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Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, 11:03 GMT 12:03 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
Ahmed Shah Masood, who has been the victim of an assassination attempt, is easily the most important leader in the anti-Taleban alliance in Afghanistan.

Commander Masood was wounded - some reports say killed - 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

The BBC Afghanistan correspondent, Kate Clark, says 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.

Militarily, he has been the lynchpin for anti-Taleban forces. He is also the opposition leader whose reputation has best survived 20 years of war.

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, Commander Masood 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.

'Civil and postive'

The BBC's former Kabul correspondent, William Reeve, met Commander Masood on several occasions.

"He seemed to always have a very clear idea in his mind as to what he wanted," he said.

"It was just difficult for him in the messy civil war always to get his way."

William Reeve described Commander Masood as being very civil during their meetings.

"He always arrived looking spick and span with a jump in his step. He was very positive.

"He usually talked about the fighting and how he saw it was going to transpire."

Reinforced

This year, Commander Masood's 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's years of bloodshed
10 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition leader death denied
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