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Afghan Alliance mourns slain commander

By CNN's Satinder Bindra
in Khoja Bahauddin, Afghanistan

KHOJA BAHAUDDIN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- On Sunday in his hometown of Khoja Bahauddin in northeastern Afghanistan they gathered to mourn and to remember Commander Ahmed Shah Massood.

Exactly 40 days after he was assassinated by suicide bombers posing as journalists, his followers vowed that his life's work will inspire Afghans forever.

According to Afghan tradition, the 40th day after a person's death is said to mark the transition from grieving to celebrating the life of the deceased.

``He was an icon" says Ajmal Faiz, Governor of Takhar province. "He was fighting for the freedom of the people of Afghanistan from terrorists like the Taliban.''

On 16 September thousands showed up for Commander Massood's funeral.

In his home region, the strategic Panjsher Valley, he was revered as a hero.

Of all the leaders in the multi-ethnic Northern Alliance, it was only Commander Massood who enjoyed broad public support.

Nicknamed the Lion of the Panjsher, Commander Massood foiled nine Soviet attacks on his home valley in the 1980s.

Later when the Russians departed he battled the Taliban, preventing them from taking over the entire country and kindling hopes that one day the Alliance could defeat them.

'Holy warrior'

His assassination just two days before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States dealt such a blow to those dreams that the Alliance didn't announce his death until several days later.

In Khoja Bahauddin Massood's image is everywhere -- inside homes, on walls, and on jeeps.

Almost everyone here talks in reverential tones about the fallen commander -- a leader, they say, who continues to rally and lead them, even in death."

"He was a great personality and a holy warrior" says Abdul Halim, a resident of the Panjsher valley

"He fought the Russians for years. I think his death is very bad luck for the people of Afghanistan.''

No replacement

More than bad luck, no one in the Alliance can match his commanding personality and effectiveness in rallying international support.

Commander Massood's successor, intelligence chief General Mohammed Fahim, lacks his military guile, which won the Alliance support from Europe, Russia, India and Iran.

The alliance's current political head, Burhannudin Rabbani, also lacks credibility.

Professor Rabbani is still remembered for his time as Afghanistan's President, when he presided over a fractious and ineffectual government driven out of Kabul in 1996 by the Taliban.

Realizing Commander Massood's assassination has left them without a galvanizing figure, the leadership here has held together the Alliance's various ethnic groups by keeping the Massood mythology alive.

At every opportunity they repeat that this is campaign is a chance to "avenge his death."


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