Senior anti-Taliban rebel places hopes in France – POLITICO


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America may have abandoned Afghanistan, but the country’s most prominent anti-Taliban rebel is pinning its hopes on supporting France.

For Ahmad Massoud, France is the most natural place to turn to as he tries to muster a resistance army in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul. After all, his father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the “Lion of Panjshir” is close to a household name in France and lives (after his assassination in 2001) as the country’s very embodiment of a freedom fighter thanks to his battles against the Soviets. and the Taliban in the 1980s and 1990s.

In editorials published in the French press, Massoud, 32, made Paris his main hope. His intermediary with the highest spheres of power is the philosopher, public intellectual and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy, who went to the Panjshir valley to write an article about him in Paris Match magazine last October.

In a letter to Lévy, published in the Journal du Dimanche on August 14, Massoud urged the philosopher to issue a direct appeal to President Emmanuel Macron “that France is our last resort, the only hope we have left”.

In another letter written to win hearts in France after the fall of Kabul, Massoud compared the condition of Afghanistan to that of Europe in 1940 and cited the remark by French leader Charles de Gaulle that France had lost a battle, but not the war. “Join us in spirit, or with direct support,” Massoud said in his appeal, which appeared in French.

Britain-trained Massoud, who was just 12 when his father was assassinated by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, knows France is fertile ground to garner support. Her very literate (and French-speaking) father was educated in a French high school and became a fictionalized national celebrity in France thanks to a 1998 documentary titled “Massoud, l’Afghan”. (In Afghanistan, he is a more polarizing figure, and while many see him as a hero, others have bitter memories of the Mujahedin’s brutal guerrilla campaigns.)

“[France] is the country in the world where his name resonates the most… and Massoud is, today, the only one who resists and holds good, ”Lévy told POLITICO, adding that it was natural for France to intervene. “What I think, and given the historical links with the father, it is normal that France brings him the most advanced assistance.

Lévy spoke to Massoud on Saturday and was assured by the rebel that: “Abandonment is not part of my vocabulary.

Access to the highest level

For now, however, the French government refuses to comment publicly on whether it will respond to Massoud’s carefully crafted appeals. It will all depend on the Taliban’s response to pressure, particularly from Iran, to form a pluralist government with other ethnic and religious groups such as the Panjshiri Tajiks and the Shia Hazaras, who are more likely to oppose the Taliban, or if the country falls back into all -out civil war.

Memories are still fresh of a trip that Massoud made to Paris in March, when he met Macron and the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and inaugurated a path bearing the name of Massoud (“Commandant Massoud’s alley“) In the gardens of the iconic Champs Elysées in Paris.

The other participants were David Martinon, the current French Ambassador to Afghanistan, and European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune. “We have regular exchanges with Massoud and his entourage,” Arnaud Ngatcha, Hidalgo’s adviser for international affairs, told POLITICO. “He sent us many messages and alerted us early enough that things were going to collapse quickly in Afghanistan.”

“We are currently examining how to continue supporting the freedom fighters,” Ngatcha added. “What the mayor of Paris can do now is provide moral support and more visibility to Massoud.”

Indeed, Hidalgo noted exactly this moral pressure on Macron with an editorial in the daily Le Monde on August 16. She called on France to “support, encourage, help” Massoud’s resistance, “so that it can quickly triumph over the Taliban. and their regime of terror.

And it’s not like Massoud doesn’t have access to the top. At the Elysee Palace in March, he spoke of “the advancement of Afghanistan-France relations” with Macron and stood with the French president for an official photo, in which the two held a framed drawing of Massoud’s father.

He also met other politicians such as Gérard Larcher, the President of the French Senate, and Valérie Pécresse, the president of the Paris region and a candidate for the next presidential elections in France.

After the fall of Kabul, Pécresse sent a tweet saying that France must “help the resistance”.

More than words

The big question is whether the French love affair with Massoud will translate into military equipment, or other more concrete supports.

Massoud is now joined at Panjshir by the country’s former vice-president, Amrullah Saleh. Although it is difficult territory to capture, Massoud is isolated and used an editorial in the Washington Post to call for “more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies” because “our military forces and our logistics will not be not sufficient ”.

“They will be quickly depleted unless our Western friends find a way to supply us without delay. ”

Contacted by POLITICO on the support that France was ready to provide, government institutions in Paris were evasive. A spokesperson for the Elysee Palace only confirmed that “France is in contact with [Massoud] since he visited Paris. The Foreign Ministry dodged the question and said its priority was “evacuating nationals” and “protecting Afghans”.

A spokesperson for Massoud also did not respond to a question about French support.

Of course, such help should probably be kept under wraps, especially if the Taliban becomes the de facto government – but someone who is following the French case closely said there was a willingness to send arms. “If by military aid you mean giving the Panjshir the means to defend himself, then it is yes,” said the person.

If France were to eventually send weapons to Massoud, this would only fuel the existing controversy over Lévy’s influence in the conduct of France’s military policy.

Many senior French officials have admitted that Levy’s campaign in 2011 to push France to officially recognize rebel leadership in Libya and to intervene militarily to expel Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi played a role in France’s decision to launch air strikes and arming the Libyan rebels.

But they also blamed outside influencers like Lévy for pushing a military operation that produced mixed results and did not prevent the country from sinking into years of civil war. “I don’t forget that several people have decided that we have to get rid of the Libyan leader without really having a plan for what will happen next,” Macron told Le Monde in an interview in 2018.

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