If You Were Ahmad Massoud, What Would You Do?

By: Sohrab Takawor

On August 15th, 2021, Ahmad Massoud, a thirty-year-old man, flew to his birthplace in Panjshir from the Kabul airport, accompanied by a few of the last soldiers and commanders of a collapsing army, in order to keep alive, the hope for an armed and indigenous resistance against the Taliban. This mission seemed impossible due to the amount of regional and global conspiracies. The Taliban, in cooperation with the instigators of the “Global War on Terrorism” and the heads of the Republican leadership of the time, who were supported by Washington [President Trump and his administration], had paved the way for their return to power, as the political and military elite, including the president, army generals, security ministers and high-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, had boarded American planes and fled from Kabul.

Ahmad Massoud was a regular person prior to the collapse of the republic. In the year or two before the fall, he attempted to bring together the anti-Taliban political group that had fallen apart and to prepare for the difficult times ahead. However, from the start, he encountered two major obstacles:

First, at the start of Ahmad Massoud’s political activities, which coincided with the final years of the republic, Tajik politicians, including those from Panjshir, who were major partners of the government after 2001, did not view Ahmad Massoud as a political ally. Most of them saw him as a growing threat. They were aware that if Ahmad Massoud entered the political arena, he had the potential to become the leader of the Tajik political constituency, which could prevent senior Tajik politicians from increasing their power.

Second, the political opposition of the former republic’s leadership discussed forming a popular anti-Taliban resistance front. However, the small group of decision-makers in the republic chose not to cooperate politically or militarily with him. In other words, they would rather let the Taliban take control of Afghanistan than have Ahmad Massoud lead an armed resistance in defense of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
This background helps us to understand what expectations are reasonable for Ahmad Masoud as the leader of the NRF, 18 months after the fall of Afghanistan. The complexity of the political-military situation inside Afghanistan, the relations between regional countries and the Taliban, and global politics all contribute to many unrealistic expectations.

Distrust – a major setback for the anti-Taliban resistance

In the current situation, it is difficult to meet the majority of the legitimate expectations of the resistance’s supporters. Political forces are spread out in exile, making it hard to create a long-term strategy and leaving little room for political action. Public distrust of politicians has reached a new high, as people remember the disappointment of trusting leaders who did not fulfill their promises after winning in 2001. Ahmad Massoud is working in a politically charged atmosphere alongside a disappointed and defeated generation.

It is difficult for anyone to build trust and hope while also organizing resistance in an environment with no reliable allies. The older political generation does not have the intellectual ability to oppose the Taliban, and they have lost the public’s trust over the last thirty years due to their involvement in the jihad and post-jihad era.

Despite the anger and frustration towards the Taliban, many of Ahmad Masoud’s peers are seen as apathetic and inactive, yet they have high expectations of him. Despite the media attention after the collapse, no independent political movement has come from this generation. They have not even written a manifesto or mission statement to explain their political views clearly. The level of commitment to forming and maintaining a group, association, or political party among this generation is also not very encouraging. Unfortunately, this has led to an ethical crisis in the political sphere, following a highly ideological period.

Additionally, some prominent people of this era sometimes blame a particular area for the whole political conflict between Tajiks. Unfortunately, both supporters and opponents do not hesitate to accuse each other of these claims. To explain this situation, the author uses the term “Parochialism”. This phrase may not be comprehensive enough, but it reflects the current indifference that is endangering the Tajik political elite. Instead of focusing on the overall situation of the anti-Taliban political group, they choose to use their collective energy on never-ending debates on Facebook and Twitter, which only weakens political unity.

So far, Ahmad Massoud has not been able to find a practical way to address the lack of trust among the political supporters of the resistance. Some of his close associates are not trusted or respected by political, civil, and media activists of his own age. While it is understandable why he is not as accessible as some would like, the criticism from his peers who want him to be more involved with the younger generation is justified.

Ahmad Masoud’s peers are young, intelligent, and educated people who could work together as a team of advisors or a political committee for the National Resistance Front.

Ahmad Massoud must recruit individuals who are dedicated and knowledgeable enough to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban rule. This committee or group can take on the difficult task of developing intellectual, military, political, and social plans to create a more unified, progressive, and encouraging narrative for the Afghan people’s resistance. Additionally, they should reach out to regional and international organizations and governments to increase the National Resistance Front’s political and social legitimacy. This approach reduces Ahmad Massoud’s individual responsibility and helps to institutionalize the resistance.

After a crisis, it is essential to build trust between partners, be open in responses, and make the most of human resources. People’s expectations, whether they are right or wrong, can show how much they trust someone. Very few politicians in the anti-Taliban group have the chance to gain public trust like Ahmad Massoud. He should take advantage of this opportunity before it is too late and act in the best interests of the anti-Taliban movement.

Are we willing to pay the price for freedom?

The return of the Taliban to power is a complex issue with multiple dimensions. It is difficult to devise a comprehensive political-military alternative to the Taliban in just eighteen months, especially since many political forces in Afghanistan are still reeling from the collapse of the Taliban regime and lack the necessary financial and military resources to launch a war of liberation. Furthermore, the costs of resistance, liberating occupied areas, and achieving freedom are not yet fully accepted by the anti-Taliban constituency. Despite the sacrifices made by the anti-Taliban forces in the last eighteen months, the Taliban still have access to military equipment, suicide bombers, and billions of dollars in weapons from NATO, as well as nearly two billion dollars in international aid. Additionally, support for the Taliban among regional countries and some Western capitals remains strong, and the idea of preserving “stability in Afghanistan at the cost of keeping the Taliban in power” is still considered a valid approach by some global policymakers.

Under these circumstances, the simplest thing to do is to set high expectations for the anti-Taliban resistance and blame Ahmad Masoud for not meeting them. Ahmad Masoud, as a politician in exile, is a guest of a weak and powerless government in the region and is forced to comply with the demands of the major regional players. Additionally, when the wealthy people who are also anti-Taliban refuse to support the resistance financially, when the intellectual and political elite of this group lack the ability to come together and show understanding, and when we all avoid the cost of freedom, no one can perform a miracle, not even Ahmad Masoud or anyone else.

We must ask ourselves if we are willing to pay the cost of freedom and resistance. What actions can Afghanistan’s diaspora take? Are our writers and intellectuals working to create a unified resistance against the Taliban? Will our poets lead a movement for poetic resistance? Will our merchants buy weapons for resistance? Will our teachers protest against the implementation of a jihadist curriculum? Will we come together to defend the rights of women and engage in civil resistance?

Can we use the political divisions among Afghans, the widespread anger, and the hatred of the Taliban and Talibanism to create a narrative that will defeat the Taliban and give us the chance to reclaim our homeland? This does not excuse Ahmad Massoud from his duties as leader of the resistance, but we must also remember that we all have a responsibility to the people and our homeland.