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11. Victory at Any Cost

Vasily Safronchuk, the Soviet adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul, stated in 1981 that since the “Afghan revolution” was similar to the Soviet revolution, it would triumph in a matter of time. Although an adviser, Safronchuk worked as if he were the minister for foreign affairs in Kabul. His statement implied that the Soviets would support the Kabul regime until it overcame the resistance. Safronchuk echoed his government’s position, which was that until armed interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan ceased, and until the Karmal regime was recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union would support it. This was a reflection of Leonid Brezhnev’s position that “affirmation and defence of sovereignty of states that have taken the path of socialist construction are of special significance to us communists.”[1] This statement, made after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, came to be known as the Brezhnev doctrine. It meant that the Soviet Union felt free to intervene in neighboring countries in favor of its surrogates, and once it dispatched an army to such a country, it would remain there until it accomplished its self-imposed mission.

The Soviet rulers probably believed that the resistance would be soon suppressed by the invading army’s many expeditions. The Soviets as well as their clients therefore portrayed the mujahideen not as a resistance force but as a few “robbers,” “bandits” gone astray. Confident of victory, the regime several times fixed dates for their disposal. When those dates passed without victory, the regime gave up setting new deadlines and stressed violence still more in achieving the goal. Likewise, the mujahideen were also determined to free their homeland. The scene was thus set for violent clashes, whose consequences I described in my journal for 16 March 1982:

Thus homicide has been adopted as a solution. This shows that an irrational attitude has become dominant and that beastliness is on the ascendance. On the one side are a small number of party members who, because of the might of the Soviet Union, claim that they have a mission to accomplish for the good of the people. They are loud in stating that “because the April revolution is irreversible, we will not return from the road we have chosen.” On the other side, however, are the majority of the people, represented by the mujahideen, who hold that the regime is a puppet of the Soviets and that the Soviets, in the name of bringing justice to the millions by rooting out human exploitation and safeguarding the country from foreign aggression, are, in fact, bent on dominating their homeland, their wealth, their honor, their religion, their freedom, and all that they value.

Because the Soviets had a huge army and a vast arsenal, they felt confident of victory. By comparison, the mujahideen were not as fortunate in terms of weaponry, but they had the will to defend their values, and in the defense of their own country they felt invincible. One of their many antigovernment tracts (shabnama), this one addressed to the people of Kabul in February 1980, showed their spirit. The tract stated:

Do not accept the orders of the infidels, wage jehad against them.…The Moslem people and the mujahideen of Afghanistan, with the sublime cry of Allah o Akbar, will bring down their iron fist on the brainless head of the infidel and Communist government. Mujahideen Moslems, remember that our weapons are the weapons of faith. These are the strongest and most effective weapons in the world. Even the most modern weapons will be unable to resist ours. That is why, if we resist Soviet imperialism’s infidel government we will be victorious, and it will suffer a crushing defeat.…The only path to happiness is faith in the jehad and martyrdom.[2]

Security Measures for the City of Kabul

The regime soon found that it had to exert extraordinary efforts to protect its members from being killed. KhAD extended its network of supervision over Kabul city, increasing the number of its spies many times. At the same time, members of the youth and women’s organizations and also party members began reporting on the people. Every police precinct was matched by a KhAD precinct. Also, city branches of the party were increased and given wide authority. The city and the people were thus watched by many party and regime agencies, while the security agencies were authorized to arrest suspected persons. Residential quarters of important officials—including that of Kishtmand in the Wazir Akbar Khan Maina, close to the presidential palace—were fenced with barbed wire and their walls fortified and raised. Even the city’s police headquarters were fortified. Private cars and taxis were searched in various parts of the city, and gasoline purchases limited to ten liters (about two gallons) at a time. Taxis were searched thoroughly, since the mujahideen employed some of them for terroristic activities. Vehicles leaving or entering the city were searched at checkpoints. Also, contingents of troops would surround an area and search houses for draft dodgers and weapons, and groups of security men in plain clothes checked pedestrians in the city to see whether they were fit for military service. Often armed members of the party—including members of the Youth Organization, some of them no more than fourteen years of age—patrolled the streets during the day. Also, for reasons best known to the authorities, groups of armed infantrymen and tanks were posted at strategic points of the city for days on end.

Night curfew was enforced from ten o’clock in the evening until four in the morning, but streets and bazaars emptied of people much earlier, since some sections of the city became dangerous after nightfall. People kept their doors locked and arranged to guard their own neighborhoods. At home people would switch on their radios to hear what foreign news services, especially the BBC, had to say in their Pashto and Dari broadcasts about Afghanistan. Except for news and entertainment programs, people avoided the radio and television services of the regime. Given these security measures, it may be appear that the regime was in control of the situation. It was not. The unusual security measures indicated insecurity and a lack of cooperation between the people and the government. The social contract—the foundation of stability in society—had been broken beyond repair.

The mujahideen had ways of infiltrating the city. They could do so because the people were with them, whereas the regime’s men had estranged themselves from them.

Mujahideen’s Penetration of the city of Kabul

The city of Kabul was vulnerable from the east, west, and south. With nightfall the mujahideen could enter the periphery of the city from the hilly districts, especially Paghman. They would kidnap party men from their homes, destroy security posts, or fight with patrolling units. After the invasion, shots were heard almost every night. Sometimes the firing was intense, lasting for hours. The shots heard on the night of 8 October 1980 in the suburban towns of Niaz Beg and Fazil Beg were part of an armed engagement between the opposing forces. The first shots of the mujahideen were followed by a two-hour barrage of heavy guns, rockets, and small arms by the Soviet forces. Only when armored units reached the area did the mujahideen leave. During the previous night a group of mujahideen had penetrated as far as Deh Mazang, almost in the center of the city, with the intention of destroying a television installation on top of the Asamaee Hill. They retreated after an engagement with a Soviet unit. A week later shots were exchanged between the mujahideen and a military unit of the regime quartered close to Macroryan, the Soviet-made blocks of apartments where Soviet advisers and top party and government officials lived. In essence, the mujahideen ruled parts of the outskirts of the city; following the invasion, they pasted price lists of commodities in the outskirts of the city, especially Qala-e-Wahid and Bini Hissar. Shopkeepers observed the regulations.

The city’s night security deteriorated still further. During the first week of July 1981 the mujahideen began to enter the city in large numbers, although the regime had taken new security measures. The Soviet forces were reluctant to come out at night, and the security forces of the regime merely fired toward the sky, thus avoiding confrontation with the mujahideen while giving a false impression to the regime of their loyalty. At this time the city was disturbed at night more than at any time before. Gunfire was heard not only in the outskirts but also in places such as Chindawal in the center of the city. The cry “Long live Afghanistan!” was also heard. For four hours during the night of 3 July 1981 Soviet troops fired heavy guns, rockets, and light arms over the Qala-e-Wahid section of Mier Wais Maidan and along the road to the Paghman district to oppose the mujahideen, who had appeared there in strength. The firing was so intense that I and my family spent the whole night in our basement. For the next two weeks the western outskirts of the city, including the headquarters of the Qargha Division, which had been reduced to about five hundred soldiers at the time, were under such pressure that people talked of the fall of the regime. It was then that the heaviest operations to date were taken against Paghman.

Despite the operations, the city remained as disturbed as before. Those in charge of the security of Kabul must have been frustrated over the renewed activities of the mujahideen. It was unbelievable. By 23 September 1981 the mujahideen had become more active than ever before. They were particularly bold in Karta-e-Nao in the eastern part of the city; sometimes Soviet tanks were unable to go there at night because of the mujahideen’s rockets. The mujahideen were also active in the western outskirts of the city and in places like Khushal Maina, where I then lived. On the night of 18 September 1981 a group of about fifty mujahideen, after announcing their arrival by firing toward the sky, forced their way into a house and took away three government officials, who were said to have been members of the official party. For three hours the mujahideen roamed without encountering any resistance. During the day the regime, as usual, demonstrated its presence in strength. On New Year’s Eve, which coincided with the seventeenth anniversary of the founding of the PDPA, the mujahideen demonstrated their strength as they usually did on such occasions. On that night they infiltrated the center of the city as far as Bagh-e-Ali Mardan and Jada-e-Maiwand and distributed antigovernment leaflets. The city in general remained disturbed, and firing at night was heard. However, the mujahideen could not persuade shopkeepers to close their shops as a demonstration of protest in commemoration of the city uprising of February 1980. The regime had anticipated the protest. The cold winter might also have worked in favor of the regime. But more important were the Soviet’s major military operations, which by then had relieved the city of the pressure from the mujahideen. This was the situation when the regime arrested me in April 1982.

The security measures taken for the city, as noted, proved insufficient. Given the rate at which party men were lost and the mujahideen’s continued disturbances in the city, it was feared that the hostile city population might cause the collapse of the regime. The party’s low rate of recruitment was also a matter of concern. In July 1981 the average monthly recruitment in each precinct of the party was about two, and these recruits were government employees. Even within the party-dominated state, the PDPA could recruit very few members, despite the fact that it held the monopoly of access to employment under inflationary conditions. Party members were also lost, although in small numbers, in rural areas where the regime sent its younger members for short periods. The party’s main base of recruitment was the Youth Organization, but this source needed time to mature.

There was still no sign that the regime would open a dialogue with the resistance, which it continued to call “bandits.” Its view was that the “bandits” must be eliminated if they persisted. Supported by Soviet might, the regime acted on the belief that it would accomplish this in time. One wonders what urge in men and women drives them to suppress others who are unwilling to submit to their rule. When power cannot be obtained through consensus, and when the lives of millions of men and women are at stake, the urge to rule may be pathological. In some instances this urge may reflect a blind faith in the canons of a dogma that may condemn even brilliant minds to ineffectiveness. In such conditions, only people with the strictest moral principles can leave power behind. But in the period under discussion the passion to rule, despite the opposition of the majority, was strong among the Afghan communists. They intended to maintain and extend the power they had already attained. Thus, the PDPA claimed that they wanted to create a Shangri-la for the Afghan people; yet to fulfill that dream, they were willing to inflict terrible violence on those same people.

Security Measures for the Land

During its third plenum, held in August 1980, the PDPA passed a resolution stating that peace and security should be maintained throughout the land. It also stated that, since the reform measures had not been observed, the government felt duty bound to maintain security. This statement confirmed the long-circulated rumors that the Soviets intended to suppress the resistance by the wide use of force after the Olympic games, which were held in Moscow that summer. After the Olympics the Soviets dispatched three fresh divisions of troops to Afghanistan. The troops were composed mainly of commandos who had been trained in conditions similar to those in Afghanistan. At this time party members, low in spirit because of the mujahideen’s program of terrorism, needed a boost. In the plenum Karmal informed his comrades of a decision already made by his Soviet comrades in Moscow. The latter had assured its PDPA comrades that, since they were determined to crush the “dark forces of reaction and counterrevolution,” they should not lose heart on account of temporary setbacks. The assurance was based on an assessment of the situation by Vladimir Kryuchkov, the head of foreign intelligence in Moscow. Kryuchkov had predicted that “the spring and summer of 1981 will be decisive for the final and complete defeat of the forces of the counterrevolution”:[3] hence the program of carrot and stick to pacify the land as quickly as possible.

In August 1980 the authorities divided Afghanistan into eight new “zones,” or administrative units, each comprising a number of provinces. The country had twenty-eight provinces in all. A member of the central committee of the party headed each zone; under him was a permanent commission, composed of the provincial governors and a Soviet adviser in command of the military unit stationed there. Although the head of each zone was given special power to resolve administrative, political, and security issues, his real job was that of a social liaison officer. By spending money and exerting pressure, the regime was able to summon community elders to meet with him. The program was a resort to conventions according to which rulers in times of crisis would seek the cooperation of community elders in repairing the broken chains of social order. The heads of the zones would lecture the elders on the goodwill of the regime and the advantages that would be theirs once peace and security were restored. Official propaganda stressed this welfare and peace offensive, while the Soviets undertook military operations.

The permanent commission was more important than its boss, who was not present all the time. Also, since the new arrangement was intended to help pacify the country, security matters dominated the rest of the issues: thus the significance of the military personnel and the Soviet adviser, a general at the head of a thousand commandos. In this sense, the new zones were military rather than civil units. Officially nothing was said about the arrangement except that the head of the unit was described as the “chief of the zone” (raees-e-zoan). The Soviet military officers acted on their own, even snubbing the heads of the units when reminded of the excesses they were committing. Whatever social standing the chiefs of zones had, their own Soviet comrades belittled them by their overbearing attitude, their arrogance, and their policy of genocide, which will be described in the last two chapters. Like his predecessor Fayz Mohammad, Sulaiman Laweq, the chief of the Ningrahar zone and the minister of tribal affairs, had established a good relationship with elders of Ningrahar. In response to a request by the elders that he tell the Soviets to withdraw their troops, he jokingly asked them how he could make such a request when the Soviets had refused to comply with the selfsame call from the United Nations.

The Afghan Problem in International Forums

After the invasion, the Afghan problem became the concern of the United Nations and some other countries. The concern was, however, expressed in words coupled with actions taken against the Soviet Union for the invasion. Only the United States took any serious measures, canceling grain deliveries ordered by the Soviet Union, prohibiting the sale of high-technology and strategically valuable goods, and boycotting the 1980 Olympic games, which were held in Moscow. Calling the invasion “an extremely serious threat to peace” President Jimmy Carter declared that “this would threaten the security of all nations including, of course, the United States, our allies and our friends.” The president then warned the Soviet Union that any move toward the Persian Gulf would be met with force.[4] The French government criticized the Soviet invasion; by contrast, Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, stated that the crisis in Afghanistan was not a “world crisis of dangerous dimensions.”[5] Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain denounced the intervention and asked the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. All Western governments froze or suspended their relations with Kabul, leaving only a few personnel in their respective embassies to collect intelligence information. But if the world community did not take stern measures against the invasion, it did bring diplomatic pressure on the Soviet Union to recall its forces.

Starting with a special session on 15 January 1980, every year the General Assembly of the United Nations passed by an overwhelming majority a resolution demanding that foreign forces be unconditionally withdrawn from Afghanistan, that the country’s integrity and nonaligned status be maintained, and that the right of self-determination of the Afghan people be observed. In February 1980 the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned the Soviet aggression against the Afghan people as a flagrant violation of international law and human rights. In 1982 the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, on instruction from the General Assembly, appointed a special envoy to seek the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but because of the intransigence of the Soviet Union, no progress could be made. However, the channel was kept open until it finally succeeded in its mission in 1988.[6] Beginning with a special session on 28 January 1980 the Organization of the Islamic Conference, composed of the Muslim countries, annually passed stronger recommendations to the same effect, despite the pro-Soviet stance of some of its members (Syria, Iraq, and Libya).

Similarly, a resolution calling for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was passed by the foreign ministers of the nonaligned countries at a meeting held early in 1981 in New Delhi; this resolution was particularly notable since the number of pro-Soviet countries in the movement was considerable. In summer 1981 the European Economic Community (EEC) used even stronger terms asking that the Soviet Union withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. At the same time, the EEC assured the Soviet Union that Afghanistan would remain neutral after the withdrawal, much like Austria after the Soviet withdrawal in 1955. The proposal was explained to the Soviet authorities in Moscow in July of the same year by a mission of the EEC headed by the British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington; the Soviets called the plan “impractical,” although they did not reject it outright. The European Parliament also adopted a similar resolution. In January 1981 President Giscard d’Estaing of France called for an international conference to be held on Afghanistan, but the Soviets rejected that as well. The People’s Republic of China was more assertive in its demands. Since it viewed the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan as detrimental to its own security, the Chinese government made the improvement of its relations with the Soviet Union contingent on, among other things, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan did not create a stir among the people of the world comparable to that aroused by the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, but on certain occasions anti-Soviet demonstrations were held. Within Eurocommunist circles there were few defenders of the introduction of Soviet forces into Afghanistan. The French Communist Party was conspicuous among those few who defended the Soviet invasion. The Italian Communist Party, the second biggest communist party in Western Europe after that of France, came out against the invasion, calling it “a mistake.” The opposition soon led to an open polemic between the communist parties of Italy and the Soviet Union, but the former did not change its stand. In Eastern Europe dissident groups began to send out protest letters to Western Europe. An eloquent appeal came from Czechoslovakia in January 1980, calling for an international boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow and even comparing them to the 1936 Olympics, held in the Berlin of Hitler’s Third Reich. The letter read in part, “The Soviet intervention in Kabul, deprived of shabby justifications, is an outright and outrageous aggression. Today we can merely guess its continuation, but dread its ultimate objectives. If the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan is merely condemned by words, it will, against our will, become the norm to be repeated on future suitable occasions.”[7]

Inside the Soviet empire, although Soviet youths fell in Afghanistan, the voice of opposition to the war could not be heard. The Soviet police state was too strong for Soviet men and women to express their views on the Afghan War as the American people had done on the Vietnam War. The Soviet government had made its involvement in Afghanistan a nonissue. Within the government framework a few military generals, including Chief of General Staff General Ogakov and Major General Zaplatin, adviser to the head of the Afghan chief political directorate, were opposed to the invasion.[8] In the weeks following the invasion, members of the Moscow groups monitoring violations of the Helsinki human rights accords and other dissident groups publicly condemned the invasion.[9] Also, shortly after the invasion “a group of academics, headed by O. Bogomolov, sent to the USSR Central Committee a report in which they reacted sharply to this act and prophesied its failure.”[10] Calling the invasion “a fatal error that could cost the country dearly,” Edward Shevardnadze stated, “The invasion of that country provided a strong negative reaction that grew daily in our society and abroad, whereas only a few people in the Soviet Union openly protested the sending of troops into Prague in 1968. After 1979 the majority condemned the Afghan adventure, either directly or indirectly.”[11] The man who symbolized the Soviet conscience by opposing the war was Andrei Sakharov, the winner of the Nobel peace prize and a human rights activist; for his stand, the Soviet government in January 1980 deported him to the closed city of Gorky, where he spent seven years in isolation. Although Sakharov came to be hailed as the “conscience of the Soviet Union,” at the time the Soviet government stifled voices of conscience and as a result lowered its international standing. More serious, the Soviet Union’s defiance of the voices of sanity poisoned international trust, an attitude that led to a new phase in international tension and armament programs during the final years of the cold war.

In view of the Soviets’ inflexible attitude, the Afghan elders of Ningrahar were almost wildly optimistic in asking Sulaiman Laweq, a mere Soviet proxy, to affect the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They were carried away by the eloquence of the poet Laweq for making the new plan of rural administration work. To this plan we now return.

The Unsuccessful Drive from City to Village

Since rural areas were lost to the regime, it adopted new methods to extend control over them from the provincial capitals in a drive called “From City to Village.” In early 1982 Karmal declared that the time had come to “take the revolutionary struggle to the provinces, districts and villages.” In this scheme provincial governors continued to function, but their traditionally strong role was reduced. In line with the new centralized political structure, provincial governors as well as heads of departments acted as heads of administration with limited authority. This was particularly so when they were not at the same time secretaries of their party units. In the new system political and security problems in the various provinces became the concern of party functionaries and KhAD agents, whom the Soviet advisers directed.

The provincial party secretaries (munshi-e-wilayati), although only the heads of their provincial committees, were supreme. Their relationship to government departments was similar to the relationship of the general secretary of the party to the government in Kabul. Because of the pressures of the continuing war, the absence of administrative statutes delimiting functions, and the long distance between Kabul and many provincial capitals, the new party bosses suddenly found themselves in positions of unlimited authority; they were thus tempted to act like little pharaohs, imposing their power over both the people and their own colleagues. For example, Ahad Rahnaward, provincial secretary of Mazar and a member of the central committee of the party, was intolerant of criticism; in collaboration with three other members of the committee, he killed Aziem Gowhari and then reported to Kabul that Gowhari had defected to the rebels. However, before his death Gowhari had kept the Soviet adviser informed of the intentions of his rivals; in addition, Gowhari had been a prominent member of a faction of the party known as the Group of Labor (Goroh-e-Kar). Thus, his disappearance was examined, and Rahnaward and his associates were tried and found guilty. In prison Rahnaward continued to act as if he were still in power, advising prison authorities on how to deal with prisoners. Confident that he would not be harmed, Rahnaward admitted to the crime he had committed. He and his accomplices were executed in December 1983.

Less prominent cases were the concern of provincial KhAD agents, who, in the name of security and revolution, felt free to commit excesses. To accomplish their jobs, they had at their disposal money, spies, and the power to arrest, with or without warrants, and to inflict tortures and punishments to the point of killing prisoners by their death squads. To clear the cities of the mujahideen and extend control over the surrounding areas, they behaved as if they had been given unlimited authority. Many people were imprisoned on the basis of mere suspicion. In the game of survival, such excesses were understandable, though deplorable. What was almost entirely incomprehensible was the intensity of the power struggle that went on among provincial officials. Abdul Basir, a KhAD official of Mazar, shot and killed his rival after he persuaded him to accompany him on a pleasure trip to a nearby spot. Abdul Basir was tried and transferred as a prisoner to Pul-e-Charkhi concentration camp, where he was often heard saying that he was “a son of the party.” He was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment.

More serious was the policy of the regime toward “counterrevolutionaries.” General Ghulam Sadiq Mirakai, a former deputy director of KhAD in charge of the three western provinces headquartered in Kandahar, says: “Every night they brought 10 to 15 trucks to the firing range. Each truck would have 50 people. I know the names. I know the people. They are arrested and they are no longer alive.” The statement seems unbelievable, and Mirakai is aware of it. He continues, “The Western world can not comprehend what has taken place [in Afghanistan].” He also states that while performing his duty, “I had the Afghan party people on one side and the KGB advisers on the other.”[12]

Notwithstanding the new administrative measures and the joint military operations, the drive “From City to Village” failed. But it did bring about a result of a different kind. Because of the unlimited authority that the new party and KhAD officials enjoyed, house searches, imprisonment, torture, embezzlement, licentiousness, and a lifestyle of arrogance became common among them. The known plebeians of yesterday became the hated patricians of the day, and a class of party members emerged from a new power base.


1. Quoted in Champagne et al., Afghanistan, 4. Victor V. Grishin, a politburo member, was specific about the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan: “Socialist internationalism obliged us to help the Afghan people defend the April Revolution’s gains”; see Payand, “Soviet-Afghan Relations,” 122. [BACK]

2. Quoted in Bradsher, Afghanistan, 208. [BACK]

3. Quoted in Dobbs, “Dramatic Politburo Meeting.” [BACK]

4. Champagne et al., Afghanistan, 20, 21. [BACK]

5. Ibid., 21. [BACK]

6. For a detailed study of the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations that led to the conclusion of the Geneva agreements on the basis of which the Soviets withdrew their forces from Afghanistan, see Khan, Untying the Afghan Knot. As a Pakistani diplomat, Riaz M. Khan had attended all the meetings covering the negotiations. See also Kakar, Geneva Compromise on Afghanistan. [BACK]

7. Quoted in Hyman, “Afghan Crisis,” 18. [BACK]

8. Ivanov, “Revelations,” 20. [BACK]

9. Hyman, “Afghan Crisis,” 18. [BACK]

10. Ivanov, “Revelations,” 20. [BACK]

11. Shevardnadze, Future, 121. [BACK]

12. Quoted in Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 9, 14. [BACK]

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