UNLIKE leaders of the Afghan mujahideen resistance groups based
in Pakistan and Iran who spent much of their time lobbying for
Western arms and support, Ahmed Shah Massoud stayed in Afghanistan
and consolidated his position. Now the young rebel leader and
former engineering student may emerge as the leader of his war-torn
"Massoud is more like a son of the soil," a senior Pakistani
official says. "He has only been out of Afghanistan three or four
times since the Soviet invasion of 1979, and that is what makes him
During the years of Soviet occupation, Mr. Massoud headed an
army of 15,000 for the Jamiat-i-Islami, or Islamic Society, and
equipped them with Western-supplied arms and assistance from
Pakistan, Iran, and Arab countries. His military prowess brought
him under the limelight.
Even Soviet officers responsible for military operations in
Afghanistan recognized Massoud's political acumen and military
From his Panjshir valley stronghold less than 60 miles northeast
of Kabul, he demonstrated a willingness to negotiate cease-fires
and later redeploy his men whenever there was an opportunity for
military gains. Meanwhile, he gained the support of his people and
the respect of some Western and Pakistani officials by setting up
schools and basic health facilities in his area.
"Massoud has been cleverly trying to carve out his place in
Afghanistan," says one Pakistani official. "Now, it seems that he
is close to success."
True to his reputation as the "lion of Panjshir," Massoud moved
fast after President Najibullah's downfall April 16. He deployed
his forces 40 miles north of Kabul to demonstrate his muscle, and
soon began negotiations with members of the Najibullah government
to ease them out of power. Now backed by generals and other
defectors from the Afghan government, he has announced his
intention of setting up a mujahideen government in Kabul.
"Massoud may now head Afghanistan's most powerful alliance seen
in years," a foreign diplomat says.
But tactical strength hides what could be the beginning of a new
wave of ethnic conflict. For more than 200 years, Afghanistan has
been mostly ruled by Pushtuns, the country's largest tribe; other
minorities have remained subservient. Now, that may change: Massoud
belongs to a Tajik tribe, a factor that could put him at
loggerheads with his Pushtun rivals.
"In a country where authority of the ruler depends on loyalty
from certain ethnics who've remained dominant over time, one could
conceivably face problems if the same community was suddenly to
become subservient itself," a foreign diplomat says. …