Leftist Resistance Groups
The leftists opposed to the invasion and the Kabul regime were the Marxist or Maoist group known as the Shu’lais. Radical revolutionaries, they were also called Left of the Left (Chap-e-Chap). The original name of their organization, which was set up in 1964, was the People’s New Democratic (Democratic-e-Naween-e-Khalq). Its prominent founding figures were Rahim Mahmudi, Hadi Mahmudi, and Mohammad Osman, known as Osman Landay. The Mahmudis enjoyed prestige for being the brother and nephew, respectively, of Abdur Rahman Mahmudi, a revolutionary figure of the 1950s, and Landay, a teacher, was popular among students. No other teacher in Afghanistan has served the cause of modern education as much as Osman Landay. Teaching mathematics and physics in his private courses, he has trained thousands of students.
The People’s New Democratic served as a mother organization of the leftist movement. It aimed at socialism through revolutionary and violent means, rejecting parliamentary ways and conversely supporting armed struggle. It also supported the ideological and political line of the Communist Party of China on national and international issues. Nevertheless, “the organization could never rise to the level of a party and offer a policy program. Lacking this, the organization could not effectively combine legal and illegal methods of struggle and ended up engaging in nothing more than political adventurism.” Still, it more than the PDPA concentrated its activities among peasants.
In the constitutional period the organization published a periodical, Shu’la-e-Jawid (The Eternal Flame), after which it came to be known. The periodical was closed shortly afterwards. In this decade of strained relations between Moscow and Beijing, both chose to spread ideological literature in Kabul. In the fervor of the Cultural Revolution, Beijing eagerly distributed Mao’s works in Pashto and Persian. When Prime Minister E’timadi observed the rapid growth of the pro-Moscow leftists, he left undisturbed the free distribution of Chinese literature, hoping to encourage the Shu’lais to counterpoise the pro-Moscow communists. But this myopic policy brought about the opposite result. In the 1960s, when the university campus was in turmoil and student processions common, the Shu’lais seemed more numerous and more dynamic than the PDPA. The Shu’lais, more than other leftists, became responsible for undermining the democratic system.
The Shu’lais became active in the rural areas, particularly in Herat and closer to Kabul in Kohistan and Parwan, where Chinese experts were also working with the government on a canal project for irrigation purposes. This may explain why the Shu’lais had infiltrated the peasants of the latter areas more than other parties had. But they, too, were not immune to the law of Afghan politics, and by the time of the invasion they had split into many subgroups over theoretical as well as tactical and practical issues. The new groups, in order of significance, were Surkha (later Rihayee), SAMA, Akhgar, Paikar, SAWO, and Khurasan.
Among the pro-Chinese leftist groups SAMA, the most practical, was known to the public, while the rest were known primarily to their members. Majid Kalakani founded SAMA in late 1978. In 1979, in concert with other “nationalist groups,” SAMA forged a front, the National United Front of Afghanistan, or NUFA (Jabha-e-Mutahid-e-Milli-e-Afghanistan). Dominated by SAMA, NUFA was an urban guerrilla alliance. According to Khalid Duran,
Despite this proclamation, the public still heard the acronym SAMA, not NUFA.
[NUFA] outlined a clear program for the war of liberation as well as subsequent political and socioeconomic reconstruction. While NUFA declared itself free of any ideology, it defined itself as “national democratic.” The adherence to democracy was substantiated by a clear affirmation of universal suffrage and human rights, with full equality for women and minorities as well as freedom of worship, all within a federal state with far reaching autonomy for the various nationalities and language groups.
SAMA’s significance was largely due to the adventurousness of its leader, Majid Kalakani, who was more of a social bandit than a leader of leftists. He was a teacher, and while a student he was alleged to have killed the principal of his school, for which he spent two years in prison. Known to his followers as Majid Agha and in the Western press as “the Afghan Robin Hood,” he had become active in his region as early as the first years of the 1970s. He came from the village of Kalakan, from where in the late 1920s the social bandit Habibullah captured the throne and became the ruler of the country for nine months. Majid Kalakani stood for armed as well as cultural and political struggle. He also valued constructive traditions, in particular the custom of opposing social injustice and observing the code of social morality by accepting risk with boldness and chivalry (’ayyari). This attitude, which distanced him from the dogmatic revolutionaries, brought him closer to the common people. An admirer of Kalakani writes, “Unlike the intellectual revolutionaries who look at the people from above, Majid Agha lived among them. The people felt him to be with them. He was knowable to the people. His language was the language of the people and his ideal the ideal of the people.”
All the pro-Chinese leftist groups opposed the invading army and its client regime, and they were behind many uprisings. They also carried out terroristic attacks in daylight in Kabul, some of which were daring indeed. But their organized strength became ineffective in a short time. In cities the KGB, through the KhAD, hunted the pro-Chinese Afghan leftists more vigorously than they did the Islamic elements. Evidently it was the policy of the KGB to clear the country, particularly the city of Kabul, of pro-Chinese elements. It was a clear case of witch-hunting: a suspicion was enough for KhAD to push an educated Afghan into prison, where it would accuse him of being a pro-Chinese communist. Even I was accused of being a leading member of Rihayee, and on such an allegation the KhAD executed a well-known nuclear physicist, Professor Yunus Akbari.
In the rural areas the pro-Chinese communists were no more secure. Their partisan peasants disowned them when they found out that they were communists. Both the government forces and the Islamic opposition pursued them. When the Islamists pursued them, they surrendered to the government. Others joined the government in opposition to the Islamic resistance, while most, particularly their leaders, found their places in the Pul-e-Charkhi concentration camp, where I met many of them. Some disguised themselves and joined the moderate Islamic groups. Their fate became worse than the fate of the populists of Russia in the last part of the nineteenth century when the peasants whom they wanted to serve in their regions handed them over to the authorities. China, the distant patron of these Afghan leftists, was unable or unwilling to help them. The first group of prisoners whom the regime executed were leaders of SAWO. In June 1980 the regime also executed Majid Kalakani, who had been arrested in February of the same year. His brother, Qayyum Rahbar (b. 1942), replaced him as leader of NUFA. A graduate of the University of al-Azhar, Rahbar had specialized in Afghan constitutional development. Well-versed in five languages, including Arabic and German, he taught at the University of Kiel in Germany. A man of the pen rather than the gun, Rahbar led NUFA for ten years until he was gunned down in daylight in Peshawar in 1990.
The suppression of the pro-Chinese elements shows the fate of revolutionary leftists in Afghanistan when unsupported by the might of a foreign power.