Afghan resistance leader hires DC lobbyist in bid for continued US financial and military support

Ahmad Massoud, son of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, delivers a speech next to a portrait of his father in Paris, France on March 27, 2021.
Ahmad Massoud, son of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, delivers a speech next to a portrait of his father in Paris, France on March 27, 2021. Christophe Archambault/Pool/AP
  • Ahmad Massoud, the leader of an anti-Taliban group based in the Panjshir valley, has hired a DC lobbyist.
  • The Taliban last week said it conquered Panjshir, but Massoud’s group rejected this assertion and vowed to keep fighting.
  • Massoud hired Robert Stryk, who has a history of representing authoritarian clients in Washington.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ahmad Massoud, the leader of an anti-Taliban resistance group based in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley, has reportedly hired DC lobbyist Robert Stryk in a bid to continue receiving military and financial support from the US.

The New York Times reported that a contract between Stryk and Massoud was filed with the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act Database (FARA) on Wednesday night, and that the long-time DC lobbyist will be representing Massoud on a pro-bono basis.

Stryk has a long history of representing militants and authoritarians, including an official from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration and former Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government.

Most recently, his firm Stryk Global Diplomacy was paid $US4 ($AU5) million dollars by Lebanese-American businessman George Nader to lobby the Trump administration to grant him clemency after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year on child pornography and sex trafficking charges.

Massoud also has the support of some Republicans in Washington, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has reportedly been arranging meetings between Massoud’s resistance group and diplomats from the UK and India. He also got Amrullah Saleh, Massoud’s compatriot, a prime-time spot of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

The Times also reported that 3 lobbyists said they’d heard that the Taliban is seeking to hire lobbyists as well, though it is unclear whether that would be possible given expected sanctions and their ties to the Haqqani network, a US-designed terror group.

Ali Nazary, a spokesman for Massoud’s “National Resistance Front of Afghanistan,” told the Times that the lobbying contract is a bid to halt any potential US recognition of the Taliban and to promote Massoud’s own interests as an aspiring leader of the country. “No entity could receive legitimacy without the support, endorsement of his excellency Ahmad Massoud, because he is the source of legitimacy today,” he said.

“We are asking the United States to provide material support for our efforts, which would include shipment of offensive weapons,” he also said.

The Taliban last week said it conquered Panjshir, but a spokesperson for Massoud’s resistance group rejected this, per BBC News. “The Taliban haven’t captured Panjshir,” the spokesperson said. Massoud and his group have vowed to keep fighting, but they’re surrounded, are running out of supplies, and desperate for outside support.

“Taliban have claimed they took Panjshir before without evidence. This time one thing is clear: They have definitely entered Panjshir,” Kamal Alam, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who was in Panjshir in August, told CNBC last Tuesday. “Taking it entirely is another matter, and yet to be proven. They have only taken parts of it at a minimal level for now, that much is certain.”

Massoud’s father was a legendary mujahideen fighter – Ahmad Shah Massoud – known as the “Lion of Panjshir.” His father helped push out the Soviets in the 1980s, while later leading a resistance against the Taliban after the militant group seized power in 1996. The mujahideen commander was assassinated by Al Qaeda on September 9, 2001, just two days before the 9/11 terror attacks.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post last month that was published shortly after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan as the US finalized the withdrawal of its troops, Massoud wrote he was “ready to follow in my father’s footsteps.”

“The US and its allies have left the battlefield, but America can still be a ‘great arsenal of democracy,’ as Franklin D. Roosevelt said when coming to the aid of the beleaguered British before the US entry into World War II,” Massoud wrote, imploring the US to offer assistance.

“We need more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies,” he said. “There is still much that you can do to aid the cause of freedom. You are our only remaining hope.”

The Taliban recently announced an interim government. The US has yet to formally recognize the Taliban-led government, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that granting the militant group legitimacy will depend on its “conduct” moving forward. The Taliban after taking over pledged “no revenge,” and sought to present itself as a more moderate, changed entity before the globe.

But the UN has warned that the Taliban is breaking promises and BBC News recently reported that at least 20 civilians were killed by the militants in Panjshir.