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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Profile: The Lion of Panjshir
Ahmed Shah Masood with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine
Masood (left) is the lynchpin of the anti-Taleban forces
By Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clark

Ahmed Shah Masood, who has been injured in an assassination attempt, is easily the most important leader in the anti-Taleban alliance in Afghanistan.

Commander Masood was wounded in a suicide bomb attack at his headquarters in a garrison town in the northern province of Takhar.

Afghan Mujahadeen fighter
Masood's success against the Soviets enhanced his reputation

It is difficult to over-estimate how serious a blow it would be for the alliance if it transpires that he has been seriously injured or killed in the attack.

Militarily, he is the lynchpin for anti-Taleban forces. But he is also the opposition leader whose reputation has come through 20 years of war the least scathed.

Soviet war

A follower of radical Islamic politics as a young man, Ahmed Shah Masood went on to become one of the most successful Mujahadeen commanders in the fight against the Soviet invasion of the 1980s.

After the Mujahadeen captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, in 1992, he was appointed defence minister.

There were many allegations at the time of corruption and cronyism in his ministry. The government was to fall apart anyway as the various factions fought a bitter internecine war for control of Kabul.

General Dostum
General Dostum has returned to the anti-Taleban alliance
Commander Masood's Jamiat-i-Islami, like the others, rocketed civilian areas causing massive destruction. Tens of thousands of people died in the bombardments or fled the city.

After withdrawing from Kabul in 1996 in the face of the advancing Taleban, his forces have gradually been pushed back into the north-east of the country.

Reinforced

This year, the alliance has been strengthened by the return of several significant military leaders to Afghanistan.

They include the Uzbek commander, General Dostum and the former governor of Herat, Ismail Khan who escaped from a Taleban jail last year.

So far, despite some intense fighting, neither side has gained much territory.

But the loss of Ahmed Shah Masood would push the balance, perhaps decisively, in the Taleban's favour.

See also:

17 Apr 01 | South Asia
Anti-Taleban leaders plan strategy
05 Apr 01 | South Asia
Anti-Taleban leader calls for support
05 Apr 01 | South Asia
Europe fetes anti-Taleban leader
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
16 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan war threatens region
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
10 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition leader death denied
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