On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

‘What an unlucky country’

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Early in September 2001, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center got a routine report from Ahmed Shah Massoud’s intelligence service about two Arab television journalists crossing the Northern Alliance lines from Kabul. The CIA had renewed its partnership with Massoud in September 1996, after a gap of almost six years. The alliance focused mainly on Arabs in Afghanistan and reports were sent via dedicated lines that linked the Panjshir Valley to Langley. In this instance the Center took note. It did not seem of exceptional interest.

This information is almost towards the end of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning book for general non fiction Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, who was the managing editor of The Washington Post then and is with The New Yorker magazine now.

Osama bin Laden and the freedom he had under Taliban rule brought the CIA back into the region. Coll’s riveting and authoritative narrative paints an astoundingly vivid picture of the years starting from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. The New York Times called it the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al-Qaeda.

At the US Embassy in Islamabad the Taliban’s rise was evaluated as an isolated Afghan mystery. Many career officers in the US government believed, even as late as September 10, 2001 that Mullah Omar would hand over bin Laden on his own, as Pakistan was assuring them.

“Afghanistan after 1979 was a laboratory for political and military visions conceived abroad and imposed by force. The language and ideas that described Afghan parties, armies, and militias originated with theoreticians in universities and seminaries in Europe, the United States, Cairo, and Deoband. Afghans fought as ‘communists’ or as ‘freedom fighters.’ They joined jihadist armies battling on behalf of an imagined global Islamic umma. A young, weak nation, Afghanistan produced few convincing nationalists who could offer an alternative, who could define Afghanistan from within. Ahmed Shah Massoud was an exception.”

“Few in Panjshir could read or write, but Massoud’s parents were both exceptions. His father was formally educated. His mother taught herself to read and write, and urged her four sons and four daughters to improve themselves similarly. Ahmed Shah Massoud’s mother meted out family discipline, and because he was a child who seemed naturally inclined to mischief, his reprimands came often. She never struck her children physically, her sons recalled, but she could wither them with verbal lashings. Years later Massoud confided to siblings that perhaps the only person he had ever feared was his mother.”….Continued. Click on the headline to read the full piece.

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