Problems Relating to Genocide in Afghanistan
For reasons already stated, it is impossible to give a complete account of the Soviet army’s mass killing in Afghanistan. Here I will describe only the tip of the iceberg. Also, I cannot pretend that my descriptions are precise or thorough, because the witnesses whom I interviewed in the course of my inquiry often either had no direct access to the event in question or did not know the whole story in question. In the present case, I have, where possible, compared the observations of various witnesses and other sources to try to arrive at a reasonably accurate account of the events in question. Nonetheless, figures must be understood to be approximate, unless stated otherwise. Despite these qualifications, the information here does indicate the dimensions of the genocide undertaken by the Soviets.
The period under study has not been covered in a substantial way by non-Afghan writers, with the exception of Edward Girardet, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor who visited certain areas from 1979 to 1982. The most thorough records are the result of joint research by Jerry Laber and Barnet Rubin, but they start with events mainly in 1984. Their works, particularly A Report from Helsinki Watch and A Nation Is Dying, are monuments of Soviet brutality in Afghanistan. The Russians in particular should read them to know what kind of people their leaders and the military actually are. I have used relevant sections of the final report of the International Afghanistan Hearing. The hearing, held in Oslo in March 1983, is based on the accounts of Afghan witnesses and non-Afghan experts.
Indiscriminate mass killing of the civilians by the Soviet soldiers dates from the invasion, although, as already noted, until the February uprising the Soviets did not initiate military operations. Thereafter they undertook major operations, and in none did they confine themselves to battles with the combatants. Indeed, the Soviet soldiers failed throughout to conduct themselves with proper discipline, showing themselves to be ill trained and unconcerned with observing the laws of war. Since hostilities invoke the instinct to kill, whether for an ulterior motive or in self-defense, combatants often do not confine themselves only to military targets, as recommended by the international conventions agreed to by member countries of the United Nations. But to kill civilians indiscriminately, deliberately, and as a matter of policy; to destroy their sources of livelihood; to force them to flee abroad; to do so without provocation on the part of the civilians, all in an effort to punish them for their support of combatant compatriots in conditions under which the state of war does not officially exist—this constitutes a crime, a crime defined at Nürnberg as “devastation not justified by military necessity.” Wars have laws, and as one commentator has put it, the laws of war have as their objective that “the ravages of war should be mitigated as far as possible by prohibiting needless cruelties, and other acts that spread death and destruction and are not reasonably related to the conduct of hostilities.” The Soviet soldiers did not observe such laws. On the contrary, they carried on the undeclared war of their rulers in Afghanistan, indiscriminately killing civilians, individually and in groups, and devastating their land for military and nonmilitary reasons alike, visiting on them a terrible variety of unmitigated cruelties.