14. Genocide in Districts Around Kabul
As already noted, the immediate purpose of the invading army was to enable the regime to establish control over cities and the main roads. The countryside was to be pacified afterward. The mujahideen had to be made incapable of disturbing the cities, especially Kabul. The regime then had to extend control over the immediate surrounding districts as well: hence the intensification of operations there and the killing of civilians inside their homes and villages. This chapter highlights the massacres that resulted from the operations in districts around Kabul.
For Kabul, Logar and Shamali (districts south and north of Kabul, respectively) are important strategic regions. From Logar the mujahideen can infiltrate the city more easily. Through Logar, Kabul is connected to Paktia, the frontier region bordering Pakistan. The shortest route from Kabul to the border passes through Logar (in Dobandi), Zazay, and Tiramangal (in Kurram) beyond the Durand Line. Of all the major conduits, Logar was the most important one for weapons and logistics as well as combatants for almost the whole country, as Pakistan was the most important conduit for weapons for the whole of Afghanistan. Also, Afghans from many other areas, including those from the central and northern regions, could flee to Pakistan through Logar. Thus, it was primarily through Logar that the Peshawar-based organizations kept in touch with mujahideen throughout most of Afghanistan. It was also through Logar that Kabul received its main supplies of fuel from Paktia. But while Shamali enjoys an abundance of water for agricultural purposes, Logar is not as fortunate, although it has both open water canals and underground canals (karez). Both regions are among the most fertile in the country, and their inhabitants live mainly in relatively large villages with attached mud houses.
Massacre in Logar
Following the invasion, the mujahideen expelled party members and government officials from Logar and extended control over the road passing through it. Only Pul-e-Alam, the headquarters of the province, remained in the government’s hands. When the Soviets undertook their first military operation there is unknown. Units of their army had clashed with the mujahideen a number of times, and civilians had been among the victims. After the mujahideen defeated a unit of the invading army along the Logar road on 2 October 1980, the Soviets responded strongly. My diary entry for 10 October 1980 reads, “The recent operations of the Russians in the region were barbarous. On 5 October a Russian armored unit on the way to Logar killed or wounded anyone who happened to be on the road or within range of it from Beni Hissar up to Pul-e-Alam”—that is, from the southern outskirt of the city to the provincial capital, a distance of eighty-six kilometers. After the incident a delegation of elders from Logar raised the matter in Kabul with two members of the politburo, Saleh Mohammad Zeray and Nur Ahmad Nur. An elder of the delegation from the Surkhab Valley of Logar said to them, “Since you are no longer able to govern, you should either quit or join us so that together we can expel the Russians from our fatherland.” It might seem incredible that anyone would dare make such a bold statement in a police regime whose KhAD agents could not tolerate outspoken critics; nevertheless, on such occasions Afghan elders become bolder than usual. In another instance, an elderly man from Logar, Haji Sharif, had been imprisoned in Pul-e-Charkhi because one of his sons was a successful commander. The government offered to release him if he dissuaded his son from opposing the government, but Haji Sharif replied, “While you have a superpower behind you, and the mujahideen have no such supporter, let my son be with them.” In any case, the delegation failed in its purpose. Its mission was tactical, a reflection of the view among the Islamic Revolutionary Movement commanders that while carrying on the jehad they intended to maintain at least the façade of a relationship with the government.
After the meeting, greater calamities befell not only the people of Logar but the people in most parts of the country. In November Karmal returned to Kabul from his first state visit to Moscow; thereafter, the government adopted a tougher stand. In late November, Karmal announced that the government had planned to hold military exercises in the provinces of Kabul, Parwan, and Ningrahar. These “military exercises” were in fact major military operations intended to suppress the resistance before Ronald Reagan took office as president of the United States on 20 January 1981 so that his rumored assistance in weapons to the mujahideen could not materialize. The winter season favored the well-protected mechanized army units over the poorly supplied mujahideen. As already noted, the KGB had predicted that “the spring and summer of 1981 will be decisive for the final and complete defeat of the forces of the counterrevolutionaries.” The operations that the Soviets undertook in Logar afterward were the biggest and widest in the area.
A typical pattern of military operations developed. A slow-flying reconnaissance plane would precede the operations. Afterwards, helicopter gunships would fire rockets into certain places and villages where the mujahideen were suspected to be. Sometimes as many as thirty helicopter gunships would bombard targets. Targets would also be hit by rocket launchers mounted on tanks. Then units of tanks would surround a village or a group of villages. During major operations armored units would appear in Logar from four directions: from Kabul, from Gardez (provincial capital of Paktia), from the Maidan area in the west, and from Pul-i-Alam, the only place in the province under the government’s control. After an area was thus encircled and believed cleared of the defenders, armed groups of the invading army, accompanied by KhAD guides, would descend on it and search houses for weapons, draft dodgers, and persons suspected as mujahideen or antiregime activists. Soon, though, the intruders exerted themselves more in looting valuables and Western and Japanese gadgets than they did in performing their assigned job. With nightfall they would assemble in a distant desert or return to their headquarters.
In military operations the civilians were the main victims, although the Russians also lost many men. The casualties of the mujahideen were the least in number. In spite of the severity of the operations the invading army and their Afghan henchmen failed to suppress the resistance. However, they did succeed in keeping the road from Kabul to Gardez open at least temporarily, but they had to guard it with units of tanks stationed along the way for the 125 kilometers to Kabul. They also vandalized Logar and denuded a considerable area of it. My diary entry for 21 November reads: “The actual number of the casualties is unknown. It is said that they were beyond calculation. In many places dead bodies lay here and there. No one dared to bury them. Dogs have consumed many. They have decomposed and have an offensive odor. Some houses have been destroyed while others are closed because of the destruction of their inhabitants.” The people were unable to cope with the enormous problems relating to casualties, and many left their homes to take refuge in Pakistan.
For a long time no major operation was reported to have taken place in Logar, although sporadic bombing was routine. On 7 May 1981 a caravan of the invaders, as a result of encounters with the mujahideen in Mohammad Agha and Mosayee, lost about thirty tanks and a large number of Parchamis as well as KhAD agents. Usually the mujahideen, particularly in the Mohammad Agha district, would destroy around twenty tanks of a convoy on the Logar road. It is estimated that on this road alone the invaders lost about one thousand tanks during the occupation. This front, particularly its Bini Sharafgan locality, was the toughest in the province. The invaders also lost men in large numbers after they ascended a mound where they were shelled simultaneously by the mujahideen and the outraged Afghan soldiers. The aftermath was terrible. My diary entry for 14 May 1981 reads: “Following the incident, when the Soviets assaulted many villages with their armored units they showed no mercy to any human being.”
The massacre that the invaders committed in an underground irrigation canal came to be known in the West through an American anthropologist, Mike Barry, who visited the area in September 1982. Such canals are wide and deep enough to accommodate many people. In my diary I noted that an unknown number of people perished somewhere in a cave where they had taken refuge; informed by a proregime villager, Soviet soldiers burned petroleum products in its entrance. The “cave” was the underground irrigation canal Karez-e-Baba, which passes through the Padkhab-e-Shana village in Logar. Mike Barry writes:
According to eyewitness reports,…villagers who fled spoke of soldiers wearing gas masks, pouring mysterious things into an underground irrigation canal where villagers including children were hiding. Our investigation showed that the soldiers had actually used gasoline, diesel fuel and an incendiary white powder, an evil-smelling [substance] designed to ensure that the gasoline would properly burn in a tunnel with little oxygen. After the 105 people including the little children were burned to death, the population in a panic decided to run away to Pakistan.
In the second week of August 1981 the Soviets massacred people in the village of Dadokhel in Logar. This event happened when a unit of the Soviet army was forced to retreat after trying to enter the small village of Babus. In revenge for the loss of four drunken Soviet and Cuban officers who had separated from the main convoy in the region of Kulangar, the village of Dadokhel was razed by attacks from the air and ground; about forty-five villagers perished. In the third week of October 1981 a Soviet army unit of about three hundred tanks and other vehicles again visited Logar, accompanied as usual by helicopter gunships. At this time the main road was under the control of the mujahideen, and the invading army had to go instead through the deserts of Babus and Kulangar, after they spread rumors that a huge force was about to visit Logar. The mujahid commanders, who at the time were more disunited than before, desisted from opposing the enemy. The army surrounded many villages where children, women, and old people had remained. The draft dodgers had escaped. The mujahid commanders complained to their leaders in Peshawar of the inadequacy of their weapons when pitted against the superior weapons of their adversaries. They demanded antiaircraft weapons, but their leaders were unable to supply them at the time.
Before winter set in, when the well-protected units of the invading army had the upper hand, a delegation of about ninety elders of Logar visited Sulaiman Laweq, minister of tribal affairs, in Kabul to plead for the suspension of military operations. They told the minister, “Instead of being supplied with clothes, houses, and food, as promised, now the things in our possession are destroyed and our people are killed indiscriminately.” The Khalqi government, when Laweq was a member, had promised to provide the people with clothes, food, and homes. But Laweq now told the elders, “You are to blame for your own misfortune: you support the rebels, you do not want to pay taxes, and you are unwilling to cooperate with the government.” He told them further, “In defending our land against the United States of America, China, and Pakistan, we had to ask for Soviet military assistance. But,” added the minister, “if you really want to live in peace, cooperate with us, expel the rebels from your region, and pay your taxes, for which you will be granted local autonomy.” The elders returned disappointed.
Earlier, a progovernment mulla had preached the same things to a gathering of the people of Logar whom the government had summoned. When the mulla promised that the Soviet forces would withdraw if the people cooperated with the government, an elderly man answered, “Unless the Soviet forces are withdrawn, we would not be willing to do any thing of the sort.” The Soviets were, of course, unwilling to withdraw, and in June 1982, in the course of an unprovoked and unopposed operation that lasted for two days, their forces massacred 240 people of the district of Baraki Barak. In addition, of the 900 people whom they took with them, some they killed in a camp in the Kulangar region; others they imprisoned, and still others they pressed into the army. The perpetrators were all Russians. Zahir Ghazi Alam, who along with others had in the course of the operation taken refuge in an underground canal, writes:
This is written at a time when the dust of the bloody Soviet operation in the district of Baraki Barak is still unsettled. In every house there is wailing and weeping. In common graveyards new graves are dug, the dead are buried, and new flags are hoisted over the martyred. Barefoot and pale, mothers and sisters, men and women, are looking for their disappeared ones, hurrying through vineyards, streams, and fields. The Russians have perpetrated their most barbarous operation in the region. The eyes of the people of the world are closed, their ears deaf, and their tongues mute to this unprecedented crime of the Russians. Worse still is the fact that even in this third year of the war the Peshawar-based Islamic organizations are still astray from the path of jehad and distant from the Afghan spirit and values. They have let themselves be seized by the disease of disunity, personal interest, and ambition.
The effect of these operations on Logar has been described by Borge Almqvist and Mike Barry, who visited the province in late summer and early fall 1982. The Swedish journalist Almqvist notes:
Barry’s comments are even more sobering:
I entered into a country where every village has been bombed at least once since the war started or fired at by Soviet land forces. Many villages are deserted, there are whole areas where the entire population have run away to the camps in Pakistan out of fear of being killed in further air bombardments. These areas are so-called helicopter territories. When you move in them and you hear a helicopter you have 60 seconds to go. These areas have turned into the age before stone age. Civilization has gone back. This is before man entered Afghanistan in the very old times.
As a result of these battles, the fertile Logar had become a place of ruins and graves, just as Herat had become after the conquest of Genghis Khan in the early thirteenth century. Almqvist continues:
In our trip to Logar province,…we crossed 12 villages including Dobandi, 8 of these villages, including Dobandi, were completely uninhabited. One further village we saw destroyed virtually before our eyes. We were told that we should visit a village called Altamor, and in the fog, we saw a great flash in the distance.…And that evening and early the next morning the first wounded came into where we were from Altamor, telling us there is no more Altamor.
Again, in his words, “The Logar province in many areas looks like an archaeological site.”
Everywhere in the Logar province the most common sight except for ruins are graves. [At] the first sight you see when you enter the village, huge graveyards or a small one, and you can see which graves are new and which are [old, that is] before the war, because nowadays they [the people of Logar] have started like in the old days to put up flags like they did for holy men before, because the ones killed by the Russians are considered as holy people and according to Afghan Islamic belief they go to paradise if they were killed by the Karmal troops or the Russian troops.
Almqvist provides frightening evidence about the frequency of the bombing. In one passage he describes seeking a shelter in the company of villagers, all of them in great panic from the danger of an imminent bombing:
In such a helpless situation people still lived, perhaps unable or unwilling to move out, hoping that the carnage would end. No one, however, was sure, and the fear of being killed in one’s own home haunted the inhabitants. Almqvist writes,“In the villages in the Logar province where people [still] live, they live under a constant fear, if next morning will be the last, if they will wake up to the sound of helicopter[s] zooming in over the rooftops, heavy machine gun fire, rockets and bombs exploding in the village.”
We got to the village shelter which was a small grove of trees, the only shelter available for hundreds of people. After these bombardments within a week I saw two other bombardments.…Every morning the helicopters come from Kabul to the airbase and headquarters for the Soviet and Karmal troops in the Logar province, where they get the orders which village in the valley to bomb. That morning [when] they were bombing a village for thirty minutes, only 5 people died.
Farms, too, were unsafe. Almqvist observed that “farmers working on in the fields were shot down by their helicopter gunships. They had no time to run away for shelter and guns, they were just gunned down unarmed.” Here Almqvist refers to a particular incident that happened in the village of Baraki Rajan in Logar on 19 June 1982, before Almqvist arrived in the area. In that locality, after a brief encounter with a group of retreating mujahideen, the army of “internationalist solidarity” embarked on a spate of “burning and looting and killing.” Looting was not an individual but a group act, common among the Russians in Logar. Almqvist writes, “I went to quite a few villages where people told me how the Russians had taken everything out of the houses, like radios, carpets, food, all sorts of household tools. These houses were completely empty.” Even individuals had been robbed. During the winter of 1982 I met a number of inmates in the prison each of whom had been looted simultaneously by a number of Russian soldiers in Logar. According to the victims, the soldiers acted as if they were competing with one another in robbing the same person.
Mike Barry describes how the Russian soldiers denuded the “enormous” village of Aochakan of its wealth. The invaders had apparently undertaken the whole operation for that purpose:
The village was also emptied of its inhabitants since there was nothing left for them to live on. Barry continues, “I saw an enormous village by moonlight which had not been bombed, and yet there [was] not a single human being left alive in it. It was already snowing, and you could tell that there were no footsteps in the snow. It was a freezing night, and with my companions I explored the village, and all we found living in the village was a single dog.”
On August 30th 1982, the whole village was surrounded in the classical way by tanks, helicopters flying above. Young men of military age had been able to run away into the mountains on time, so all the people who were collected by the Soviet troops were elderly villagers, farmers’ women and children. The soldiers did not kill anybody this time, they simply stripped every single person in the village that they could lay their hands on of anything valuable he had on, whether jewelry or wrist watches. Houses were searched, and all transistor radios were confiscated. The granaries were emptied, all sacks of grain reloaded on to the lorry vehicles, and finally all the sheep, all the goats, and all the cattle were loaded on to the military lorries and taken away.
The villagers had fled to Pakistan, but flight abroad in the cold winter could be deadly, especially for families with children. It was so for the people of Dehsabz, a cluster of villages northeast of Kabul. Again in Mike Barry’s words:
Almqvist has also noted the accounts of local witnesses about genocide committed by the Soviets. In one incident the Russians first looted then set fire to shops; when the shops were ablaze, they threw a number of old people into them. They burned the shops after they had looted them. Quoting a witness, Almqvist writes, “At Ghulam Raza’s house in Baraki Rajan they [the Soviet soldiers] forced nine people out and killed them.” This was probably the end of the whole family. The account of another witness is more revealing: “I was on the roof of my house on watch. The Russian forces were attacking the village of Baraki Rajan. The attack was both from the air and the ground.…The Russian forces and their allies started to search the houses. Men, women and children were forced out of their homes and shot. [I] myself did see 8 people being murdered. I did see myself from the roof how the Russian soldiers threw mines out into the wheatfields.” According to the same witness, the Soviet soldiers forced some locals to go in front of their tanks so that the mujahideen would not fire on them. During the three days of operations in the village of Baraki Rajan, 298 people were killed, 25 of whom were children, and 203 resistance men. The latter were caught unaware while working in the fields. This was a big loss to the mujahideen, since usually their casualties were not so high.
The villagers…were told by Parcham communist officials, “Get up, go away”—“Where are we supposed to go?”—“We do not care, go away, we are going to kill you, go away.” And the people then were subjected to bombardment. All during the succeeding days bombs fell on the village, and the population began to run away at night. 450 families reached Pakistan after 7 or 8 days;…50 children froze to death on the march over the mountains, and 150 people had to be amputated for frost-bitten limbs in Peshawar hospitals. The population has collapsed on a mud field under the rain, no tents, no shelter. They are told they must now go towards the Indian border, they do not want to go, they are obstinate, they want to stay, but are getting desperate, and it seems that now we are reaching the breaking point.
The Soviets also poisoned drinking water to make the civilians sick or do away with them. According to one witness, “They put medicine in the well and we cannot drink the water, because it is poisoned. We turn sick.” Many villagers told Almqvist that the Soviets had poisoned their food in the course of searching houses. That the Soviets would destroy heaps of ready crops in fields was common. When the crops were ready, the mujahideen would refrain from opposing the invaders, saying, “We cannot defend this village now, because if we do, we will have our food burnt. They shoot with machine guns, with Kalashnikovs or Kalakovs at the heaps of wheat or whatever on the fields so that they catch fire.” Small butterfly mines were also thrown here and there in Logar, but not in as large numbers as in other isolated areas.
These operations made the people of Logar believe that “it is a normal way of fighting when a European occupation force comes into the country to shoot and kill people in many, many different ways.” Since the Soviet soldiers felt free to kill as they pleased, common Afghans called them with the awe-inspiring names of “Rus” and “barbarians.” Even children held this opinion. They would scream at the sight of the blond Swedish Almqvist, who looked like the Russians. Parents apologized to him, saying, “Very sorry, but you have blond hair you know, you look like a Russian. And they have never seen a camera before. They have seen so many new guns in this area, they are small kids, they do not understand that it is a camera, they think it is a new gun and that you want to kill them.” Almqvist wrote in conclusion: “When I left Afghanistan I felt like a traitor leaving all these people behind.”
Massacre in Shamali
The region toward the north of Kabul up to the Hindu Kush is called by the traditional name of Shamali. This region comprises the two provinces of Parwan and Kapisa. The latter, lying as it does to the south of the Hindu Kush, includes a number of long, narrow, and tortuous river valleys, among them the famous district (wuluswali) of Panjsher. Like Logar, this region is significant to Kabul, particularly in times of disturbance. In the present war it became even more important. The shortest road from Kabul to the Soviet border passes through this region. For the Soviets, it was important to keep this road open to supply its forces and the regime. To the north of the Salang Tunnel in Kelagai the Soviets had stationed the bulk of their troops, while to the south of it was the Bagram military air base. Significant also was the location of Panjsher, which links Shamali with northeastern Afghanistan. The Soviets thus treated Shamali as a special region.
As mentioned above, Soviets killed many villagers in Shamali and fired on the villages from their bases in Khair Khana in the city and from Bagram in Parwan Province. In addition, they undertook several expeditions in the course of which they killed many civilians. The intensity of the operations, here as elsewhere, was such that cows ceased to give milk and some children died of shock. Both sides of the main road for a considerable distance were flattened to ensure its safety. The invaders still failed to pacify the region, although the mujahideen here were far from united. Besides the two unfriendly Islamist groups of Hizb (led by Hekmatyar) and Jam’iyyat, the leftist SAMA was also active in the region. Despite the disunity, because of grass-roots support the resistance here, as in many rural areas, was strong.
As in Logar so in Parwan the Soviets, descending in groups of tanks, searched houses for weapons and draft dodgers. When not allowed to do so, they would attack the village or residential forts. For example, the fort of Dade Khuda Hussain Khel close to the village of Musa near Qarabagh was hit so much by rockets in early February 1981 that of its ten inmates and a number of cattle, only one child survived for a few days. While searching houses, the Soviet soldiers would denude them of valuables, as they did in other places. In an attempt to make the Bagram air base safe from attacks from the surrounding districts, they looted Parwan even more scandalously. For the same reason they hit villages at random with rockets and guns from the south of the city of Charikar and Bagram. They were still unsafe from the ambushes of the mujahideen, who attacked them from trenches in the walled orchards, where they could hide and escape retaliatory fire. The Soviets were more frustrated in Parwan than elsewhere, although KhAD had recruited many persons from the area. Many senior officials of KhAD were from the various districts of Parwan, but the locals had ostracized them. When the mujahideen fired at them, and particularly when they inflicted casualties on them, the Soviets would do what they could to take revenge. Then they would fire at anything and anyone whom they wished to destroy. On one such occasion in early May 1981 they killed a number of children in the village of Kalakan, the stronghold of SAMA. The Russian soldiers were stated to have said, “When the children grow up they take up arms against us”; much later, Russians in Baghlan said, “We do not need the people; we need the land.”
In May 1981 the Soviet soldiers flattened the village of Mahigiran close to Raig-i-Rawan. They also killed nearly all of its residents to take revenge for a defeat the mujahideen had inflicted on them elsewhere. Their massacre of the Kushkeen (or Kuchkeen) villagers close to Mazeena was without provocation. When Soviet tanks appeared, the mujahideen, acting on the request of the villagers, withdrew without firing at the invaders. The Soviets were nevertheless unsatisfied: they killed thirty-one villagers, slaying them inside mosques, in lanes, or inside their homes. This they did on the second day of Eid, a religious festival. The invaders inflicted incredible cruelty on some people in a village nearthe town of Jabalus Siraj in August 1981. After they had been fired on, the Soviets entered the village. By then the young people had escaped, and only women, children, and elderly men remained. The Soviets wrapped thirteen of the elderly people in bedsheets and blankets and set fire to them.
Massacre in Panjsher
The regime still had only precarious control from Kabul to Charikar, the capital of Parwan Province, which they controlled through terror. In August 1981 KhAD arrested about six hundred men of the city, accusing them of having cooperated with the mujahideen. To pacify the region, the Soviets undertook a regionwide operation (’amalyat-e-sartasari). But before that operation is described, it is necessary to note their operations in the valley of Panjsher. A long, tortuous river valley, Panjsher is inhabited by Tajiks and a number of Sunni Hazaras. The valley is flanked by high mountains, pierced here and there with habitable caves; indeed, the caves are so spacious that people sometimes use them as summer quarters. A combination of circumstances made Panjsher famous as a resistance front. Mujahideen, taking cover in the caves or other protected places in the mountains, could be safe from rockets and bombs. In an emergency whole populations could take refuge in the rugged hills. From the start of the jehad only one resistance organization, Jam’iyyat, operated in Panjsher; Jam’iyyat was, moreover, under the leadership of a local commander, Ahmad Shah Mas’ud. Emeralds, rubies, and other precious gems, taken from twenty-five mines in the crags of the Siah Qullah in Khinj above the valley, gave the resistance an income from eight to nine million dollars a year with which to buy weapons and meet other expenses. Unlike the mujahideen in other areas, who pressured the locals for taxes and other necessities of life, the Panjsher mujahideen did not. Hence, the solidarity between them and the locals was unstrained. This solidarity proved significant, since the Panjsheris who worked in Kabul as technicians, drivers, shopkeepers, and government employees provided the resistance with necessary intelligence. Since Panjsher, like many areas, was not self-sufficient, the enterprising Panjsheris worked and lived in Kabul, particularly after the development programs begun in the late 1950s. Some owned transport companies.
The district of Panjsher and Ahmad Shah Mas’ud did not at first attract the attention of the Soviets. When, however, Parwan and Kapisa became disturbed and when the mujahideen of Panjsher also took part in the disturbances, the Soviets directed their war machine at it. They did this to dry up one source of mujahideen and to guard the Salang road, which runs close and parallel to the Panjsher Valley. The road from the south of the tunnel to the town of Jabalus Siraj is vulnerable to attacks from the Panjsher side. In early January 1981, after the mujahideen had repulsed some Soviet military operations and inflicted losses on them, the Soviets blockaded the valley of Panjsher. At the foot of the valley, near Unaba, they erected a wall, a miniature version of the Berlin Wall, and intensified the bombardment. The French medical doctor Lawrence Laumonier, who visited Panjsher for the second time in the summer of 1981, states:
But the bombing destroyed their houses and killed their cattle. Dorr Mohammad, a native of Panjsher, states: “In villages they [the Soviets] managed to destroy our fruit trees like walnuts, almonds, things that we live on. When they come to a village they even destroy or kill our cattle…like cows, sheep and even our donkeys. In our villages there are not many houses left for the people…to live in. Consequently, they have to move from their villages which are totally deserted now .” The blockade failed, and grain was imported to Panjsher, although with difficulty, from other regions, notably Andarab. In September 1981 the Soviets undertook their fifth operation against Panjsher; it, too, was repulsed by the mujahideen. By this time the Panjsher front had become famous, and in order to raise the morale of its forces the regime lied that it had pacified it. Addressing the Polytechnic students, Saleh Mohammad Zeray, a member of the politburo, said, “After the USA and the USSR, the Panjsher front is the strongest in the world, and our forces are now stationed there.” On 22 September 1981 the regime announced that Panjsher had fallen to it, but it was untrue.
For three months I did not see any bombings in Panjsher when I was there [in 1980], but this time I saw [bombardment] every day.…It was practically every day [that] the civilian population, especially women and children, at five o’clock in the morning, left the villages, went up into the mountains to find refuge in grottoes and caves, and they only came back at five or six o’clock in the evening. And it is only during the nights that the women can do the house work and the men can irrigate the fields and do the normal agricultural work.
Against this background, in February 1982 the Soviets undertook a regionwide operation in Parwan and Kohistan that resulted in the massacre of civilians. The Soviets had started the operations in December 1981, but until the following February they were small and sporadic; moreover, the Soviet forces had fared badly, and their casualties in men and weapons had alarmed them. For example, on 11 February 1982 a group of seventy-one members of SAMA destroyed thirty-three enemy tanks. Ten days earlier SAMA had defeated another Soviet unit. Having acquired weapons from the Soviets and the regime forces, and being composed of daring men, SAMA fought the Islamic Party as well as the Soviets at the same time. Frustrated at their failure, on 14 February the Soviets undertook the largest operation to date in the region; it continued for five days.
Military units of the Soviet and of the regime, supported by approximately five thousand tanks, took positions in certain areas surrounding Parwan and Kapisa while helicopter gunships hovered over them to block exits of the mujahideen. At the request of the locals, the mujahideen refrained from opposing the invaders, and many withdrew under cover of night. Some Soviet army units from the opposite points in Bagram and Jabalus Siraj spread throughout the region unopposed. In the course of house searches, the invaders did what men with consideration for life would not do. My diary entry for 26 February 1982 reads:
Although not fired at, the Soviet army showed barbarity, especially in the villages where female folk threw certain things over them from rooftops. The invaders killed women, children, and the elderly. They killed anyone who was sighted. They were also said to have used gas. Every family lost some members. The dead bodies lay in fields, mosques, lanes, homes, everywhere. The total number of casualties was estimated to be between one thousand and two thousand. The Parchamis gave out that the backbone of the resistance was broken. Throughout the region military posts were set up, but when the troops withdrew the mujahideen destroyed them. The mujahideen, as before, spread throughout the region, and assisted the bereaved in burying their dead.
But before withdrawing, the Soviet forces brought another calamity on the locals. To mark the triumph, the regime assembled thousands of the locals at a rally led by Dastagir Panjsheri, an eccentric member of the central committee. When the televised fanfare and the cries of “Hurrah!” were over, the people found themselves prisoners. Led into waiting buses, they were taken to Kabul, where some were said to have been executed for being suspected as mujahideen. Others were enlisted in the army, some were later released, and the greater number imprisoned in the Zone Ward of Pul-e-Charkhi, where I, along with about three hundred other inmates, was transferred from block two in 1984.
Massacre in Paghman
As already noted, Paghman, a region of several villages lying only a few miles west of Kabul, was also hazardous to the regime. In peaceful times Paghman was a most pleasant summer resort for almost all Kabulis, just Jalalabad was a winter resort for many. Paghman is famous for its private villas, public parks, and orchards; here streams, flowers, fruits, trees and cool shadows abound in the summer, when Kabul becomes dry and hot. In the last century Amir Abdur Rahman Khan chose Paghman as a summer resort, and later King Amanullah conducted public affairs and built the Arc of Triumph there; since then, down to the Soviet invasion, Paghman has increasingly attracted the public. But if it was so in peaceful times, after the invasion Paghman, and especially its densely populated valley of Pashaee, became a tough resistance front, despite being so close to Kabul.
Since Paghman has rocky caves and paths leading to the mountains beyond it, the Soviets found it difficult to overcome the mujahideen of the area, despite the many expeditions they took against them. The Soviets bombarded it almost daily, as I could see from Khushal Maina. A result of the bombing was a continuous exodus of its inhabitants toward Kabul with their belongings on their backs. While the mujahideen had established control over the district in July 1981, later they occupied its headquarters. Protected by MIGs and helicopter gunships, a large Soviet force was dispatched to the area. When it spread in groups into glens, the mujahideen descended on them from their hideouts, inflicting casualties before retreating. Led by their officers, groups of the invading army searched houses for weapons, draft dodgers, and valuables. They also embarked on a novel program of homicide. When the officers suspected the locals as mujahideen or collaborators, they would hand them over to the regime officers and the KhAD personnel to kill them. The KhAD men had no choice but to carry out the order, which was said to be a military order. The following example is an eyewitness account.
During the course of a house search, eight boys were taken out. The Soviet officer singled out four and handed them over to the regime officer to kill them somewhere. The latter demurred, arguing that their guilt had not been established. The Soviet officer warned him that if he did not carry out the order, then he would be killed instead. Accompanied by, among others, two Russian soldiers and the condemned boys, the officer set out for a place to carry out the order. Along the way the officer, speaking in the Pashto language, told the boys to drop down as if dead on hearing the shots, which would not be fired directly at them. The scheme worked as arranged, but as the boys ran homeward, they were killed by another group of Soviets, who took them for mujahideen. The place and time of the event is unknown, but it did happen. It confirms a statement by a former Soviet army sergeant: “We did not take any prisoners of war. None. Generally we killed them on the spot. As soon as we caught them, the officers ordered us to slaughter them.”
Paghman was still not pacified. After the withdrawal of the forces. the mujahideen spread out in the district and pressured the military posts that the invaders had set up in Peer-e-Biland (the district headquarters) and other places. The Soviets sent occasional expeditions into the region and continued their frequent bombardments. The destruction of houses, the killing of civilians, and the almost continuous flight of refugees to Kabul and elsewhere was the outcome. The Soviets must have been frustrated at their inability to pacify a district so close to Kabul. The mujahid commanders Abdul Haq, Bilal Nairam, and Jagran Sayyed Hassan became well-known for their resistance.
The term chemical warfare comprises a variety of chemical substances, such as irritating agents, lethal gases, chemical warfare agents, blister gases, nerve gases, and toxins, the latter designating both biological and chemical agents. Used massively, any of these substances can incapacitate and even kill thousands of people. Since World War I the subject of chemical warfare has caused fear and horror. The international community outlawed it. The 1925 Geneva Protocol, one of the oldest arms control agreements still in force, forbade the use of chemical and biological weapons in war. The 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention prohibited the possession of toxic weapons. The question at issue here is what kinds of these substances the Soviets used in Afghanistan.
The Soviets used chemical agents in inaccessible areas so that others might not know about it. For this reason, the Soviets and the regime wreaked havoc by helicopter gunships on areas where the presence of foreigners was suspected. Apart from other considerations, the Soviets feared the foreigners would inform the world about their use of chemical agents in Afghanistan. They bombed a few health centers set up in certain areas by French and other physicians. The symbol of the International Committee of the Red Cross was anathema to the Soviets. Although in the spring of 1982 they allowed a team of the Red Cross to visit Kabul in connection with the exchange of prisoners of war, they soon obliged the team to leave the city. The Soviets were unwilling to allow other international bodies to visit the suspected areas about which certain countries, particularly the United States, voiced concern. The Afghans were inexperienced in rushing their victims of chemical warfare or items contaminated by chemical agents to international bodies in Pakistan. Hence, it is difficult to verify the use of chemical substances in Afghanistan during the period covered by this study. Nevertheless, an unspecified number of people in a number of places did fall victim to substances other than conventional weapons. A manifestation of these substances was the peculiar decomposition of bodies.
I have noted two cases of peculiar decomposition. On 7 February 1982 the Soviets disposed of thirty-one elders in a pit somewhere between the villages of Ayamak and Rabat in the province of Ghazni. The Soviets had taken the elders to present them to the governor of the province in Ghazni to cooperate on matters relating to the Fatherland Front. A few days afterwards, the people of the area found their bodies, already decomposed despite the short time. The elders were killed because the Soviets were met sourly by the people of a village where the Soviets had shot dead a small boy after he had protested to them for their burning the fuel of the village mosque. In autumn 1980 some people were killed by chemical substances after they had entered an underground canal in the district of Shilgir in Ghazni. Their bodies had also been decomposed, apparently by injection of some chemical substance. A Panjsheri from the Malekat village of Kapisa Province describes such rapid decomposition thus: “The injured Afghans were injected with chemicals and within 20 minutes [their bodies were] practically decomposed.” He adds, “When they [the Soviets] use gas bombs the victims’ bodies decompose quickly.”
A Norwegian narrator of a film shot in Afghanistan comments on the subject of chemical warfare near the village of Charpur in Paktia in June 1980:
In the morning we were woken up by helicopters [which] were flying around. Hurriedly we left the village, but left one man behind us; he was wounded and we could not carry him out. The helicopters dropped a couple of what we thought at that moment were bombs. The only thing which we saw was a kind of explosion and a yellow cloud. Then, the second wave of helicopters came in and bombed with chemical rockets. So, everything in the village was bombed. Then a [villager?] told me that the first wave was a gas tank. Well, at that moment I did not believe it, because it [was] rather unbelievable that they [the Soviets] were doing [this] and a lot of Afghans [had] been claiming it before and I never saw any evidence of it. We came [back to] the village a couple of hours later. We found the man we [had] left behind dead. His face was swollen. We took him out and brought him to another place and came back the next morning and then the face was completely swollen, physically like what would have been dead for three or four weeks. It was really strange, and everybody in the group who was in the village was having blisters on his head, his face, [while] the face was swollen. Seemingly, a wide variety of emical] agen[ts] have been used from the old classic, if you will, nerve agents to a number of agents we do not fully understand yet. Mycotoxins which have been found in south-east Asia, apparently are also being used in Afghanistan. That is a new kind of agent, rather hideous and extremely lethal. Riot control agents are apparently also being used, and there aresome agents that have been reported and which have symptoms that arenot fully understood which cause sudden onset of death without any prior symptoms.
Mycotoxins such as yellow rain, sleeping death, and Blue X seem to have been used in Afghanistan. Yellow rain causes burning sensations, vomiting, headaches, spasms, and convulsions. Internal bleeding follows, followed by the destruction of the bone marrow. The skin then turns black as necrosis sets in. The time from exposure to physical decomposition may be a matter of hours. Sleeping death kills the victim instantly. Victims have been found in fighting position, holding their rifles, eyes open, fingers on their triggers, with no apparent cause of death. Blue X, a nonlethal agent dispensed in aerosol form and dropped from aircraft, renders the victim unconscious for eight to twelve hours.
George Shultz, the former American secretary of state, has dealt with the subject of chemical warfare in Afghanistan in detail. According to Shultz, “Reports of chemical attacks from February through October 1982 indicate that the Soviet forces continue their selective use of chemicals and toxins against the resistance in Afghanistan.” In twelve provinces yellow, black, red, and white substances, along with nerve gas, were released from aircraft and assault helicopters as well as pumped from armored vehicles. The chemicals were stored at Kandahar Airport, which was an important staging area for Soviet military operations. Until late 1982 many observers suspected the Soviets of using chemical substances, which were said to have been deployed as early as 1979. Shultz comments, “Our suspicions that mycotoxins have been used in Afghanistan have now been confirmed.” He also states that “reports during 1980 and 1981 described a yellow-brown mist being delivered in attacks which caused blistering, vomiting and other symptoms similar to those described by ‘yellow rain’ victims in Southeast Asia.” He then goes on to state that “new evidence collected in 1982 on Soviet and Afghan Government forces’ use of chemical weapons from 1979 through 1981 reinforces the previous judgement that lethal chemical agents were used on the Afghan resistance.”
Ricardo Fraile, a French legal expert on chemical warfare, visited Logar for a week in December 1982. Unlike the narrator of the film mentioned above, he did not see the use of chemical agents. He collected information about chemical warfare from sources in Afghanistan and also from diplomatic sources abroad. Being cautious by profession and by nature, and being well aware of the implications of his professional views on such a matter, he took the stance of a scholar-philosopher in his statement to the Oslo hearings on Afghanistan. In this statement he says:
In fact, Fraile was too cautious, at least at this phase, to express a view on the subject, despite the “evidence,” which he described as “fairly well supported.” For he said, “On one hand we have an ever-growing number of facts and evidence which are fairly well supported, and we are far closer to being convinced that chemical warfare is in fact taking place [in Afghanistan]. And then we have the attitude of the incriminated countries, which do nothing to prove their good faith or to actually remove suspicion.”
I personally can not say, “Yes, I can with great certainty say that there is chemical warfare [going on in Afghanistan],” but for some years now, since south-east Asia and since Afghanistan, I can say that there is an ever-growing bulk of evidence which is growing every time, and which is becoming clear. We have been shown masks, we have been shown protective clothing, we hear witnesses—people who have come from different parts of the country. Thus we create a composite of a mosaic. How can Afghan witnesses who describe something—they could never have been in contact with people in south-east Asia or in Eritrea and describe the same fact?
Although the scholar-philosopher summed up the “well-supported evidence” as “indications,” “clues,” and “elements,” and although in his views “the Russians [were] using the Asians as…guineapigs for…[testing] military hardware and…chemical weapons,” he was still unwilling to take a position until he was asked to do so. Then in categorical terms he said, “In the past I was not necessarily convinced that chemical warfare was being carried out in Afghanistan. Today I am convinced that such chemical weapons are being used.”
A United Nations Commission of Enquiry set up in December 1980 had concluded, in Fraile’s words, that “at least for one case in Afghanistan it would seem that it is almost certain that chemical agents, very specially of the irritant type, had been used.” This was in the early stage of the war. Besides, the commission had not visited Afghanistan, where these agents had allegedly been used as early as 1979. Dr. Fraile writes, “The first alleged use of chemical warfare [is] from the summer of1979, when it was suspected that the Afghan army with the help ofSoviet advisers was using chemical warfare in Badakhshan and in Parwan…and in Bamiyan, the center of the country.” By the time the hearing was held, the number of cases of the use of chemical agents had increased, according to Dr. Fraile, to approximately one hundred instances, resulting in the deaths of about three thousand people. But in Afghanistan the Soviets caused more destruction through conventional warfare than through chemical warfare. Edward Girardet, who visited a number of areas in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1982, holds that “there is a form of chemical warfare carried out at least on a sporadic basis.” But in his view conventional bombing had been more destructive, a subject that has not been made the focus of attention. He says, “I think the conventional bombing has taken such a toll on civilian lives in Afghanistan, that I think it is really an academic question to pursue the so-called issue of chemical warfare.” The “sporadic basis” and the relatively small number of victims—three thousand—as a result of about a hundred cases of the use of chemical agents in the period under discussion tend to support Fraile’s suggestion that the Soviet Union had used Afghanistan as a guinea pig for its experiments with chemical warfare.
The mining of certain areas and the spread of booby traps also led, and will continue to lead, to the indiscriminate killing of people. I have already commented on the fact that areas surrounding military garrisons and military posts had been mined. Also mined were certain routes in the frontier areas leading to Pakistan. Both sides of the war mined their opponents’ routes. This mining was limited to war zones, but areas in the countryside with no military significance were also mined with plastic mines. In mid-March 1982 large numbers of plastic bombs were dropped from helicopters along the Shonkaray road and the surrounding areas in Kunar Province. In spring 1981, while dropping “heavy bombs” from air on villages, the Soviets also dropped plastic bombs and antipersonnel bombs on fields and pathways in Dehshaykh in the district of Baraki Barak. The Soviets also used poisonous bullets in many places. One foreign observer described plastic bombs “camouflaged to look like stones or leaves”:
Soviet helicopters scatter them by the thousands in the fields and on mountain pass[es]. They are desired to maim not kill and these tiny booby traps have been responsible for the maiming of hundreds of men, women and children. The use of camouflaged mines in civilian areas was outlawed by an international convention signed by the Soviet Union in April 1981. At the time of the signing Russian helicopters were dropping the mines. They are still  dropping them. For those [who] opposed the Soviets there is little medical care. The International Red Cross is not allowed to work in Afghanistan. Since the invasion a handful of French [medical] doctors make secret trips to Afghanistan and provide medical care to the people. This hospital was marked with a cross, but the Soviets still strafed it. It is estimated that half a million civilians have died, and no one knows how many have been wounded. But still, the Afghans resist.
1. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 139. [BACK]
2. For details, see International Afghanistan Hearing (hereafter IAH), 186-212. The date and the number of casualties in the canal are not the same in all sources. According to Z. G. Alam, between seventy-one and eighty persons perished in the canal (personal communication, San Diego, 1991). The incident occurred in spring 1982, but the precise date is uncertain. [BACK]
3. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 178. [BACK]
4. Quoted in ibid., 186-89. [BACK]
5. Quoted in ibid., 161. [BACK]
6. Ibid., 209-19. [BACK]
7. IAH, 186. [BACK]
8. Ibid., 198. [BACK]
9. Ibid., 190. [BACK]
10. Ibid., 191. [BACK]
11. Ibid., 187. [BACK]
12. Ibid., 186. [BACK]
13. Ibid., 190. [BACK]
14. Ibid., 195. [BACK]
15. Ibid. [BACK]
16. Ibid., 196. [BACK]
17. Ibid., 188. [BACK]
18. Ibid., 189. [BACK]
19. Ibid., 191. [BACK]
20. Ibid., 192. [BACK]
21. Ten miners work in each of the twenty-five mines, using primitive techniques. Around twenty-five miners are killed each year from the collapse of tunnels and gas from the explosives. Annual yield varies from $80 to $90 million. Led by Ahmad Shah Mas’ud, the supervisory council oversees the extraction. The gems have brought prosperity to the region. The houses in Khinj are solidly built, and the latest Japanese vehicles crowd the narrow streets. (Asian Journal [Southern California], 11 September 1992.) [BACK]
22. IAH, 26. [BACK]
23. Ibid., 1. [BACK]
24. From my journal. [BACK]
25. Laber and Rubin, Helsinki Watch, 173. [BACK]
26. IAH, 77, 78. [BACK]
27. Ibid., 106. [BACK]
28. Cordsman and Wagner, Lessons of Modern War 3:216. [BACK]
29. For details, see Shultz, Chemical Warfare. [BACK]
30. IAH, 84. [BACK]
31. Ibid., 85. [BACK]
32. Ibid., 100. [BACK]
33. Ibid., 88. [BACK]
34. IAH, 65. [BACK]
35. How many mines the Soviets and (to a much lesser degree) the mujahideen planted throughout the war in Afghanistan will never be known. According to a Soviet engineer, the invading army planted two thousand minefields (Kakar, Geneva Compromise on Afghanistan, 232). Other sources have put the number up to fifteen million mines. The United Nations survey of November 1991 has this to say: “About 10 million mines are thought to have been laid in Afghanistan. They have been dropped randomly from the air, laid in concentrated clusters and minefields, laid singly and as booby-traps. Often they are washed down by floods on to previously cleared land. In some areas, they are everywhere: in villages, gardens, tracks, fields. In others, they may be only on access roads. There are large quantities of unexploded ordinance in almost all the areas where intensive fighting has taken place. Information on locations, concentrations, and types of mines is acquired slowly and often tragically. The problem tends to be worst in provinces bordering Pakistan, and in areas where fighting was heaviest” (Ruiz, Left Out in the Cold, 12). “The consequences of all this mining are only too visible. Two million people, or one in seven or eight, are disabled in Afghanistan. Of these, 20 percent or 400,000 people, have been maimed by mines or unexploded ordinance. A recent U.N. survey found that 10 percent of villagers in Afghanistan, and 60,000 refugees in camps in Pakistan are disabled. In four camps surveyed, 2 percent of all men were amputees. At least 50,000 have been provided with artificial limbs” (Girard, “Afghanistan,” 23). [BACK]
36. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 264. [BACK]
37. Ibid., 180. [BACK]
38. IAH, 107. [BACK]