Kabul, Sept. 7: The world will soon see world leaders pay tribute to those who died in the ghastly terrorist attacks of September 11 when they gather in New York for a special session of the UN General Assembly.
A special gathering — much smaller and modest in comparison — is also taking place now in the Afghan capital. It seeks not so much to remember 9/11 but to mourn the events of 9/9, the day Ahmed Shah Masood was assassinated. Friends and admirers of Masood have come from all over the world to share their memories of this legendary hero of the Afghan resistance.
Masood has today become the rallying symbol for all those who want a constitutionally-elected central government in Afghanistan. Of the two struggles in Afghanistan — one against the remnants of the Taliban and the other for the creation of a free, stable and democratic Afghanistan — the second, his friends said, was more important. For, only if Afghanistan succeeded in the second struggle, could it succeed in the first one.
In his death Masood has brought together Afghans cutting across the deep ethnic divides. It would have been unthinkable even a year ago that two former presidents — Burhanuddin Rabbani (leader of Jamiat-e-Islami) and Sibghatullah Mujadeddi (Afghan National Liberation Front) — would share a common platform as the other jihadi leaders, Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf (Ittehad-e-Islami) and Assef Mohsini (Harkat-e-Islami). And alongside them sat President Hamid Karzai and his three vice-presidents, Karim Khalili, Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Shahrani.
Karzai, who was at pains to project Masood as the leader of all Afghans, said that but for his struggle, Afghanistan would not have been rid of the Taliban and their external supporters. “Even after September 11, nothing would have happened in Afghanistan (but for Masood),” he said.
India was the only country invited to address the gathering. Indian ambassador to Afghanistan Vivek Katju read out a message from foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, describing Masood as a great statesman, a visionary and “a true friend of India”.
India , the message said, was “privileged to have been closely associated with him in the pursuit of his dream”.
India also warned of the possibility of the rise of “the forces of terror and intolerance” once again and said that “the supporters of such forces should get a strong and clear message that the Afghan nation will not tolerate those who aid, abet and provide shelter to the forces of terror and instability”.
Pakistan came in for a fair bit of direct criticism when several speakers condemned it for assisting and advising those who assassinated Masood and for supporting the Taliban. Former President Sibghatullah Mujadeddi said that “the interference from outside, specially from Pakistan, is the cause of all troubles in Afghanistan”.
As Masood’s friends spoke about him in moving terms, some in the audience started crying. It was quite disconcerting to see grown Afghan men cry. Yet here they were —men with salt and pepper beards, some in suits and ties, some in army uniform and others in traditional Afghan clothes sobbing as they remembered their friend and leader.
Foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, wiping his tears and lamenting the loss of a friend and a leader, said: “I have lost my dear friend — the dearest of all. A friend with whom I worked for 15 years without realising that he was also my boss and my leader.”
Masood, he said, wanted “freedom, peace and the right to self-determination for the Afghan people” and it was on these three criteria that his legacy ought to be judged. "His struggle was against those who put a car bomb in Kabul earlier this week; against those who tried to assassinate President Karzai and against those who were responsible for September 11,” Abdullah said.
“Not for a moment have we lived without your name on our lips, my friend,” said Masood Khalili as if Ahmed Shah Masood could hear him. Khalili was with Masood when two Moroccans pretending to be journalists detonated a bomb hidden in a camera killing the legendary Afghan leader. Currently the Afghan ambassador to India, he barely survived the blast himself.