Who is Ahmad Massoud, the man building an anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan?

Resistance leader says he wants peace talks with Taliban but is prepared for conflict

Conrad Duncan
Thursday 26 August 2021 17:16 BST
Related video: The Pentagon has said it has no idea how much US military equipment has been seized by the Taliban

The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan is already facing resistance from armed forces that aim to fight back against a return to the hardline Islamist organisation’s authoritarian rule of the country, last seen about two decades ago.

In northeastern Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley has once again become a centre for resistance, having previously been the home for battles against Soviet forces in the 1980s.

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), founded by Ahmad Massoud, claims to have thousands of fighters ready to take on the Taliban - although it says it wants to enter into peace talks before pursuing conflict.

“We prefer to pursue peace and negotiations before any sort of war and conflict,” Ali Nazary, head of foreign relations for the NRF, told the BBC, before adding that the group would not accept “any sort of aggression” from the Taliban.

Who is Ahmad Massoud?

Ahmad Massoud is the son of Afghan mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was known for successfully leading resistance groups from the Panjshir region against the Soviet Union and the Taliban.

Ahmad Shah Massoud led forces as the main opposition against the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, until his assassination in September 2001.

Ahmad Massoud has vowed to continue his father’s work by challenging the Taliban following the withdrawal of western troops from the country this month.

“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father's footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” he wrote in a piece published in the Washington Post.

“We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father's time, because we knew this day might come.”

What does he want?

Ahmad Massoud has said that he wants to hold peace talks with the Taliban and does not want to see a civil war in Afghanistan.

However, he also warns that his forces are prepared to fight if necessary to oppose the Islamist group.

“[My forces] want to defend, they want to fight, they want to resist against any totalitarian regime,” Mr Massoud told Reuters on Sunday.

Ultimately, the NRF says it wants to move towards a decentralised form of governance in Afghanistan, with an inclusive system of power-sharing that represents all of the country’s different ethnic groups.

“The NRF believes that for lasting peace we have to address the underlying problems in Afghanistan,” Mr Nazary told BBC Radio 4’s Today show.

“Afghanistan is a country made up of ethnic minorities, no one is a majority. It's a multicultural state, so it needs power sharing - a power-sharing deal where everyone sees themselves in power.”

How likely is the NRF to succeed?

The Panjshir region has been notoriously difficult to conquer in the past, with the Soviet Union and the Taliban both failing to capture the area in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The Red Army, with its might, was unable to defeat us…” Mr Nazary told the BBC.

“I don't think any force right now in Afghanistan has the might of the Red Army. And the Taliban also 25 years ago... they tried to take over the valley and they failed, they faced a crushing defeat.”

However, the NRF, which reportedly has around 6,000 troops, will likely need international support to hold off the Taliban for an extended period.

Mr Massoud has called on France (where his father is known as a notable freedom fighter), the US and other parts of Europe and the Arab world to support the resistance.

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