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An Afghan opposition leader builds on his father's efforts to oust the Taliban


We are slowly learning what happens under new leaders in Afghanistan. As of this week, the Taliban have ruled the country for one year. And MORNING EDITION recently interviewed their defense minister, Mohammad Yaqoob. He is the son of Mullah Omar, the Taliban ruler who led Afghanistan a generation ago.

How, if at all, is your vision for Afghanistan different than your father's vision in the 1990s?

MOHAMMAD YAQOOB: (Through interpreter) I haven't felt any changes in our thought with my father. I am following his spirit. But there is differences of situation. There is differences of condition.

INSKEEP: This morning, we meet one of Yaqoob's opponents, the son of another leader. Ahmad Massoud is the namesake of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who opposed the Taliban back in the 1990s.

AHMAD MASSOUD: Well, of course, he's a role model. He's a role model not just for me, but for many, many people and for a generation.

INSKEEP: Now the son is taking opposition to the Taliban into a second generation. His father was an Afghan military commander.

KARL INDERFURTH: He is a very charismatic figure. He's an attractive man.

INSKEEP: This is an old interview with U.S. diplomat Karl Inderfurth, who met the older Massoud.

INDERFURTH: I noticed that he was far more interested and animated when we moved from discussing the details of a political settlement and turned to the situation on the ground militarily and his plans for his next offensive or counteroffensive against the Taliban. He was a real fighter.

INSKEEP: He was part of the government the Taliban evicted from Kabul in the 1990s. But he fought on for years in the mountains. In September, 2001, news broadcasts told of Massoud.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Today, though, his fate is uncertain. He was hurt in an explosion yesterday.

INSKEEP: Suicide bombers killed him just two days before the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Yet, his army became the main force that helped the United States oust the Taliban. They drove with pictures of Massoud on their vehicles. His son, Ahmad Massoud, was just 12 years old then and is 33 now. He says he's building an opposition called the National Resistance Front in his father's old stronghold, the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul. He asked us not to disclose his location, saying he faces threats to his life.

MASSOUD: Of course, unfortunately, the situation is now much harder for us than it was for him because of various reasons. But we are hoping that we all get the same result, a free and safe Afghanistan for all.

INSKEEP: What makes this situation now more difficult, in your view, than your father faced?

MASSOUD: My father was an active defense minister of the legitimate government of Afghanistan at that time. He managed to get the experience, resources and, of course, the legitimacy that he was a part of a legitimate government. And unfortunately, we do not possess any of those things.

INSKEEP: Most important, the elder Massoud received international aid, eventually including American B-52 bombers overhead. The younger Massoud says he has no international assistance at all.

I am reminded that your father had an army with old Russian tanks, with large numbers of men with Kalashnikov rifles. How would you describe your forces today?

MASSOUD: We are not fighting a conventional warfare anymore. We are fighting a guerrilla warfare against the Taliban. And that requires for our forces to be mobile and to be agile, and also to be very active with tactical, small activities but with strategic impact.

INSKEEP: The Washington Post a couple of months ago got an opportunity to travel in the Panjshir Valley and found some signs of conflict, I think, but no evidence that your group controlled territory. It sounds like that's about right, isn't it? You're not trying to control territory at this point. You're trying to strike blows where you can.

MASSOUD: If I want and if the resistance wants to take back the control of Panjshir Valley, I can do it right now. But I will not be able to hold it for the next morning. So this is the thing that we are trying to prevent, just the way that the Taliban, they prevented - or they didn't capture any of the cities until when it was the time for them to do so, because they knew they can capture it, but they cannot hold it.

INSKEEP: Security analysts regard the National Resistance Front as weak. Although, they say they staged an attack on the anniversary of Taliban rule this week. A Taliban official said he'd heard nothing. Massoud contends his group wants a more inclusive government. And he says that he has held talks with Taliban representatives.

MASSOUD: The Taliban messaging to me is very clear. No, we do not want any of these things. We are the winner. We captured Kabul. We are now establishing our own government. You're welcome to be one of the minister, that's all. You have no other say in it. You have no other position in it. And you have no right to say anything.

INSKEEP: They said you were welcome to be one of the ministers in the government?

MASSOUD: Of course. Of course, they actually proposed for me to be a minister. And my answer to them was that this is not possible. And this is not right because this will not solve the problem of Afghanistan. We need to establish a legitimate process. We need to allow the people to decide. Who are you to put Ahmad Massoud in power? We need to allow the people to decide for their future. Let people decide and accept and be behind a legitimate process which brings a government that even 100% they are the personnel of Taliban. I will have no issue with that. Let's let the people to be the decision-maker. We must give power to the people of Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: When was your last discussion with a Taliban leader?

MASSOUD: The last time we spoke with them, it was months ago. It was during winter. And after that, there is no talk between us.

INSKEEP: You pointed out that Western countries, outside countries, have not been supporting your group. That being the case, how are you getting weapons and paying fighters?

MASSOUD: The generosity of the people of Afghanistan, first and foremost. It is the main source of - and support for our soldiers. In the ground, the people, they are supporting them. The people are helping them. And the people and the soldiers that we are having, we are not giving them any salary. They are just freedom fighters fighting for their own freedom, therefore for their own land, for their families. Nothing is coming from outside in Afghanistan. Everything can be built from inside and can be bought from inside Afghanistan. Afghanistan right now is an armory for the region.

INSKEEP: I had an opportunity while in Afghanistan recently to meet Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar. And I pointed out that guerrilla fighters, just a very few of them, can cause great trouble for an army. And could the Taliban face trouble from a few guerrilla fighters? And he responded, no - saying, we did that for 20 years, so we know all the tactics. And we know how to respond. Do you think he's right?

MASSOUD: Well, if they were right, we would not be surviving after one year. And we survived this one year of basically silence of the world regarding the situation in Afghanistan as we speak. They know how to harm the civilian. They know how to harm the people. But one thing they don't know, that wherever there is hope, there is resistance.

INSKEEP: Our last big question for Ahmad Massoud was about the people of Afghanistan. They've endured more than 40 years of one war after another. Are they ready for even more civil conflict? Massoud is placing a bet that they are, and the Taliban, this rule, will give strength to his movement.