Biography of Ahmad Shah Masood

by Abdullah Qazi / November 18, 2007
(Last updated: October 12, 2018)

Ahmad Shah Masood – Photo by A. Raffaele Ciriello

Ahmad Shah Masood (also spelled Massoud), an ethnic Tajik, was born in 1953 in the Jangalak district of Panjsher province.  He played one of the most important roles in Afghanistan’s modern history. To his admirers, he is known as the “Lion of Panjsher”, a name given to him for his successes as a military commander during the war against the Soviet occupation. In fact, his fight against the Soviets was so well known that the American newspaper,  The Wall Street Journal labeled him as the “Afghan who won the cold war”.

Masood is not loved by everyone. He is despised by many Pashtun ethno-nationalists; they have alleged that Masood wanted to create a greater Tajikistan or change the name of Afghanistan to Khorasan ². He has even been accused of  trying to divide Afghanistan along ethnic lines.  The truth is that Masood was always loyal to Afghanistan, and never once claimed to be fighting for a greater Tajikistan, for the Tajiks only, or for changing the name of Afghanistan to Khorasan. He had support from all ethnic groups, even Pashtuns.

After the Communists were defeated, Masood’s troops were the first Mujahideen group to enter Kabul, and help establish a Mujahideen government. He served as President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Defense Minister, and engaged in numerous battles with militant groups, who were backed for foreign countries like Pakistan, from taking over the government.

Eventually, Rabbani’s government fell, and the Taliban, with financial and military help from Pakistan, took over Afghanistan’s capital. Masood and his allies pulled their forces north and worked on defending the north and the central regions from being completely taken over by the Taliban. To combat the Taliban, a multi-ethnic coalition was formed under the name, United National and Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UNIFSA) ¹.  Masood was chosen as the military leader of UNIFSA. On September 9, 2001, two days before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Masood was killed. He was the victim of an Al Qaeda suicide attack. The attackers posed as television journalists, setting off a bomb packed inside their video camera.

In 2001, after the removal of the Taliban by the UNIFSA and US forces, the the Afghan Interim Government under President Hamid Karzai awarded Masood the title of “Hero of the Afghan Nation”.

Chronology | Videos | More Information (interviews, letter, etc)

Chronology of Ahmad Shah Masood’s life


  • September 2: Birth of Ahmad Shah Masood

1972 – 1973

  • Masood enrolled at Kabul Polytechnic Institute for Engineering and Architecture. Masood also became involved with the Sazman-i Jawanan-i Musalman (Muslim Youth Organization), the student branch of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Society of Afghanistan) led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.


  • July: Masood tried to stir up revolts against Mohammad Daoud Khan’s government in Panjsher.
    Note: Later in life, Masood stated that he regretted these activities as he was unknowingly being used by Pakistan to destabilize Afghanistan.


  • Masood joined Rabbani’s Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan after Rabbani and Hekmatyar split and went separate ways.


  • At this time, PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) came to power, and Masood was actively involved in the resistance against their rule. In July, Masood participated in one of the first instances of revolt against the PDPA government in Nuristan province.


  • July: Masood stirred up a major revolt in Panjsher against the communist Afghan government. The revolt eventually failed and Masood learned the the ineffectiveness of open confrontation against a much better armed and larger force.  At this time, he started to resort to guerrilla warfare.

1980 – 1982

  • Masood actively became involved in the Soviet resistance. He successfully defended Panjsher against massive Soviet attacks.


  • Masood signed a tactical treaty with the Soviets.  This gave Masood time to regroup his army, reel in greater political support, bolster resistance in other areas outside of Panjsher, and take advantage of the mineral wealth of the area to finance his resistance against the Soviets. In July 1983, Masood createed the Shura-e-Nazar (Council of Supervision).  This military council coordinated the actions of 130 Mujahideen commanders from several provinces (Badakhshan, Parwan, Kapisa, Baghlan, Laghman, Kunar, Takhar and Kunduz ) of northern Afghanistan.


  •  Massive Soviet onslaught against Masood’s forces.  Each time, Masood successfully defeated the Soviets and the puppet Afghan government forces.


  •  Late Summer: Masood captured Farkhar in Takhar province, and in November, his forces overran the headquarters of the DRA 20th division at Nahrin in Baghlan province. Other resistance groups learned from Masood and employed similar guerrilla warfare techniques against the Soviets.


  • At the age of 35, Masood married the daughter of Kaakaa Tajuddin.


  • Masood and his men were ambushed by Hekmatyar’s group. Several of Masood’s men were killed, however Masood managed to escape.

1992 – 1996

  • Masood’s forces entered Kabul, and on April 26, 1992, the Peshawar Accord was announced. A Mujahideen government was created, and Masood became the Minister of Defense.
  • 1993: Masood created Bonyad-e Farhangi wa Ta’wani Mohammad-e Ghazali (The Cooperative Mohammad Ghazali Cultural Foundation)
  • Battles against Hekmatyar’s army. Intensive rocket bombardment of Kabul by Hekmatyar.  Numerous civilians were killed and Kabul was massively damaged.
  • September 26: Masood and Rabbani were forced out of Kabul by the Taliban. Taliban marched into Kabul on September 27, 1996.


  • Summer: Masood left Panjsher to solicit help from Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ismael Khan.
  • End of year: UNIFSA lost more and more ground to the Taliban.


  • April: Masood went to Europe, held press conferences and tried to inform western leaders about the growing power of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan’s secret assistance to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
  • September 9th: Death.  Killed by suicide attackers. Interestingly enough, after this, suicide attacks became very common in Afghanistan.


1 – UNIFSA was incorrectly referred to as the “Northern Alliance” in western media. Many Afghans who were either in opposition or critical of UNIFSA also used the “Northern Alliance” title to indicate that the alliance lacked Pashtun representation or membership, which was not true.

2 – After the introduction of Islam, and during the Middle Ages, Afghanistan was an essential part of Khorasan, a variously-defined area located east and northeast of the Kevir desert in eastern Iran covering modern day Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. It was a multi-ethnic region with Dari as the dominant language.  There are people in Afghanistan (such as Latif Pedram) who view the name Afghanistan as an imposition by the Pashtuns and want the country’s name changed from Afghanistan to Khorasan.  The argument is that the name Afghanistan represents only one ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Historically, and still even today,  “Afghan” is used as a synonym for Pashtun.

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