KABUL -- Ahmad Masud was 12 years old when his father, the legendary anti-Taliban military commander known as the "Lion of Panjshir," was killed by two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers in northern Afghanistan on September 9, 2001.
The assassination of Ahmad Shah Masud, who also fought for a decade against Soviet invaders, removed a natural U.S. ally from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Two days later, Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
The tumultuous events thrust the young Masud into the public eye -- making his first public appearance at his father's funeral in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, a historic event attended by hundreds of thousands of the slain ethnic-Tajik commander's supporters.
Standing beside his father's coffin with poise and dignity in one of the few parts of Afghanistan that was not under Taliban control at the time, the 12-year-old Masud provoked an outburst of hysterical grieving by announcing: "I want to follow in my father's footsteps. I want to secure our country's independence. I want to be my father's successor."
Since then, alongside his father's status as an iconic national hero, the young Masud has been revered by many Afghans who see him as a symbol of hope for Afghanistan's future.
Today, 15 years later, he says he remains committed to his vow of making his father's dreams become reality -- to make Afghanistan a "united and free country" with leaders chosen by the Afghan people through democratic elections.
Now 27, Masud has nearly completed a degree in international relations at King's College London.
But he returns to Afghanistan each year to be with his family as the country commemorates Masud Day, a national holiday, on September 9 that launches Martyrs Week, honoring Afghan victims of more than three decades of war.
Ahmad Masud refers to his father as "the Martyr," telling RFE/RL that at least one of the assassinated commander's dreams for Afghanistan is starting to come true.
"The elections that were held in the past several years -- regardless of their results, just the fact that there were elections -- that's one of the key factors of a democracy, and it demonstrates that one of the wishes of the Martyr is slowly coming true," he told RFE/RL.
But Ahmad is critical of the failure of Afghanistan's government to safeguard people from militant attacks, ethnic strife, and sectarian violence or to create the economic opportunities needed to prevent young Afghans from fleeing the country.
"Without any doubt, these circumstances and the emigration are frustrating," he told RFE/RL.
"Our young generation considers the situation so dire that they do all they can to leave," he said. "It's really frustrating and disturbing."
Masud said he thinks refugees who flee Afghanistan "still love their country."
But he says the government must do more to "fight insecurity and work to bring security and stability" if it is going to end an exodus that already has been joined by millions of Afghan refugees.
"I hope the government comes up with a plan to create jobs," he told RFE/RL. "One of the important reasons for the emigration is that people are looking for a better life, a more stable future. It all goes back to the issue of employment and security."
As for himself, Masud says he will return to Afghanistan permanently after he completes his education in London.
He says the reason for his university studies is to "come back" and fulfill the vow he made at his father's funeral.
He insists that he is "completely devoted" to Afghanistan and has no property outside of the country.
Asked about his political ambitions, Masud said he would take on the duties of public office "if it is the will of the Afghan people."
If he failed to be elected, Masud said, he would still stay in Afghanistan and work as a teacher.
Written by Ron Synovitz with reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Hamid Mohmand in Kabul