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An Afghan legend

· Ten years ago Commander Massoud was killed ·

It was probably a sign of the attack on the United States but international secret services failed to take it into account. Ten years after his assassination – on the eve of the attacks of September 11th which threw the country headlong into a new war – the Afghan Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud remains a legendary figure with no heirs and his vision of a united, free, independent and democratic Afghanistan still seems remote. On 9 September 2001, in Takhar Province in the country's north-eastern region, this hero of the resistance to the Soviet troops and later the Taliban was killed by a bomb carried by two Arabs pretending to be journalists of a Moroccan broadcasting station sent by Al Qaeda.

The son of an important police officer, posted first in Herat and later in Kabul, Massoud – born in the mountain valley of Panshir – had the opportunity to attend a Franco-Afghan secondary school, and subsequently to study at the prestigious Polytechnical University in the faculty of architecture, founded by virtue of the recent and growing Soviet interest in Afghanistan. This dual cultural influence, French and Soviet, was thus an additional part of the natural Islamic baggage of Massoud and in time was to determine his most important decisions.

The resistance that Massoud's military system offered to the Taliban’s attempt to take over proved effective, and as had happened in the 1980s, the action of his men was crucial in sanctioning the defeat of the Taliban movement, political even before it was military. Today Afghan political life is often structured around ethnic divisions and the country is still the scene of bloody conflict. Yet it is in Afghanistan, in this extraordinary strip of desert and mountains, that the future of international security is being played out and defended. It is here that Massoud fought for the whole of his life: he belonged to that political species – rare indeed – those condottieri capable of taking responsibility for commanding and at the same time capable of meditating on their aims, who are not guided by personal ambition but rather by a spirit of sacrifice and compassion. More than 100,000 Afghans, in tears, walked beside his mortal remains and today he lives on in the men and women of peace, in Afghanistan and throughout the world.

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