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Profile: Afghanistan's 'Lion Of Panjshir'

(RFE/RL) Ahmad Shah Mas'ud was among Afghanistan's most celebrated resistance leaders during the Soviet occupation (1979-89). The Panjshir Valley native gained international notoriety during the Taliban rule (1994-2001) as the leader of the only military group that the hard-line regime failed to crush. The United Front (aka Northern Alliance) commander's public stature arguably reached its zenith after he was assassinated by Al-Qaeda killers posing as journalists on September 9, 2001.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, Mas'ud portraits adorn not only many governmental buildings but also the windshields of taxis, carpets, and Afghan stamps. Mas'ud is perhaps the only Afghan whose likeness has appeared on a foreign country's stamp: France commemorated the man nicknamed the "Lion of Panjshir" with a Mas'ud stamp.

Journalist Robert Kaplan, in a 1991 book chronicling travels with Afghan and Pakistani mujahedin titled "The Soldiers of God," called Mas'ud "one of the greatest leaders of guerrilla movements in the 20th century."

Candidates in both the presidential elections of 2004 and the parliamentary and provincial elections of 2005 invoked Mas'ud's name to curry support among the powerful leaders ("jihadi") and sympathizers of former Afghan mujahedin parties. While jihadi leaders lost influence during the Taliban period and have been increasingly sidelined nationally in post-Bonn Afghanistan, they still garner respect among the more traditional segments of Afghan society -- which compose the vast majority of the population.

Mas'ud was a commander of the Jami'at-e Islami (Islamic Society) during Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation and the Red Army. He then served as defense minister in a mujahedin government led by Burnahuddin Rabbani. With the ouster of Rabbani's government from Kabul by the Taliban in 1996, Mas'ud became the leader of his own faction, known as the Shura'-ye Nezar (Supervisory Council). Prominent politicians who are generally regarded as unofficial members of Shura'-ye Nezar include former Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) speaker Mohammad Yunos Qanuni. Those individuals should not be viewed as representing the more conservative and traditional mujahedin leadership, a mantle that Rabbani has largely succeeded in maintaining.

Transitional government head and future President Hamid Karzai posthumously awarded the "Hero of the Afghan Nation" order to Mas'ud.

Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, a brother who fought alongside Ahmad Shah Mas'ud and is a son-in-law of Rabbani's, remains an influential figure on Afghanistan's post-Taliban political landscape.

Younger brother Ahmad Wali Mas'ud has served as Afghanistan's ambassador to London and leader of the National Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan), a predominantly Tajik political party.

(compiled from previous RFE/RL reports and analysis)