This work, as noted in the Introduction, deals with actual, living, dynamic men who fought against each other in a brutal struggle for domination and survival. As such, this is a historical work describing the group actions of men in the actual theater of life. Since they struggled in a matter of life and death, they were compelled by the force of circumstances to reveal their true selves, something that they would not have done in ordinary circumstances. It is therefore a study of people who have provided us the opportunity to understand them from their actual deeds. Also, since the combatants belonged to different nations, they may be considered as samples of their cultures. This is, then, a work of international as well as a national and local political history.
On the one side were men predominantly from the Slav republics of the Soviet Union and their communist Afghan allies; on the other were patriotic Muslim Afghans and their distant, external supporters. They warred against each other for opposite reasons. The former believed—or, rather, their prophetic ideologues and absolute state had made them believe—that the tide of time had commissioned them to clear the Afghan land of weeds, to create a paradise in this world where its people could live in happiness forever. They also believed that since the reactionaries had misled the warring Afghans, preventing them from realizing the truth, they had no alternative but to make them accept what was good for them. This belief justified their paternalism and the violence they directed against those Afghans whom they thought had gone astray. In short, the Soviets and their Afghan allies believed that they knew what was good for the Afghans, and the Afghans themselves were incapable of comprehending it.
The patriotic Afghans held the opposite view. They believed that what the Soviets and their Afghan allies preached was a smoke screen covering their designs on the Afghans’ possessions and souls. Further, they held that what the Soviets and their Afghan comrades preached was false, that they themselves were misled, and that in any case it was not the Soviets’ business to organize the Afghans’ lives for them. Hence, the patriotic Afghans opposed the invasion, willingly sacrificing what they possessed to emancipate themselves and to safeguard their value system and mode of life. And they persisted in their resistance despite the odds, despite the pundits’ gloomy predictions that against the Red Army the Afghans, like the people of the East European countries, had no alternative but to submit.
There was then no common ground that could constitute a basis for accommodation. The issue was left to be settled by the sword. As a result, many thousands of Afghans perished, and their centuries of accomplishment were destroyed. Common sense should have persuaded the Kremlin decision makers to stop the destruction and let the Afghans live the way they pleased, but they did so only in 1989, after almost ten years of war. By that time every ninth Afghan had died, every seventh (or eighth) had been disabled, and every third had fled abroad. Afghanistan lay in ruins, and the Soviets had still not accomplished their war objective. This, then, was the longest, costliest, most destructive, and most indecisive war a superpower (with 280 million people) has ever fought against a small country (with 15.5 million people). If there were a grain of truth in what the Soviet decision makers preached, they would not have let this happen. Why they let this happen; why they were long unwilling to stop the destruction; and, above all, why they intervened in the first place—this is a subject beyond the scope of this discussion. But, as this study shows, they were unable to motivate their men to break the Afghan resolve to resist, and thus they were unable, superpower though they were, to accomplish their war objective.
An explanation for this failure may be found in the unworkability of the Soviets’ convictions and, conversely, in the potency of the Afghan’s convictions.
The Soviets’ convictions failed to motivate their fighting men to action except when they were under direct discipline or under the impulse of revenge. In the latter case, they were indifferent to the lives of men, women, and children. “The average Soviet had no motivation to fight in Afghanistan, other than to survive and go home. He was not defending his homeland, he was the invader detested by most Afghans, allies or enemy, and badly trained, fed and accommodated.” The Soviet fighting men expected to fight foreign enemies on Afghan soil, but instead they encountered as adversaries the very men and women for whose protection their leaders claimed to have sent them. The contradiction in what the Soviet fighting men were to believe and what they were to do was bewildering enough to shake their resolve to fight. To finance the war the Soviet authorities sold billions of dollars worth of gold and diamonds, but they were unable to convince their fighting men that those who encountered them were not Afghans, despite their Pavlovian indoctrination.
The Afghan adventure was not the Soviets’ only adventure, but it was their last. And, although they did not succeed at their stated purpose, they did succeed in destroying an independent government without being able to replace it by a viable one. Their failure caused a surge of ethnocentric and destructive tendencies in war-torn Afghanistan and helped speed the break-up of the Soviet Union itself. In late December 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist, fracturing into a number of smaller nation-states. A state that war had produced, war reduced. A state that by its rise had divided the world, by its demise reunited it. In this gratifying end, the Afghans played a part. The world owes themnot only recognition but also appreciation, since in the course of their struggle for emancipation the Afghans also served the world in emancipating itself from the scourge of one of the leading totalitarian states of our time. Happily, after more than seventy years of its mischievous existence, this state is now a part of history, as is the German fascist totalitarian state. Both were rooted in wars; both brought on wars; both committed genocide; and both perished as a result of wars.
In contrast to the Soviet fighting men were the mujahideen, whose will to fight inside their own country in the defense of their faith, their homeland, their independence, and their honor was unshakable. As already noted, they believed that in the fight against the intruding infidels, “The weapons of faith are the strongest and most effective weapons in the world.” Because of this faith and their other values, the Afghans have fought many wars in the past against foreign intruders, so much so that, as I have commented elsewhere, probably every settled square meter of the Afghan soil has cost the lives of Afghans, and is therefore priceless to them.
Any other explanation would be less than satisfactory.
1. Yousaf and Adkin, Bear Trap, 54. [BACK]
2. M. Poltoranin, Russia’s minister of information, quoted in Dobbs, “Secret Memos,” A1. The Soviet foreign minister, Edward Shevardnadze, put the cost of war to the Soviets at sixty billion rubles (Shevardnadze, Future, 58). [BACK]
3. Kakar, Second Anglo-Afghan War, 146 [BACK]