara, to assert influence, observers in Kabul say. Members of his party occupy most of the important positions in the new government, including finance, military, and interior ministries, leaving the less important ministries to Uzbek, Hazara, and Pashtun parties.

In addition, Shoora-e-Nizara members are reportedly recruiting village elders in non-Tajik provinces in the south to consolidate their control of the central government in the expected supreme council, or loya jirga, which is scheduled to choose a permanent government in another 18 months.

At Masood's grave in the Panjshir Valley, pilgrims come to pray for courage, protection, and even the birth of a healthy baby boy.

To be sure, Afghan leaders may shove Masood aside if and when a greater unifier comes along, such as the 87-year-old Afghan King Zahir Shah, who is planning to return to his country after nearly 30 years in exile. But in the meantime, Masood continues to have his uses, as his nation moves to rebuild for the first time after 23 years of war.

"He died for us, when other leaders left for other countries," says Daud Rawosh, vice chancellor of Afghan University in Islamabad. "He lived with us, ate with us, fought for us, and died for us. …

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