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Sharon, I am guessing you never made it to the office. I hope
everyone at the New Yorker is OK. I have to say that Sri Lanka
seems very small, remote, and entirely irrelevant. I feel like I
should be heading for Afghanistan, which I fully expect to be
flattened any day now. Is the magazine planning any special
coverage? Is there something I can do to help?
From: Jon Lee 9/12/2001
I've reached my friend Peter, who is in Islamabad. He says that
British Airways has cancelled flights to Pakistan but that the
Emirates is still flying. As for visas from the Taliban to get into
Afghanistan, this must be worked through their embassy in
Islamabad. Peter says that journos, mostly TV crews, have
already begun to swarm, but the Talib are being noncommittal
and taking applications and telling people to come back in 15
days. He is working a connection inside the embassy whom he
thinks is bribeable. (It might be possible to get a visa this way.)
If the shit really hits the fan, of course, no visas would be
needed. One can always find a way to get smuggled in, as I did
before, during Najibullah's day.
There are two ways to proceed. One: forget going to Kabul and
get into Northern Alliance territory through Tajikistan. (Wali
Massoud, the brother of the wounded/dead? leader of the
Northern Alliance, is their chargé d'affaires in London.) Or, two,
take my chances with the Taliban out of Islamabad and then if
that fails get myself up to the north.
If I want to keep my options open it would be good to get a
second U.S. passport in London. The Talib won't like it if they
see a Northern Alliance visa, and vice versa.
From: Jon Lee 9/12/2001
I've talked with Wali Massoud. He says 'no problem' but that
the Tajiks can drag their heels about visas. I guess he will wait
until I am in London to spell things out more clearly. Says his
brother is not dead, and recuperating.
From: Jon Lee 9/15/2001
Am now in England. Everybody is saying that Massoud died
A Lion's Death
I met Wali Massoud a little over ten years ago, at a friend's
house in Wimbledon. He was in his mid-twenties, a slight,
amiable man with black hair and a mustache. Wali was the
youngest son of an ethnic Tajik officer in the Afghan army and
had come to Britain to study international relations. He had a
famous older brother, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Lion of
Panjshir, who led a band of mujahideen that fought off seven
major offensives by Soviet forces in the great mountain valley of
Panjshir, in northern Afghanistan, during the nineteen-eighties. In
1992, three years after the Soviets withdrew from the country,
Massoud's forces-the Jamiat-i-Islami (Society of Islam), a
moderately conservative group composed mostly of ethnic
Tajiks and led by the Islamic scholar Burhanuddin Rabbani-defeated
the brutish regime the Soviets had left in power.
Ahmed Shah Massoud became the defense minister and, later,
vice president of the new Islamic State of Afghanistan.
In 1996, when the Taliban militia gained control of Kabul, the
capital city, and most of the rest of the country, Massoud and
Rabbani returned to the mountains in the north. With limited
backing from Iran, Russia, and India, they fought off the Taliban
and managed to hold on to somewhere between five and twenty
percent of the country. Massoud led a motley coalition of tribal-based
guerrilla forces that are usually referred to as the Northern
Alliance but are officially called the United Islamic Front for the
Salvation of Afghanistan.
Wali Massoud stayed in London. He got married, had two
daughters, and earned an M.A. in diplomacy. He is now the
chargé d'affaires at the Afghan embassy to the Court of St.
James's. The Northern Alliance controls Afghanistan's UN seat
and all of its forty-odd embassies, except for the one in
Pakistan, which is run by the Taliban. The Taliban is officially
recognized only by Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and
Osama bin Laden's homeland, Saudi Arabia.
The London embassy is a cream-colored early-Victorian
building across the street from Hyde Park in Knightsbridge. I
met Wali Massoud there at 11 a.m. on Friday, September 14,
while Londoners were standing for three minutes of silence in
memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center.
Wali, who is just as thin and amiable as he was a decade ago,
wore a gray pin-striped double-breasted suit and held a cell
phone, which rang again and again, and which Wali answered
each time, with an apology to me. The previous Sunday, his
brother had been attacked at his headquarters while giving an
interview to two Arabs carrying Belgian passports. They were
posing as television journalists and carrying a bomb. When it
went off, it killed one of the 'journalists' and one of Massoud's
men and wounded Massoud and several other people. The
second attacker tried to flee but was killed.
The suicide bombers had come into Northern Alliance territory
from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, across the front lines,
which was an unusual breach of security and has thus far not
been explained. 'They arranged this with someone at
headquarters,' a Northern Alliance official in London told me.
'We are investigating.' He said that the men are believed to have
been either Moroccan or Algerian, and that they travelled from
London to Pakistan before reaching Afghanistan. They are
suspected of having links to an extremist group, the Islamic
Observation Centre, in London.
Initial press reports said that Massoud had died in the attack,
but all week Wali had been telling me that his brother was
recovering. He was about to leave for Afghanistan, he said, to
be with him. Wali was concerned about the stability of the
coalition. Massoud was an extraordinarily gifted military
tactician and was revered by his people. 'The opposition can
continue to function,' Wali said, 'but not the same as before.'
Then the phone rang again, and this time, as he listened, Wali
hunched forward in his chair, holding his knees tightly together.
He repeated the Farsi word bale-'yes'-and his voice became
barely audible. He seemed about to weep.
Later that evening, the BBC confirmed Massoud's death. After
the attack, he had been taken to a hospital in Tajikistan by
helicopter. On Saturday, September 15th, his body was brought
back to his hometown, the mountain village of Basarak, where
he was buried. His thirteen-year-old son, Ahmed, spoke. 'I want
to be my father's successor,' he said. While Massoud's
bereaved relatives and thousands of followers were observing a
period of mourning, the Taliban launched a large-scale military
offensive against the Northern Alliance.
The timing and circumstances of the attack on Massoud, which
came just two days before the strike on the United States, do
not appear to be coincidental. Anyone who knew that the United
States was going to be attacked and that Osama bin Laden and
the Taliban would be blamed would also have known that
Massoud would suddenly become an important ally for the
West. 'Without very good intelligence in Afghanistan, you can't
do anything,' an Afghan living in London said to me. 'Bin Laden
has a thousand caves to hide in.' Ahmed Shah Massoud had
been waging war in Afghanistan for more than twenty years, and
he knew most of its hiding places.
Excerpted from The Lion's Grave
by Jon Lee Anderson
Copyright © 2002 by Jon Lee Anderson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.