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Rally Commemorates Massood, Murdered Anti-Taliban Leader

By John Daniszewski
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Kabul, Afghanistan

A rally in Kabul Monday was the climax of nationwide commemorations of the assassination a year ago of Ahmed Shah Massood, the leader of the anti-Taliban resistance who was killed by suspected al-Qaida operatives just two days before the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Amid heavy security, the streets of Kabul, the Afghan capital, were abundantly lined with portraits of Massood. Police and soldiers donned T-shirts depicting his face as they ushered a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 people into the main football stadium. Another 10,000 or so gathered to listen in adjacent fields.

Monday was declared a holiday, and electricity, normally shut off in the city during the daytime recently to conserve water at hydroelectric plants, remained on so that people would be able to watch the four-hour memorial ceremony on television.

But while the ceremonies around the country and state-organized pilgrimages to Massood’s mausoleum in the Panjshir Valley inspired in many a feeling of sadness, they also carried a strong overtone of propaganda benefiting Massood’s Northern Alliance movement. The Northern Alliance controls some of the most powerful positions within the new Afghan state.

Massood, an ethnic Tajik, is a hero to Tajiks, who made up most of the Northern Alliance forces. But he is not nearly so popular among other groups, who remember his role -- along with those of other moujahedeen commanders -- in largely destroying Kabul during a 1992-96 civil war.

No such criticisms of Massood were heard at the rally in Kabul, where his 13-year-old son, Ahmed, rail-thin and dressed in a tie and the brown woolen cap favored by his father, stood under an enormous portrait of Massood and received endless kisses from bearded dignitaries praising the man known as “the Lion of the Panjshir.”