Educational institutions were opened after the winter holiday in March 1980 in Kabul. Kabul has a large number of high schools and professional and higher educational institutions in proportion to its population. Most are located in the western part of the city, where the student population was conspicuous. Among these institutions is Kabul University, which before the communist coup had twelve thousand students and eight hundred professors. A month after the start of the academic year, students demonstrated. Before that they had distributed antigovernment leaflets. In one of them, Falah (Salvation), they demanded the withdrawal of the invading army and proposed that until it had been withdrawn, ideological differences should be put aside and a united front formed. The underground periodical Jabha-e-Danish (The Front of Knowledge) called on the opposition organizations even more forcefully to set up a common front. In ordinary circumstances such activities may pass unnoticed, but under conditions of repression it can be a sign of an imminent storm.
One of the first waves of the storm came on 27 April 1980, when the regime commemorated the second anniversary of the coup in a strict ceremony attended by only a few select party members and government officials. This restriction gave the ceremony the aura more of a funeral than of a public festival. On the eve of the inauguration school students had disturbed the city. During the disturbances female students had been so agitated that they ridiculed police officers sent to silence them. Some girls called them “Russian slaves” while others put their scarves on the officers, telling them that now they had become “women,” an insulting word when uttered in such a manner to men in Afghanistan. Others snatched caps from the police and accused them of having accepted slavery in return for money. It was extraordinary for schoolgirls to be so brave, but the police were sympathetic to them. The police showed reluctance to harm them, but the Parchami youths who had accompanied them acted brutally. They had already shot dead four students at the Omar-e-Shaheed Lycée and one at the Habibiyya High School when the students had risen in defiance on 25 April.
On 29 April 1980 the peaceful procession that students held on the campus of the university turned even bloodier. They shouted anti-Soviet slogans and demanded that the Soviet army leave. When their procession, originating at the College of Engineering, reached the College of Pharmacy, armed Parchami youths, after firing first into the air, fired at them directly, killing three. The procession nevertheless continued until ten students were lost to the bullets of the Parchami youths in front of the nearby Teachers Training Institute. Among them was Miss Naheed, a high school student, who, while holding a wounded fellow student in her arms, was inciting others. She soon became a martyr and a symbol of patriotism. A Parchami from a nearby building had fired at her. Months later the assassin was also killed for the killing of Miss Naheed. At the institute the procession dispersed without reaching the center of the city. On that day, while the students of a number of schools had taken to the streets, other schools had been besieged. When a procession of the students of the Habibiyya High School reached the nearby Soviet embassy, armed Parchami youths fired at them, killing three.
Despite the repression, students were still inflamed. The majority of students continued to boycott classes. On 3 May 1980 a still greater number of university students took to the streets and headed toward the city, moving in a more organized fashion. This time they refrained from uttering provoking slogans and observed the spirit of the newly enunciated provisional constitution, the Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which guaranteed the right to peaceful demonstrations. I witnessed the beginning of this march, and, although I admired the students, I felt depressed at the thought of the fate awaiting them. When the procession reached Barikot, it was encircled by a contingent of mounted army instead of by the police. After initial hesitation, the contingent dashed at the students, beating them with clubs and using tear gas. More than five hundred were arrested. On that day security forces also besieged government offices in anticipation of the rumor that government officials intended to join the procession. On 22 May 1980 the fourth and last procession by students of the College of Engineering was suppressed immediately after it started. But high schools throughout the city remained disturbed. Students went on strike, and their schools were besieged by contingents of the police. Students, particularly female students, were loud in denouncing Lenin and Brezhnev in their slogans, in spite of the fact that their parents had cautioned them not to do so.
During the second week of June 1980 a melodrama of a different kind was played out in some schools. Ever since the communist coup, many events had taken the Afghans by surprise, but the poisoning of school students was the most surprising of all. For three consecutive days a large number of students of the Soriya High School (an academy for girls) and a number of other schools were poisoned. Thirty workers at a government printing press were also poisoned. A few days later (12 June) students at ten high schools were poisoned. On that day alone more than five hundred students were taken to hospitals for treatment. No one was fatally ill. It was said that the poison was released into the air from a small “cartridge.” Others said that drinking water had been poisoned. It is still unknown who did all this. The regime blamed the “agents of imperialism and reactionary forces,” that is, the ikhwanis or mujahideen, while the mujahid organizations in Peshawar blamed the Soviet Union and the Kabul regime. In Kabul it was said that KhAD was responsible. According to this theory, since the month-long student agitation had discredited the regime, KhAD, in order to forestall a repetition, decided to intimidate the students and their families. It was further argued that had other people committed the act, KhAD would have caught the perpetrators and made the case public. This theory is also reinforced by the fact that a proportionally larger number of students of the Soriya High School suffered in the tragedy, for they as well as their teachers were most active in the agitation. Following the agitation and the poisoning, Kabul schools were paralyzed, and many schoolboys fled abroad.
Unlike the city uprising, the student uprising was organized. By the time the students arose, seven student unions had become active on the university campus, among them the Council of the Revolutionary Youth of the University, the Union of Liberationists, Salvation, and the General Union of Professors and Students. With about six hundred members, the Council of the Revolutionary Youth was the biggest, with branches in city high schools. The council, like the Union of Professors and Students, was composed of noncommitted students, while others were branches of political groups such as the Maoist Rihayee, the Islamic Association, and the Islamic Party. But along with two more, the council did not favor open demonstrations on the ground that by holding rallies students exposed themselves. They stood instead for strikes and boycotts. The committed unions and others carried the day by persuading others to hold rallies, but, as described, KhAD suppressed them. For this purpose KhAD, through its secret agents, had set up its own union to persuade students to hold rallies. It has well been said that “pro-Khalqi students opposed Parchamis, resenting the Soviet presence, and almost equally Parchami disparagement of Amin, together with his policies. Nationalists and anti-Marxists [joined] with Muslim fundamentalist sympathizers, girls as well as boys, in riot[s] and demonstrations, which were put down only after shootings and mass arrests.” How many students were killed in this monthlong period of agitation is difficult to tell. Estimates have varied between seventy-two and one hundred; others put it as high as two hundred. The number of those who were injured cannot be determined, because the injured students, fearful of being imprisoned, did not seek treatment in hospitals. But those arrested were said to number about two thousand. Subsequently, no more rallies were attempted, and the students concentrated on boycotts.
On 13 May the authorities released about five hundred students on certain conditions and further announced that the cases of “a few” imprisoned students were pending in the court. The “few” were many students who spent years in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison. The imprisoned students did not defend the rallies in the courts. An exception was Ashuk Kumar (a Hindu student from Kandahar), Abdul Widud, and one other. Not only did they defend the rallies, but they also opposed the Soviet invasion. Each was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment, the longest term for the imprisoned students. Other measures included the dismissal and transfer of high school teachers, who were suspected of having incited their students. As for the university, no drastic measures were taken, but the regime speeded up the Sovietization program that it had already started. The program consisted of changing university curricula in line with Marxism-Leninism, of changing the administrative system to conform to that of the Soviet system and of stressing the spirit of friendship with the Soviet Union. All of these changes required an increase in the number of instructors and advisers from the Soviet Union and communist bloc countries.
Although the student agitation was a minor problem, the regime feared that it might provoke the people of the city to yet another disturbance and tarnish its image in the Soviet Union. Since the students were their sons and daughters, the city’s residents abhorred the use of force against them. For the same reason, the regime also tried to suppress the student processions as quickly as possible. Coming as they did in the wake of the city uprising, the agitations revealed certain matters that damaged the regime politically and morally. The Karmal faction was predominantly a city group. Until the student demonstrations, the Parchamis had claimed that the intelligentsia supported them. This claim was convincing, since the intelligentsia had twice elected Karmal to parliament in the constitutional period. The uprisings proved otherwise: now his erstwhile supporters also rejected him. By becoming the man of the Soviets, he eroded the only support he had ever had.
From yet another angle, the Parchamis were also discredited. In the 1960s they held rallies as the present protesters did, taking to the streets when they thought a government had breached a democratic right. But now they suppressed rallies permitted by their own constitution. If the regime had had any moral basis, it now disappeared. The Parchamis were, however, acting on the instructions they were receiving from the Soviets. Ominously, the Soviets could impose their client regime on the Afghans only by subduing them by force; they could secure the country only by destroying it.