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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Afghans remember slain resistance hero
Afghan workers display a huge portrait of Ahmad Shah Masood at the sports stadium in Kabul
Masood was at the forefront of resistance for decades


The room is empty, peaceful, even poignant.

Ahmed Shah Masood
Many Afghans say Masood was a charismatic leader
Through charred and broken windows drifts the sound of children playing nearby.

This is where Ahmed Shah Masood was killed, a year ago today - in Khodjabauddin, his northern headquarters on the Tajik-Afghan border.

Two Arabs, posing as journalists, came to interview him. Concealed in their camera was a bomb.

"When I heard the explosion," says Rahimullah, the district security commander, "I rushed into the room".

"It was a terrible scene. The windows were blown out. Everything was burning. The Arab who'd been holding the camera was on fire, by the window."

Northern strongman

Ahmed Shah Masood was the main leader of the opposition Northern Alliance, or United Front.

A group of Afghans look at photos of Masood
In northeast Afghanistan Masood's pictures are everywhere

For some 20 years he was at the forefront of resistance - first against the Soviet army, then the Taleban.

But Masood was more than a fighter. He was also a charismatic, political leader.

One year on, memories of Masood are still strong.

In northeast Afghanistan, his heartland, his picture is everywhere: on doors, on windows, on flags.

There are pictures of the country's current leader, Hamid Karzai, too.

But the ones of Masood are larger and hung higher, in the most prominent place.

Popular leader

The former frontline town of Taloqan is typical.

Ahmed Shah Masood mausoleum
Masood's tomb lies in the Panjshir Valley

Walk into any video shop there and among the piles of Indian films are also videos of Ahmed Shah Masood.

They show him on the battle-field, they show him praying.

In tiny shops selling books and stationary, there are postcards of Masood.

"What makes him so famous," explains one boy as he chooses a card, "is that he fought for a long time against foreign interference".

"And he stayed in Afghanistan. He didn't leave the country like other commanders."

The shopkeeper says Masood pictures sell the best.

"Everyone knows Masood, but President Karzai has just begun his work. In future, perhaps lots of people will buy his postcard, too."

'Rebuilder of Afghanistan'

A few people speak of Masood in a less positive light.

An Afghan shopkeeper puts a T-shirt on display carrying a picture of Masood
Local shops are full of things bearing Masood's face

They point out he shelled Kabul, just as others did, in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, were he still alive, most people here believe he'd have been president.

"I'm sure he would have been able to improve the situation through political means" says Muhammad Panjshiri, the Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan.

"But frankly speaking, he didn't think about the presidency. His concern was rebuilding Afghanistan, like an architect."

Huge expectations

The northeast of the country was a focus of resistance for many years.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Karzai and his government are under huge pressure to deliver

The area is dominated by ethnic Tajiks. They're influential in the interim government, too.

As one man put it: "People here like Masood's power to be effective in Kabul; it's good for us."

But what people also stress is they are first and foremost Afghan. Ethnicity is not a big issue, they say.

The determination to talk optimistically is clear.

From crumbling mud-brick ruins comes the thump of hammer on wood. Afghans are rebuilding their lives.

In this region, there's definitely a will to support President Karzai.

He's seen to represent a new, brighter chapter in the country's history.

But expectations of him and his government are huge.

If he fails to meet those expectations in the northeast, he is likely to be judged harshly against the memory of Ahmed Shah Masood.


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See also:

07 Sep 02 | South Asia
05 Sep 02 | South Asia
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29 Jul 02 | South Asia
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11 Sep 01 | South Asia
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