- A personality cult has developed around Ahmad Shah
Masoud since his assassination by al-Qaeda operatives
just two days before the September 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks in the United States.
of the Northern Alliance commander from the Panjsher
Valley are posted in vehicles, in store fronts and on
billboards across Kabul. The photos usually depict
Masoud with a pensive or compassionate expression. They
rarely show him carrying the weapons that had been such
an integral part of his life as he battled Soviet
troops, rival Afghan militia groups, and the Taliban.
Graffiti often declares Masoud as "the engineer of the
downfall of the Taliban and the Soviet occupation".
Anatol Levin is an expert on Afghanistan at the
Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace. He told RFE/RL that it is no surprise that
Masoud's name is now being invoked by several leading
Afghan presidential candidates.
"Like many dead
political figures with a great name, Masoud's name is
being fought over by different individuals and groups
[in Afghanistan] for their own purposes," he said. "His
leadership of the Panjshiris and of the wider forces
allied with the Panjshiris [against the Soviets and the
Taliban] has turned him into a legendary figure with
tremendous loyalty - [not only] in the Panjsher
[Valley], but also more widely among groups allied to
Some 20,000 Afghans gathered at
the Olympic Stadium in Kabul earlier this week to
commemorate Masoud's death. Afghan interim leader and
presidential candidate Hamid Karzai was one of many
government officials to address the crowd. "The martyred
Masoud, the national hero of Afghanistan, is one of the
most glittering and luminous figures of the jihad and
resistance," Karzai said. "He struggled with valor
against invading forces for more than two decades."
Levin explained that as an ethnic Pashtun from
southern Afghanistan, Karzai needs an association with
Masoud to increase his support from voters of other
ethnicities in the north. "It's very important for
Karzai to reach out to the Panjshiris - to try to
persuade them that he's not a Pashtun representative out
to reduce their power," he said. "So he has to woo the
Panjshiris and woo Panjshiri leaders. And one way of
doing that is, of course, to invoke the name of Ahmad
Shah Masoud to suggest that he - Karzai - also embodies
Masoud's legacy. And he's done that by trying to make
Masoud's brother [Ahmad Zia Masoud] his vice president -
turning him into his running mate."
said the strategy is complicated because Karzai also
can't appear to be too close to militia commanders in
northern Afghanistan, whose forces have committed
atrocities against ethnic Pashtuns. "Although the
Panjshiri soldiers under Masoud's command fought very
well, they also committed numerous abuses against
members of other ethnic groups," he said. "That history
has also made [Masoud] an extremely controversial figure
for some other ethnic groups in Afghanistan -
particularly for the Pashtuns."
rival, former education and Interior Minister Yunus
Qanooni, has substantial support within the Panjsher
Valley. Like Ahmad Shah Masoud, Qanooni is an ethnic
Tajik Panjshiri. He fought beside Masoud against both
the Soviets and the Taliban. He also served as Masoud's
personal spokesman, as well as one of his senior
military and political advisers.
campaigning as the candidate of Nahzat-e Melli-ye
Afghanistan, the National Movement of Afghanistan. That
political group is headed by Masoud's brother, Ahmad
But Karzai's running mate - Ahmad
Zia Masoud - also is a member of Nahzat-e Melli-ye. He
said Qanooni has no right to run under the party banner.
Analysts say that argument is just one sign of a
rift within the group. Another is a declaration by party
leader Ahmad Wali Masoud that no candidate should use
photos of his slain brother as part of their campaign.
Qanooni's campaign has been doing just that by placing
his posters next to Masoud's image.
an ethnic Tajik religious hardliner named Abdul Hafiz
Mansur claims he is the only presidential candidate who
represents Masoud's true legacy. Mansur was the first
director of Afghan state TV and radio after the collapse
of the Taliban regime. His conservative Islamic views
gained international attention - and ultimately resulted
in his sacking - when he issued orders that banned
television broadcasts of women singing.