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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Not sorted out your summer holidays yet? How about a trip to the Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan?

I get regular messages from my friend Greg Waggett, an ex-army chap who makes his living in dangerous places.

(He also used to correspond regularly with David Ogilvy, but that’s another story)

Here’s his latest, only of interest to those with minds that go beyond the dreary bric-a-brac of marketing.

"An old friend of mine who covered the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as cameraman hung up his boots and runs a small hotel in Kabul. He married an Afghan woman and has a family. Fully integrated. For more, see http://www.gandamacklodge.co.uk/peter.htm.

Anyway, I met up with Peter last year and he offered to introduce me to someone he said I ought to see. It sounded promising. Enter Muslem Hayat. We sat down at a table in Gandamak Lodge and he had quite a tale to tell – though he is a modest man.

Muslem was with Ahmad Shah Massoud as a mujahideen fighter during the Soviet occupation and became his security chief – but was sadly not present when Massoud was murdered two days before 9/11. As you can imagine, they experienced some dangerous times together. Muslem was also trained by, or worked with, MI6.

Massoud was a remarkable man. Arguably one of the greatest guerrilla commanders of the 20th century he was also a man of great vision with plans for Afghanistan after the conflict was over. Respected and revered to this day, he was, and remains, the only single unifying element amongst all the tribes and factions. That is why his death was such a serious loss.

When things settled down, Muslem became Defence Attaché at the Afghan embassy in London 2002-6 alongside Massoud’s brother, Ahmad Wali, the ambassador.

His family (five children) lives in UK and whilst he spends most of his time in Kabul, he travels there from time to time via Dubai where he has friends. He gets by but is not well off – which doesn’t make him grasping.

Muslem invited us to go with him to the Panjshir Valley and meet ‘some friends’ of his. After a three hour drive north of Kabul, we arrived at a large villa deep in the Panjshir to be surrounded by members of the Massoud family. This took my breath away.

We were made welcome and there was plenty of animated discussion and a good lunch. It was fascinating and poignant. We soon discovered that Ahmad Wali, a charming and charismatic man, is very wrapped up in his older brother’s legacy and the best way forward for Afghanistan. We left after warm farewells feeling very lucky and immensely priviledged. I am an unashamed Massoud groupie!

I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Shortly after our return, Muslem called me and invited us round to Gandamak on Monday evening to meet Sandy Gall, former ITV reporter who spent a lot of time with Massoud during the Russian occupation, and Rupert Chetwynd, former Guards-Para, 21 SAS, humanitarian worker and author. Both are somewhat on the elderly side, but that doesn’t matter. So am I.

So that was quite a bash, too."

29 May 2010

Ahmad Shah Massoud, nemesis of the Soviets in Afghanistan, with Muslem Hayat, circa 1985. He was murdered by an al Qaeda suicide bomber 2 days before 9/11, an incalculable loss to the country.
Approaching the Panjshir Valley. Canadian defence attaché, Matthew Overton, Muslem, who was Massoud’s security chief, and a friend.

Muslem pointing up to the mountains where his camp was during the Soviet occupation. Massoud’s shrine is just behind them. Iranian designed and built, it is ghastly which is why I didn’t take a pic.

Looking over the Panjshir and just before the descent.

Following the river Panjshir

Detritus of war 1

Detritus of war 2.

Traditional dwellings on the banks of the river.

In the garden of the Massoud family’s home.

Ahmad Wali Massoud, the younger brother of the commander, talking about things.

Massoud’s bodyguard making his way down to lunch.

Passionate about his brother’s legacy, Ahmad Wali eulogises him at lunch.

A photographer’s book full of superb pics of the mujahideen taken over 12 months. Muslem found a couple of himself taken just after he became Massoud’s security chief.

Massoud’s retreat in the grounds of the family home.

Still some snow on the heights.

Massoud’s nephew, who lives in Sweden, on my left.

With Muslem before our descent into the valley.

Ahmad Wali Massoud in earnest conversation with several of us. It was difficult to get a word in so I took this photo whilst the Canadian DA got in!

Ahmad Shah Massoud, ‘commander’, ‘lion of panjshir’, 1953 – 2001.

More about Massoud on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Shah_Massoud


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