Biography of Ahmad Shah Massoud

Ahmad Shah Massoud at 15 years old
Ahmad Shah Massoud at 15 years old

Birth and Childhood

Ahmad Shah Massoud was born on the 2nd September 1953 (11 Sonbula 1332) in Jangalak village of Bazarak district in Panjshir province. His father, Colonel Dost Mohammad, was one of the officers of Afghanistan’s army.

Ahmad Shah Massoud spent his early childhood in his birthplace, Panjshir valley. He was enrolled in the primary school of Bazarak when he was five. Before completing his first class, he traveled along with his family to Kabul and was enrolled in Shahe Doshamshira School. After some time, he moved to Herat with his father who had been assigned as police commander there. Ahmad Shah Massoud continued his second, third, and fourth grades of primary school in Herat city, and then returned back to Kabul as his father’s duty station was changed back.

Secondary and Higher Education 

Once returned to Kabul from Herat, Ahmad Shah Massoud was enrolled in fifth class at Esteqlal High School and graduated from there. Esteqlal High School was a prestigious school in the capital where school subjects were taught in French, and probably by French teachers.

Mostly, people from wealthy and upper class, and children of military officers could attend this school. Massoud was an intelligent student of his class; he gained such skills in mathematics that he could open a course on mathematics, and in later years, he used the campus for his political activities.

After graduating from Esteqlal High School, Massoud became interested in military studies and decided to join Defense University, but his family, especially his father, did not agree with his decision to pursue a military career. Instead, his family and father wanted him to concentrate on going to France to get his higher education there. In the meantime, France had offered scholarship opportunity to the top graduates of Esteqlal High School to continue their higher education in France, and Ahmad Shah Massoud was one of the candidates, but due to his lack of interest in leaving the country, he managed to enroll at Polytechnic Institute bypassing the entry test in late 1971 (1349) in Kabul. Since he was targeted and being watched by Sardar Mohammad Daoud’s regime due to his political activities, he couldn’t continue more than two years of his education at Polytechnic Institute.

Political Activities and Struggles

During his high school period, Ahmad Shah Massoud gained an understanding of political thoughts and affairs of Afghanistan and the society, and developed an interest in Islamic movement. In his first year of studies at Polytechnic in Kabul, he was introduced to Habiburahman, one of the leaders of the Islamic movement at Kabul University. Habiburahman was too a student at Polytechnic, and was responsible to recruit members and officers for the Islamic movement, called Jamiat-e Islami.

Massuod’s association with Habiburahman was regarded as a major change in his life. During his first two years at Polytechnic, he maintained a very close relation with Habiburahman and was somehow involved in political activities, but after Sardar Mohammad Daoud’s coup in July 1973 (Sartan 1352), he intensified his political struggles, and became greatly involved in politics. Habiburahman was arrested and imprisoned in the second year of Sardar Mohammad Daoud’s government, and Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was in the watch list of the government’s intelligence agency, began to live in hiding.

Time in Hiding

In the initial days, Ahmad Shah Massoud was hiding at his friends’ houses in Kabul, and then he went to his birthplace, Panjshir. Though he was still living in hiding from the public, he began to rebuild connections with his friends, both those who were in and out of prison. For the sake of maintaining such relations, and exchanging ideas within the fraternity, he traveled several times to different areas in the north of the country, as well as to the north of Kabul province. In winter 1974 (1353), he managed to visit his mother, who was ill, for the last time by traveling to Kabul in secret. In the meanwhile, Engineer Habiburahman was hanged by Sardar Mohammad Daoud’s government, and the news further determined Ahmad Shah Massoud stay firm and continue with his struggles and efforts. In late 1974 (1353), and with the help of Engineer Jan Mohammad, one of the activists of Islamic movement from Kunar province, Ahmad Shah Massoud secretly went to Pakistan. Before him, only a few

Members of Islamic movements and activists from universities who had been threatened by the government of Daoud Khan, had gone to Pakistan to seek asylum; they included Ustad Burhanuddin Rabani, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a student of engineering faculty of Kabul University.

Lead Role in First Armed Uprising

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who succeeded Habiburahman after his arrest to recruit members and officers for Islamic movement, had strengthened his relations with Islamabad, especially with the army and its intelligence agency ISI. He was thinking of a coup and military uprising against the government of Mohammad Daoud, and he was being supported and encouraged by ISI to pressurize Mohammad Daoud. However, Ahmad Shah Massoud believed that it was not the right time for a coup and doubted the victory. Hekmatyar was more optimistic, and would talk about the positive outcomes of the coup to the companions. Finally, preparation for the coup and armed uprising was taken by the summer, and Ahmad Shah Massoud was appointed to lead the uprising in the Panjshir valley.

In July 1975 (Saratan 1354), Ahmad Shah Massoud returned to Panjshir. Some of the students from Kabul University and other higher institutions, who had the membership of Jamiat-e-Islami or Islamic movement and had been previously identified, were deployed and settled in Panjshir in late July 1975 (Saratan 1353). While leading this first armed uprising against the government, Ahmad Shah Massoud had 21 years. He seized the capital city of Rokha district and was expecting to hear about the coup promised by Hekmatyar to overthrow Daoud Khan’s government in Kabul, but the government forces arrived quickly to Panjshir and recapture the district. As the result, Ahmad Shah Massoud lost 12 of his companions, but he survived and managed to return back to Peshawar of Pakistan.

After returning to Peshawar, Ahmad Shah Massoud began to censure Hekmatyar. He disapproved of his coup and military plan against Mohammad Daoud’s government. Disagreement between them continued to worsen. Those with extremist ideology, and who approved of the plan of a coup and to fight against Mohammad Daoud’s government-supported Hekmatyar, but Ahmad Shah Massoud along with other members who had a moderate ideology and preferred more pragmatic approach, even peaceful negotiation with the government of Mohammad Daoud, remained with Burhanuddin Rabani in Jamiat-e-Islami. Finally, Ahmad Shah Massoud took the lead of armed uprising in Panjshir valley for a second time and after the coup on April 28, 1978 (also known as Kodata-e-Hashti Sawer) where the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) came into power by overthrowing the government of Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan.

The Coup of April 28 (Kodata-e-Hashti Sawer) and Start of Resistance Once Again

In the summer of 1979 (1358), Ahmad Shah Massoud with more than 30 of his like-minded friends and companions, who all were members of Jamiat-e-Islami, went to Panjshir. Now Ahmad Shah Massoud was not only responsible to lead the armed uprising against the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan in the Panjshir valley, but his area of operation and command included the entire province of Parwan, Kapisa and other northern provinces of the country. This time, Ahmad Shah Massoud was in a better position to lead the armed uprising against PDPA, and had the cooperation and moral support of the people. In the beginning, he sent ten of his companions to Andarab district in the north of Hindu Kush to begin their activities, and he himself remained in Panjshir and launched his campaign as half overtly to invite people to the move. The next step was to rally round volunteers or recruit soldiers for armed operations in order to size governmental offices in Panjshir valley. In a few days only, he managed to capture the capital Rakha and two centers of Hesa-e-Awal and Hesa-e-Dowom of Panjshir and pushed out PDPA from the entire valley. By August 1979 (Assad 1358), he could block the highway of Salang and continued to fight against government forces.

After a six-week battle, Ahmad Shah Massoud was injured on his leg, and the government forces managed to recapture the Panjshir valley. Ahmad Shah Massoud was defeated in this fight and as the result retreated with his few companions to the highest part of Panjshir valley in the north. Once again, he launched the move with organized groups of guerrilla attackers. Prior to operations, he then embarked on providing military and political training to his groups.

Since then, Ahmad Shah Massoud adopted professional guerrilla techniques, and a step-by-step approach. He recaptured administrative and military centers of PDPA in Panjshir.  After the Soviet military attack and invasion of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud began a new phase of combatting, known as the years of Jihad (Salha-e-Jihad).

Jihad Period during the Soviet Invasion

In his battle against Soviet forces and their backed government, Ahmad Shah Massoud changed the traditional way of their combat. He arranged the Mujahidin forces into three military units:

1.     Local Units

2.     Mobile Combat Units; and

3.     Central Units

The Mobile Combat Units, and Central Units received superior training than Local Units, and they formed the main forces of combat. These units had to put on special dress during the training and military operations; these included military uniform of either grey or green color, or the Pakol hat.

In the entire period of Jihad and resistance, Ahmad Shah Massoud always insisted on inclusive participation, mass mobilization, and social services. He would always provide employment opportunities to people from different walks of life, and somehow had them involved in local administrations to contribute to Jihad. Thus, he established different councils and committees such as Ulema council, elders’ council, and different social committees. In addition to being actively involved in the battle, he never neglected the society to provide them social services such as building schools, healthcare centers, roads, bridges, provision of security, public administration, and cultural activities and affairs.

During the invasion of the Soviet forces, Ahmad Shah Massoud thwarted nine joint attacks of the Soviet forces and the PDPA government on Panjshir valley. These assaults were conducted by thousands of Soviet forces soldiers and their backed government, and each time they would intensify their efforts:

1-    The first attack on Panjshir by the Soviet and Babrak Karmal joint forces happened on April 08, 1980 (19 Hamal 1359);

2-    The second attack on August 28, 1980 (06 Sonbula 1359);

3-    The third attack on December 11, 1980 (20 Qaws 1359);

4-    The fourth attack on August 14, 1981 (23 Assad 1360);

5-    The fifth attack on May 15, 1982 (25 Sawer 1361);

6-    The sixth attack on May 26 1982 (5 Jawza 1361);

7-    The seventh attack on April 20, 1984 (31 Hamal 1363);

8-    The eighth attack in September 1984 (Sonbula 1363); and

9-    The ninth attack in November 1985 (Aqrab 1364).

After their sixth attack, in June of 1982 (Saratan 1361), the Soviet forces called for a truce with Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud agreed on a truce after consultation with his team and negotiations with Soviet generals, but he did not allow the PDPA to be part of the negotiations. The truce agreement was extended after a year that involved the entire Panjshir valley and the northern Andarab district, but the truce continued for a period of less than two years. The ceasefire opportunity helped Ahmad Shah Massoud to coordinate with Mujahidin within the country and expand his battle bases.

While Ahmad Shah Massoud continued to fight against the Soviet forces in areas outside Panjshir and the truce range, he created the Supervisory Council (Shura-e-Nizar) on December 06, 1983 (15 Qaws 1362) uniting Mujahidin of different ethnicities and groups. Then he established four military and operational bases each in Khost province, Farang district of Baghlan province, and in Farkhar and Eshkemish districts of Takhar province. By doing this, he added to the quality and quantity of his forces and targeted the Soviet forces during a fight in a large mountainous area of the Panjshir valley.

The seventh attack by Soviet forces on Panjshir happened in April 1984 (Hamal 1363) with 30-40 thousand Red Army soldiers that is regarded as the biggest assault of the Soviet forces. Before the attack, Massoud evacuated Panjshir from families and Mujahidin. The assault, where thousands of Red Army soldiers and the army of their backed government of Kabul, and the bombardment of Panjshir by tens of the Soviet Union TU-16 strategic aircraft flying from Soviet Central Asia, concluded in vain. The Soviet forces and PDPA, after suffering great loss as the result of planted mines by Mujahidin in Panjshir, began to use the ruined and abandoned houses as their military bases and centers.  However, Mujahidin resumed their operation in the summer of the same years, and managed to gradually recapture the area in the subsequent years.

Ahmad Shah Massoud too intensified his efforts in the northern provinces and managed to capture a large mountainous area in the north-east by seizing Farkhar garrison in August 1986 (Assad 1365), Nahrain garrison in November 1986 (Aqrab 1365), Kalafgan garrison in July 1987 (Saratan 1366), Karan-O- Monjan garrison in November 1987 (Aqrab 1366), and Borka garrison in December 1987 (Qaws 1366). By gaining the control of these areas, Ahmad Shah Massoud secured the military predominance and initiative from the Soviet forces and Kabul government, and he developed a plan for a strategic offensive phase to launch guerrilla attacks aimed at capturing cities. For this purpose, he expanded his Central Units by including more Mujahidin forces of different provinces.

Soviet Forces’ Withdrawal

Ahmad Shah Massoud had already instigated the initial steps of creating an organized army of Mujahidin by expanding his central units when the Soviet forces left Afghanistan.

Soviet forces’ withdrawal has been somehow regarded as frustrating for him because by creating such an army, he aimed to launch a strategic offensive, capture the cities, and overthrow the Soviet Union’s backed government, but the plan came to a halt.

In the fall of 1990 (1369), Massoud chaired a gathering of commanders’ council in Shah Salim of Badakhshan province. He then went to Pakistan to share his ideas and viewpoints with leaders of the Mujahidin parties and Pakistani authorities. In a meeting held in Peshawar at the presidential office of the interim government led by Sebghatullah Mujadidi, he denounced the leaders of Mujahidin parties and the disunity among them and addressed the gathering on the need for coordination among Mujahidin and establishment of an organized army to capture the cities and overthrow the regime. After a few days of talks and negotiations in Pakistan, he returned to the country in December 1990 (Qaws 1369), and intensified training of the first unit of the army comprised of 10 thousand Mujahidin.

Fall of the People’s Democratic Party

When Ahmad Shah Massoud continued with his plan to establish an organized army and coordination among Mujahidin after the Soviet forces’ withdrawal, in the meantime he also had in mind how to infiltrate and weaken the Democratic Party from the inside. The complete withdrawal of the Soviet forces in February 1989 (Dalwa 1367), the break-up of the Soviet Union and the fall of the communist party, drop of military and financial assistance of Moscow to the PDPA in Kabul, and disunity and hostility among different groups of the PDPA are regarded as factors to have facilitated ways to weaken the regime from the inside. Massoud well used these opportunities to overthrow the aforementioned regime. In order to reach Kabul and topple the People’s Democratic Party, also called as Homeland Party (Hezb-e-Watan) in that time, he managed to have the cooperation of military officers of the regime and with their cooperation, he seized all the military centers and administration of the government in Parwan, Kapisa, and the north of Kabul provinces including the Bagram Air Base in April 1992 (Hamal 1371), and asked the Kabul administration to hand over the power to Mujahidin.

Dr. Najibullah, leader of the party and the government, sought asylum at the UN office. Two days later, Abdul Wakil, the foreign minister of the government, came to Charikar city, and in a meeting and negotiations with Ahmad Shah Massoud, announced their agreement on transition of power from the Homeland Party (Hezb-e-Watan) to Mujahidin. Then Ahmad Shah Massoud called on Jihadi leaders to form their government for receiving the power. All the leaders, bar Hekmatyar, agreed on a structure and appointed Ahmad Shah Massoud as the defense minister in order to assure the security of Kabul. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar did not accept the structure of Mujahidin’s Government and the transition of power from the current party, thus threatened Kabul with a military attack. After talking to Ahmad Shah Massoud through Radio communication on April 17, 1992 (28 Hamal 1371), Hekmatyar changed his mind to attack Kabul. By April 25, 1992 (5 Sawer 1371), Hekmatyar deployed his forces to Kabul and launched the war with Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Ministry of Defense of Mujahidin’s Government, and Defending the Capital

Ahmad Shah Massoud, as the defense minister of the Mujahidin’s Government, confronted the assault by Hekmatyar in Kabul and thwarted Hekmatyar’s forces from Kabul until Sebghatullah Mujadidi was selected as the interim president of the Mujahidin’s Government. Then, Hekmatyar continued his fight and rained down rockets on Kabul city. During those years, Ahmad Shah Massoud tried several times to stop Hekmatyar’s assaults through peaceful negotiations. In June 1992 (Jawza 1371), Massoud went to the east of Kabul, the area under the control of Hekmatyar’s forces, and signed a peace agreement with him, but Hekmatyar did not live up to the agreement.

For the sake of restoring peace, Ahmad Shah Massoud agreed to step down as the defense minister as decided by the Jihadi leaders on April 30, 1993 (10 Sawer 1372) in Jalalabad, and he left to Jabal Saraj. But his dismissal neither convinced Hekmatyar to stop fighting against Kabul, but he, as the leader of Hezb-e-Islami, launched a vicious assault alongside general Dostum forces on the capital Kabul. In order that conflicts and tensions ended and with a hope for peace, Ahmad Shah Massoud accepted Hekmatyar’s appointment as the prime minister in the summer 1994 (1375); however, his arrival did not bring peace nor ended the war.

The position of Hekmatyar in the war supported and managed by Pakistan had been already filled by the Taliban, and within two years the Taliban managed to reach the Kabul door in Maidan Shaher.

Leadership under United Front against Taliban; Terrorism and Invasion by Pakistan

In order to end the war and restore peace, Ahmad Shah Massoud went to Maidan Shaher, the area under the Taliban’s control, on February 11, 1995 (22 Dalwa 1373), but the Taliban who were being managed by Pakistan and supported by Osama Bin Laden continued to fight.

Massoud managed to prevent the Taliban from entering Kabul for a period of 18 months and 12 days, beginning from March 12, 1995 (21 Hoot 1373) to September 26, 1996 (5 Mizan 1357). During this period, he defended the most vicious attacks of Taliban against Kabul. Finally, the Taliban, with the support of Pakistan and oil-rich Arabic countries, managed to capture the capital Kabul in September 1996.

Ahmad Shah Massoud retreated from Kabul and settled thousands of his forces in Panjshir valley. Within two weeks, he pushed back the Taliban forces from the northern Kabul to the city and arrested tens of Taliban’s expatriate fighters most of whom were Pakistanis. On October 10, 1996 (19 Mizan 1375), Ahmad Shah Massoud signed an agreement with Abdul Karim Khalili, leader of Wahdat Party, and Abdul Rashid Dostum,  to form a military coalition (Shora-e- Aali Defa Az Watan) in Khenjan city. Ahmad Shah Massoud took a lead and commanding role on fighting against the Taliban, Al-Qaida, and Pakistan, and continued fighting against them during the whole period of five years.

Besides the fight and resistance, he also used every opportunity to go into a negotiation with the Taliban in order to convince them to distance from intelligence agencies and terrorism and invite them to peace. But due to the Taliban’s dependency on intelligence institutions and international terrorism, all these efforts and discussions ended in vain. Back in those years, he also tried to persuade international community, especially the United States of America, European Union, and United Nations to pressurize Pakistan to stop their interferences and invasion of Afghanistan; he too informed them on the impacts of Taliban’s activities and terrorism on the region and the world. His main negotiations in this regard with the EU happened at the EU parliament in Strasbourg city of France. On April 02, 2001 (13 Hamal 1380), he traveled to the EU parliament and attended different events and meetings with various officials and unofficial members of the EU, and talked about his goal and objectives of his resistance and struggles. In a response to a question of journalists about his message to the president of America, he said, “My message to Mr. Bush is that the Afghanistan war and  presence of terrorist bases are not limited to Afghanistan only, but sooner or later, they will threaten America and most of the regional countries.” Within four months, his message proved to be a true concern.


Ahmad Shah Massoud was martyred in Khoajah Bahawoodin of Takhar province on September 09, 2001 (18 Sonbula 1380) by a terrorist suicide attack carried by two members of Al-Qaida who had Belgian passports, and were natively from Morocco. One of them named Mohammad Karim Tozani, and the other Qasim Baqali, and they had approached Massoud claiming to be journalists. Two days later on September 11th, Al-Qaida, using passenger aircraft, attacked two trade centers in New York, and killed thousands of people. The corpse of Ahmad Shah Massoud was quickly transferred by his security staff through helicopter to Farkhar of Tajikistan, and the news of his death was kept secret among his friends and companions. They kept the cadaver in a morgue, and after eight days, they brought his corpse to his birthplace, the Panjshir valley. On September 19, 2001 (28 Sonbula 1380), he was laid to rest on Saricha, a high hill between Rokha and Bazarak, through a funeral ceremony where all his friends and companions were lamenting and shedding tears.

When he was martyred, he had 49 years. He married in 1988 (1366) and had a son and five daughters.

May his soul rest in peace!