12. Elimination of Opponents by Nonmilitary Means
One result of the Soviet invasion was the creation of a situation in which the parties involved in the war justified the destruction of life for the slightest of reasons. The Afghans, especially those involved in politics, did not look on life as sacred; indeed, after the communist coup they made the elimination of opponents a part of their policies. Neither side found it difficult to rationalize their stand. The Kabul regime killed in the name of society, the state, the people, and the “revolution”; the mujahideen killed in the name of Islam and the motherland as well as familial and national honor.
In the regime’s view, counterrevolutionaries had to be eliminated in order to make society “free of the exploitation of man by man.” It did not consider that no one has ever been able to organize such a society. At a public meeting held in the city of Taluqan in the province of Takhar, a Pashtun resident told Deputy Premier Majid Sarbiland that the process of creating such a “just society” might require the death of the people of Taluqan. In the summer of 1981 Sarbiland had gone to Taluqan to address a meeting as part of the campaign to convince people of the good intentions of the regime to create a “just society.” The utterances were a masquerade to establish the rule of a group of people whom the Soviets had raised to power. Morality had lost its meaning; those in power acted as if might did indeed make right.
The violence that the Soviets and their compliant Afghans perpetrated could not remain unchallenged by a people whose value system demands that they take revenge. The Afghans also considered it their right to use violence since the Soviets had left no alternative to change the regime they had imposed. The resulting violence brought forth the impulse for destruction “by all sides, on all sides.” Hence, the psychology of killing permeated not only the state but the society as well. Human life, that priceless valuable, was cheapened to an unprecedented degree not only on the battlefields but also in ordinary circumstances. It is impossible to absolve those who committed a crime against an unprovoked people by imposing a war on them inside the boundaries of their own fatherland.
“What is fundamental about violence in human affairs is that a person is violated.” “A person is violated” when he or she is deprived of rights, “autonomy,” dignity, or life. Here we are concerned with the deprivation of life by means other than war for essentially political purposes. Such deprivation was, of course, not something new, since, like so many others, the Afghan society and state were violent even before the invasion. However, the violence perpetrated after the various coups, and particularly after the Soviet invasion, was of such scope, degree, and intensity that it had no parallel in Afghan history. Indeed, the invasion was a violation of Afghans on a national scale.
The first person to lose his life to terrorism was the editor of the weekly Minhajuddin Gaheez, killed by a leftist radical in 1972. Until then, in the long reign of the former king Mohammad Zahir, the Afghans lived in an atmosphere free of terrorism, although before the constitutional decade the state had violated human rights, particularly the rights of prisoners. It was after the overthrow of the king that official terrorism took the lives of many people.
Those responsible for official terrorism were the Parchamis who dominated the new republic. Among the victims was the former prime minister Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, killed in a prison cell by the Parchamis; specifically, Fayz Mohammad, the minister of the interior, and Samad Azhar, the chief of the Investigation Commission, were said to have been responsible for the killing. Toward the end of the republic, waves of terrorism and counterterrorism went hand in hand, the latter committed by radical Islamists against the leftists and government officials. Among the known victims of these waves were Ali Ahmad Khurram, the minister of planning, and Mier Akbar Khybar, the number two leader and ideologue of the Parchami faction, whose killing triggered the communist coup in 1978. Their deaths, which had far-reaching consequences, were the work of the KGB. Khurram had, on the instruction of President Daoud, started to distance Afghanistan from the Soviet Union; he was soon killed by a member of the PDPA, Marjan. Khybar was killed for his opposition to the PDPA’s taking of power; he did not believe that the PDPA would be able to rule the country even if it succeeded in taking power. Thereafter, first the rule of the Khalqis and then that of the Parchamis were reigns of terror, and the number of Afghans killed as counterrevolutionaries is beyond calculation. Counterterrorism likewise became widespread.
The revolutionary method of Stalinesque Russian communism, the overzealousness of Islamists, and the revenge-seeking spirit of Afghans made life in Afghanistan an inferno. It is impossible to detail what happened even in noncombatant places in these turbulent years. Indeed, it was hazardous for a person simply to collect information about it. This means that posterity will not know how the society of the time worked, or failed to work. Rumors will take the place of history, and posterity will have a distorted view of this period. What is described here is an incomplete picture of how the mujahideen eliminated the Soviet Afghan surrogates through terroristic tactics, and how the latter did the same against both the mujahideen and themselves.
After the invasion religious scholars issued fatwas saying that since members of the official party were atheists and the associates of infidels, they were to be killed. Armed with moral and religious justification, the mujahideen and others went on with killing the Parchamis and Khalqis. Even without such an injunction the mujahideen considered it necessary to perpetrate counterterrorism, since they were unable to carry out frontal assaults on the enemy; they were therefore determined to eliminate those whom they called “the internal Russians.” This may explain why, following the invasion, the mujahideen soon either killed the Soviet surrogates in the countryside or drove them to cities.
Those who had been associated with both the Khalqi and Parchami regimes also suffered, partly because the distinction between them and the communists was blurred. In addition, the official party had covert members, and KhAD had planted its agents in the ranks of the mujahideen. Solid evidence was not considered essential for acting on such a fundamental point: circumstantial evidence and suspicion were enough for taking life. In addition, the people turned against the regime because of its double face: the repressive one it presented to the Afghans, and the subservient one it presented to the Russians.
Alienation of the Pdpa
In March 1982 I conducted an informal survey of my educated acquaintances in the city of Kabul, concluding that the dominant view was that, since party members were unwilling to abandon their servitude to the Russians, they deserved to be eliminated. The public corroborated this view by their attitude. In the first place, the public excommunicated party members, in particular the Parchamis. People generally would not rent them houses and also refrained from either giving them or accepting from them daughters in marriage. In general, party members were ostracized not only by friends and acquaintances but in some cases even by members of their own families. In the second place, when party members became the target of terroristic attacks, people acted as if nothing had happened. I never heard of any person volunteering information to the police on the subject, although it was the custom to cooperate with the police on other crimes, particularly murder. Terrorists thus could not be caught on the spot. Some were caught later, but only as a result of extensive efforts by KhAD.
When party members or collaborators were killed in provincial cities, notices were served barring mullas or religious functionaries from burying the dead in accord with the rituals of Islam. Such orders were obeyed. So, contrary to custom and the injunction of Islam, the dead bodies of members of the official party as well as of collaborators either lay for days without being buried or were buried without ritual. In Kabul, because of fear of terroristic attacks and because of public pressure, most high-ranking party members and known collaborators lived in the guarded, Soviet-made neighborhoods of Macroryan and Wazir Akbar Khan Maina, where the growing number of Russians also lived. Rents skyrocketed, and the regime undertook to build new prefabricated blocks of residential apartments. Perhaps no other ruling party had become so isolated from its own people in history as the PDPA had.
Party Members Terrorized in Provincial Cities
As noted above, professional terror attacks started in the summer of 1980 after religious scholars issued fatwas; until then, party men had been driven from the rural areas, taking refuge in cities where an uncontrollable process of urbanization had started. In the beginning the Khalqis more than the Parchamis were the target of attacks. The brutality of the Khalqis was fresh, and people were harsher with them than with the Parchamis, whose brutality was not yet apparent. Party members were attacked more frequently in big provincial cities than in Kabul. Even in a city like Mazar, which is situated in a flat plain and whose inhabitants are known to be relatively mild, party members were killed in numbers that rivaled and even surpassed those of other cities.
In the city of Kandahar the Khalqis became the target of attacks on a bigger scale. Terrorism also started there much earlier, following the fall of the Khalqi regime. During the course of thirty-four days in January and February 1980, 130 Khalqis were killed in terror attacks in the city of Kandahar and its surrounding districts. This was the work of common people, not professionals. The killings were in revenge for the men the people of Kandahar had lost at the hands of Khalqis when they were in power. Two examples will suffice to make the point clear. During the Khalqi rule about a hundred prisoners from the city and the Helmand area were thrown out of airplanes into the Arghandab reservoir. Also, forty-eight elders from the Karz district were killed in the presence of Engineer Zarif, the Khalqi governor of Kandahar. They were killed because they had protested that government officials should register only the number, not the names, of their female folk when they were taking a census of the population. In the Parchami period, Engineer Zarif and other Khalqis were executed for the crimes they had committed. In any case, following the invasion the Kandahar people killed the Khalqis more in revenge than anything else. They were successful in their revenge because they were more skillful in terror attacks than the people of other cities were.
Many Khalqis were killed in the city of Taluqan following the invasion, but information about them is not available. The story of the fallen Khalqis was more striking in Herat than elsewhere, because Herat had lost more men than any other city or province during the Khalqi rule, as noted earlier. In May 1980, in all Herat only the headquarters of the governor was under the control of the regime, and that was guarded by an armored force. During that time, and for an unknown period thereafter, ten to twelve party men were killed every day. The acts of terrorism in Kabul had many sides, since of all the cities this was the largest and had the highest number of party members.
Party Members Terrorized in Kabul
In Kabul acts of terrorism followed the unsuccessful uprisings in February 1980. By July terrorism had become so common that every day from ten to twelve party members were killed in individual terror attacks. By November the rate had fallen to a lower level; still, on average three party members were killed every day in November 1980. Terrorism had become so common that only when important party members were killed did people talk about them. The fall of the ordinary members of the party was seldom discussed, even though they were killed during the day. The Parchamis accused the Khalqis of being responsible for these attacks in Kabul as well as other cities, calling them Ikhwanis. The accusation was a reflection of the intraparty rifts, and the Khalqis were also unkind to their rivals. By this time the intraparty animosity had reached a new pitch. The Khalqis had been exposed to dangers and were also faced the situation of losing lucrative jobs. By August 1980 about three hundred Khalqis had either been expelled from party membership or demoted for convening separate party meetings, something that had been going on for a long time as if there were two parties.
By January 1981 a new wave of terrorism had become evident. The Soviet army had given up patrolling the city, because it too was losing men to the terrorists. When the regime men took the responsibility of patrolling the city, they were exposed to acts of terrorism more than ever before. By then military officers as well as soldiers, in addition to party men, had become the target of attacks. In mid-January 1981 almost every night acts of terrorism were reported from different parts ofthe city, especially the crowded sections with narrow lanes suchas Qal’a-e-Zaman Khan, Qal’a-e-Nao, and Qal’a-e-Wahid. During twenty-four hours in the second week of February 1981, twenty-five party members lost their lives in terror attacks. It was at the height of such acts that first the political officer of the military KhAD, Akbari, and later the head of KhAD Number Five, Haji Sakhi, also fell victims. Known as the “brain of KhAD” and responsible for the arrest of the SAMA leader Majid Kalakani, Haji Sakhi was killed in daylight on the main road near the Soviet embassy. Also killed were prominent persons who had associated themselves with the regime. A number of others were killed, including a former general, Mier Fatih Mohammad Hazara, who had gone over to the regime and participated in the National Front of the Fatherland.
The National Front of the Fatherland was convened on 15 June 1981 in Kabul with the participation of fewer than a thousand members from the front-line associations and trade unions, including some local dignitaries, members of the party, and those sympathizers who might have been covert members of the party. The front had no specific duties, but the regime hoped to use it to extend its influence. It was said to be consultative, but the consultation was not about political affairs, which could influence national politics. A propagandistic organization, it was set up in imitation of the associations in some East European countries.
By August 1981, however, the number of terror attacks had decreased because the mujahideen had to pay attention to the Soviet force concentrated in Gulbahar in Parwan Province, which was advancing into the valley of Panjsher. In late September, during a time of decreased incidents of terrorism, a Soviet adviser to the Ministry of Mines was kidnapped in a daring daylight abduction and taken through Shewaki toward the east of Kabul city to the mujahideen. In October as well as December the incidents of terrorism once again increased. In the cold season of Kabul the mujahideen preferred to be more active in terrorist acts than in major engagements. At this time a number of Russians were made the targets of terror attacks.
Terrorism and Intraparty Rivalry
In February 1982 Sa’ima Maqsoodi, a television newscaster and one of my former students, fell victim to a terror attack, an incident that raised an uproar among the Khalqis. She was the victim of the Khalq-Parcham rivalry, since in the Dari-dominated atmosphere of television Maqsoodi campaigned for Pashto and criticized the Parchamis on that account. Since the communist coup the problem of propaganda and ideological indoctrination had become significant. When the Khalqis were in power, publication in Pashto was stressed. When the Parchamis came to power, they restricted Pashto publications to such a point that it infuriated the Khalqis, in particular those who worked in the forefront of cultural sectors.
The Parchamis manipulated publications without regard for cultural identity. As part of the Sovietization program, they used the mass media more for the benefit of Russian and Soviet culture than for the benefit of Afghan culture. As part of this policy, they allowed the Tajiks of Soviet Tajikistan and some writers of the Tudeh Communist Party of Iran to influence the Afghan Dari publications. As a matter of policy and also as a result of their ignorance of Pashto, the Russian and Tajik advisers favored the Parchamis and subordinated Afghan cultural values to those of the Russians. For the internationalist Parchamis, this approach was part of their cultural policy, but outside their circles the Afghans, irrespective of the languages they spoke, became furious, since to them the program reeked of cultural exploitation. They began making telephone calls to the personnel of the television, venting their anger in long diatribes, but to no effect. In fact, the television personnel could not have done much about it even if they had wanted to do so, since the Soviet advisers handled the cultural policy of the television and radio stations, and the Parchamis played the role of employees. Besides, since these stations were among the biggest centers of employment, these developments turned them into centers of rivalry, whose effects spilled over to society. Among the results of this rivalry were the murder of Maqsoodi, the killing of Pashto singers such as Qarabaghi and perhaps also Bakhtzamina, and the poisoning on 13 March 1982 of Sa’eedi, the Khalqi rector of Kabul University. Who killed these people is unknown, although the mujahideen had warned Maqsoodi to quit her part-time job as a newscaster.
The loss of the singers, the flight abroad of many others, and the propagandistic program of the broadcast stations reduced their significance. Although the killing happened at a time when terror attacks on party members were common, it was held that KhAD had engineered the killings of both Maqsoodi and Sa’eedi. The Khalqis believed so. Every time a Khalqi was killed, it was said that KhAD was responsible. That was why the Khalqis made the funeral services of Sa’eedi a major event, comparable to the funeral services held for Mier Akbar Khybar. Both events were demonstrations of strength.
My diary entry dated 16 March 1982, just before my arrest, speaks about terrorism:
My last entry on terrorism (22 March 1982) reads: “In the city of Kabul terroristic activities against party members have increased. The opposition has increased their activities with a view to intensifying the animosity between the Khalqis and Parchamis. The Khalqis have been killed in larger numbers as a result of terroristic attacks. It is believed that KhAD agents kill under instruction from Parchamis.”
These days the killing of party members has increased. Terrorism is widely perpetrated, but only when important members of the party are killed do people talk about it. When members of the ranks of the party are killed, only their own relatives know about them. The public chooses to remain indifferent. Many people seem pleased about the killing. In Kabul it has not been heard that the perpetrator has been arrested. The public does not cooperate with the police.
Party Conference Overshadowed by Terrorist Activities
Since the foundation of PDPA in 1965, no party congresses had been held, although most communist parties hold a congress of elected members every fourth year or so. Such congresses legitimize party leaders, including the general secretary, and approve guidelines for party programs. As already described, Karmal had failed to obtain legitimacy as head of the state and government. He hoped that legitimacy would follow when he established his rule. He was content with being the de facto ruler of “the exalted, nonaligned, and independent Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.”
After two years in office, Karmal hoped that the legitimacy of the party position as general secretary was within his grasp. He also hoped that an assembly of the leading members, under his guidance, would unite the party or at least decrease tension. All along he hoped he would one day become the leader of the united PDPA. But odds stood against the realization of his hope. As noted earlier, Parcham and Khalq were in fact two distinct parties, and the overthrow of the Amin regime had made it impossible for them to reconcile. For these reasons, holding a congress of the elected members of PDPA was out of question. Instead, it was decided that a national conference (kanfarans-e-sartasari) of the party should be held, to be attended by members chosen on the basis of consensus. But even this limited congress was fraught with danger.
Clashes occurred in party precincts where members were to be chosen for the conference, and the Parchamis had the worst of them. The new tension that descended on the meetings was converted into violent actions, including the killing of members of the rival groups. In the Chemical Fertilizer Factory in Mazar, for instance, three Parchamis were killed, allegedly by Khalqis. Rival gangs often fired at each other, with Parchamis the most common victims.
It was in this atmosphere that the Khalqis who fell victim to terroristic actions were said to have been killed by KhAD. The Khalqi rector of Kabul University was eliminated in such an atmosphere. One reason for the tension was that fewer Khalqis were chosen, since the Parchamis, who were in the dominant position, manipulated procedures and postponed meetings when they anticipated that the results would be to their disadvantage. For some leaders, particularly Parchamis, the conference became scandalous. To secure a consensus, they had to go to other cities where they were sure they would be chosen, particularly by the military constituencies. The surveys already taken showed that they would be defeated if they stood for election in their own constituencies. Top leaders had lost the confidence of the rank and file, and had free elections been held, most would have been swept away.
On 15 March 1982 the conference was held; it lasted for only one day, during which 830 members attended amid tight security in the Polytechnic Institute. A bomb inside the hall was discovered before it exploded. After two sessions the conference ended. It was announced that decisions were taken “in a free and democratic atmosphere.” The issue of membership in the party was the main topic of the agenda. Karmal dealt with the destructive consequences of “factionalism,” a criticism pointed at Khalqis. Gulabzoy, the self-styled leader of Khalq, openly accused the Parchamis of factionalism, since it was they who, according to him, regarded the Ministry of the Interior as the “Ministry of Rebels” (de ashraro wizarat).
Meanwhile, contrary to the custom among communists on such occasions, Gulabzoy refrained from holding hands with Karmal in the concluding session. He received more frequent applause from the audience than did Karmal. But for Karmal it was a great moment. For the first time in his life he appeared as the general secretary of PDPA before an assembly of the party, receiving applause and cries of “Hurrah!” But the conference had failed in its purpose. Because of the violence that was committed, the two factions were as much apart as ever, and the unity as unreal as ever.
It is impossible to ascertain how many lives were destroyed as a result of terror attacks following the invasion. The highest number killed were party members, most of whom were buried in special graveyards. Every provincial capital had a graveyard of its own, the biggest being in Kabul in Tapa-e-Maranjan, renamed Tapa-e-Shuhada (Martyrs’ Hill). The violence that had permeated society, the state, and the ruling party showed the psychology of killing. I commented on this psychology in my diary entry of 21 January 1981:
The Afghan society may now be regarded a murderous society. The sad thing about it is that there is no investigation of murder cases. Human life has become the life of a sparrow, and the principle that might is right dominates. Time was that a murder case was investigated not only among the people where the murder had taken place but also among neighbors, who were summoned to the security centers for questioning. In this way social conscience against murder was awakened. But now killing has become so common that only a few people come to know about it. Only they bemoan the fate of the dead. We have become soulless and dry, no longer beings of care and love, but brutal and fierce animals. It is not right to name a society murderous, but the Afghan society may be called so. For now conditions prevail in which the Parchamis kill the Ikhwanis, and the latter kill the Parchamis, the Khalqis, and the Russians. And the Russians kill not only the Ikhwanis but also innocent civilians. They even kill the Parchamis and the Khalqis. The state is the state of killing, not only in the battlefield but also in the lanes and streets of cities where there is no state of war. No one feels secure, and because of this many families have fled abroad.
Because of the frequency of killing, there is now public indifference to it. Onlookers who in the past cooperated with authorities in seizing culprits now gaze impassively, doing nothing. Consider the incident that happened yesterday, on a bright day in the crowded part of Mier Wais Maidan. Three youths fell victim to the bullets of murderers. Two of the victims were killed instantly. One of the murderers drove a short distance with his companions, then returned and fired at close range at the fallen youth who was still alive. After kicking the youth several times and making sure that he was dead, the murderer got into the waiting car and drove away. The spectators just looked at what happened. They did nothing else. It is not known who the murderers were. They got into the same car from which official announcements are made, but whether they were agents of KhAD cannot be said with certainty.
1. Garver,“What Violence Is.” [BACK]
2. For details of the assassination of Ali Ahmad Khurram as well as his assassin, Marjan, see Popal, “Ali Ahmad Khurram,” 33, 43. [BACK]