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The Politics of Confrontation and Suppression
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3. The Politics of Confrontation and Suppression

9. KhAD as an Agency of Suppression

Following the Soviet invasion, the Sovietization of the state structure was expedited. The security department, known in the Khalqi period first as AGSA (Department for Safeguarding the Interests of Afghanistan) and later as KAM (Workers’ Intelligence Department) was changed to KhAD (State Information Services). Dissociating themselves from AGSA and KAM, the new rulers pledged that henceforth no official organization would strangle or torture persons. They also promised that KhAD would serve to protect democratic rights and neutralize plots hatched by enemies of the state. The constitution stated that “torture, persecution, and punishment contrary to human dignity are not permissible.” Babrak Karmal and his senior officials told a delegation of Amnesty International that there “would be no more torture” in Afghanistan.[1] But the promises were only words, and the Kabul regime and its Soviet patrons simply ignored them. KhAD was not set up to protect human rights; rather, it operated on principles espoused by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet Cheka (the predecessor of the KGB). In discussing how to combat counterrevolutionary activities and sabotage, Dzerzhinsky had told his fellow commisars in 1918, “Don’t think that I seek forms of revolutionary justice; we are not now in need of justice. It is war now—face to face, a fight to the finish. Life or death.”[2]

The name KhAD was a misnomer, just as the names of its predecessors, AGSA and KAM, had been. The scope of KhAD’s activities was wider than its name suggests. Besides intelligence gathering, it took part in military operations “with its own military-style division complete with tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.”[3] One of its twelve main directorates, KhAD Number Five, was commissioned to encounter the “rebels.” KhAD was part of the triple armed forces, the others being the regular army (with militia) and the Sarindoy (police force). It was also charged with creating instability in Pakistan and combating foreign intelligence services. But its program of intelligence gatheringin an effort to eliminate active as well as potential opponents and“counterrevolutionaries” was its main area of activity.

To do its job, KhAD needed material means, persons with expertise, and power. These were provided. Providing money was easy, because Afghan bank notes were printed in the Soviet Union, which sent money directly to KhAD as well as the Sarindoy. KhAD had a budget of thirty billion afghanis, or one thousand times more than the budget of the precommunist Intelligence Department, which was thirty million afghanis.[4]

Despite KhAD’s unpopularity, it readily found recruits. Material incentive, exemption from military service, and employment attracted sufficient numbers. Ideology was important only for the dedicated members of the party who served as its leading officials. Among its junior officials were uprooted educated persons who had been driven from the rural areas. Deprived of their own sources of income, they entered KhAD, because as strangers in Kabul they found it difficult to cope with life in the inflationary situation. As an extreme example, forty-two persons from my own home village of Deva in Laghman found employment with KhAD. Officials from Kabul and the province of Parwan outnumbered others in KhAD. All KhAD’s officials were Parchamis.

Material incentives for KhAD’s personnel were many. Professional officers, as distinct from those who did paperwork, received salaries double those that the regime paid to its other employees. As plainclothes secret police, KhAD’s officials were given the status of military officers; this status entitled them to military pay, which the government had increased 100 percent in 1978. In addition, just because they were serving the KhAD, its officials were paid an extra 15 to 75 percent of their pay, depending on the nature of their jobs. The lowest rate was paid to those who worked in the offices. Other concessions included residential apartments, excellent free medical treatment, and short trips for training and other purposes to the Soviet Union.

The above were the official concessions. The illegal sources of income were many, such as searching a region following a military expedition, patrolling the city during the curfew hours, and searching the houses of those who had been, or were to be, arrested. Three examples will suffice to illustrate such activities. In 1981 a group of patrolling KhAD agents broke into the Pashtun Market in Kabul and took about eighty million afghanis (over $1 million) from the safes of businesses there. Similarly, during curfew hours Japanese articles and gadgets were looted from about forty small shops in the middle of the city; this time the looters were Soviet soldiers. In 1982, twelve bars of gold bullion were taken from the house of Haji Barat Bie in Kabul during a search.[5] KhAD’s officials were required to have householders sign a form saying that nothing had been taken from their houses. But this form was meaningless, because during the search family members would be pushed inside a room, the house would be searched by armed men, and members of the family would be so terrified that they did not dare complain.

Since the Parchamis were tyros in the field, since KhAD was organized along KGB lines, and since the KGB secret police controlled this “kingdom without a crown,”[6] Soviet advisers played a dominant role in reshaping it out of KAM of the Khalq period. However, the number of Soviet advisers cannot be determined. For nine months following the invasion, Soviet advisers controlled KhAD directly, maintaining the security of prisons with their own men. KhAD’s officials were unable to conduct investigations without their permission. After that period, when they handed over control of prisons to KhAD’s officials, Soviet advisers kept a low profile. But since KhAD was “the key to the political and state structure of the Soviet mission in Afghanistan,”[7] Soviet advisers were behind the decisions made in it. But care had been taken to ensure that the records did not show their role.

Even Babrak Karmal could not influence the decisions of Soviet advisers in KhAD, as the following incidents show. After the arrest of a number of members of Afghan Millat in 1983, its leaders dissolved their organization and called on their followers to support the regime. Karmal issued instructions to KhAD that they be released without being tried in court; they would then cooperate with the government through the National Fatherland Front. They were, however, tried and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.[8] Relatives of two members of the imprisoned Afghan Millat got a letter from Karmal in which he ordered that the prisoners be released, but to no effect.[9] Also, for three months Karmal insisted on the release of five detained university professors, including the author, before they were to be tried in court, but to no effect.[10] Karmal’s instructions were not obeyed in a department where he had placed his trusted followers. As already noted, if any official department was loyal to him, it was KhAD. It was his stronghold of power, even more than the Parcham faction was. Lauding it with warm words, he often visited KhAD, and KhAD’s officials did their best to exalt him. There was thus no question that his own cronies in KhAD would have carried out his orders. But they were under the power of the Soviet advisers, who looked on KhAD as the promoter first of the interests of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet interest was the prosecution of, in order of significance, Maoists, Islamic fundamentalists, and nationalists. Those who were accused of being agents of the CIA and other foreign intelligence services were also singled out for harsh treatment, but since they were not part of the organized resistance groups, they were not punished as severely as others. KhAD’s most important program was to smash organized resistance groups with a view to drying up the breeding ground for “counterrevolutionaries.” On this point no compromise was shown until the rise to power of Gorbachev in 1985. In this atmosphere every Afghan outside the regime was suspected of being a member of an organization opposed to the Soviet Union.

To stamp out resistance, KhAD was organized to assert its mastery over Afghans: hence the dominance of KhAD over other government ministries, although it was nominally a department within the prime ministry. In addition to having a broader structure, access to more money, and more numerous personnel than any other ministry, it had the power not only to look into matters of public significance but also to intrude into the private domain of persons and families and to make arrests. Except for Karmal, no Afghan under the regime was beyond its reach. It had the power and the means to torture men and women to the point of death with impunity. Although by law the execution of a prisoner after his trial in court was the prerogative of the head of state, KhAD determined the case one way or another. In the few cases when the head of state commuted death sentences to terms of imprisonment, he did so only with KhAD’s permission. KhAD was said to be a state within a state.[11] This was true, but only partly. If the Kabul regime may be called a state, then KhAD was an agency above the state.

Under Najibullah, its president, KhAD’s personnel rose from 120 during the constitutional period to 25,000, according to one source, and to 30,000, according to another.[12] With regard to KhAD’s personnel, the following points should be borne in mind. The last two figures are for KhAD’s staff, not for those who cooperated with it from the outside. These were regular and part-time informers whose number cannot be determined. All political and party organizations—in particular the Youth Organization, Workers’ Union, and Women’s Organization—were connected to it.[13] KhAD had established committees in all government departments as well as residential areas. A deputy of every ministry was a KhAD official. KhAD officials were also assigned to Afghan embassies and commercial houses.[14] Even the Khalqi-dominated Ministry of Home Affairs, after initial resistance, opened its doors to KhAD. Thus, the total number of persons serving KhAD in one capacity or another will never be known. More important, even the figures cited were disproportionately high for the number of people under the direct control of the regime, which was probably about 2.5 million. Consequently, among the people under the control of the regime, KhAD was ubiquitous. As one contemporary observation noted, “The Afghan regime and its Soviet allies maintain and enforce control in the cities through the fear of a terrorized population aware of the ever-present possibility of arbitrary arrest, torture, imprisonment and execution.”[15]

The omnipresence of KhAD was an indication of the regime’s need for it. “It reached the point where, without KhAD, the regime could not survive.”[16] Of the regime’s programs to survive, one was to neutralize its opponents by imprisoning them, but it required some reason or evidence for imprisoning anyone. During the Khalqi period the authorities viewed certain groups of people, such as feudals and the clergy, to be the irreconcilable enemies of the “revolution.” So the government imprisoned many mullas and feudals simply because they were mullas and feudals. During the Parchami regime, however, some efforts were made to make arrests on the basis of “evidence,” although KhAD also made arrests on the basis of mere suspicion. Those captured on the battlefield, those caught fleeing the country, and those who were members of organized antigovernment groups were considered opponents of the regime and imprisoned. Also among the imprisoned were those who did not want to cooperate with the regime, who were against the invasion and the war, or who were persons of reputation but not on the side of the regime. It was not difficult for KhAD to identify such people. The so-called Cartotic Division was made responsible for collecting the kind of information on suspected persons that would lead to their arrest. My interrogator told me that I had been under surveillance by that division for about two years before my arrest.

Khad in Action

KhAD was known to Afghans for house searches, arrests, torture, and execution. While leaving a detailed account of those activities for my prison memoirs, here I would like to describe each briefly.

To imprison a person, armed personnel from the Department of Operation would go into action. For them it was like a hunting expedition, even if the accused was to be picked up from a government office. In a serious case the locality of the accused would be cordoned off, sometimes by armored vehicles. In such a situation KhAD would detain not only the person for whose arrest a warrant had been issued but also anyone who happened to be with the accused person at the time. Also, anyone coming toward the cordoned house would be arrested. Those who were arrested without warrants were detained on the assumption that they might be members of the group to which the accused was considered to belong. Speed was of the utmost significance, and KhAD provided its personnel the means to carry out its mission as quickly as possible. The houses of the accused were searched by personnel from the Departments of Interrogation, Prosecution, and Police. These personnel were at liberty to search the house for as long as they wished, regardless of whether the accused was present.

The search of the apartment of Fahima Nassiry, a schoolteacher, was typical. “They cracked open the walls with the bayonets of their automatic rifles. They cut open all the mattresses. They broke the toilet. They poured out the cooking oil from the jars in her kitchen and tipped over bags of rice.”[17] In a larger house search many more things were usually looked into. Anything that could incriminate the accused would be confiscated. Books—particularly the works of Sayyed Qutb and Mao—would be taken as proof of the accused person’s “guilt.” Under Khalqi and Parchami rule, private libraries were also confiscated. In most cases whole libraries were taken away; fortunately, my own library was spared. In 1973 the Parchami police had set the precedent of confiscating private libraries. At that time they confiscated the entire library of former Prime Minister Maiwandwal; among the works in the library were seven volumes in Maiwandwal’s handwriting on Afghan history.[18]

In contrast with the Khalqi period, when detainees were treated violently during their interrogations, in the Parchami period torture became “part of a scientific system of intelligence rather than just a form of sadistic punishment.”[19] Interrogation and torture were prolonged with the intention of forcing the detainee to implicate others. In theory, the interrogators were not to break detainees physically but to hurt them psychologically, breaking their personalities so they would admit to the crimes of which they were accused. In practice, though, interrogators did not observe these limits, sometimes going so far as to kill detainees. Among those who lost their lives under torture was the famous poet and journalist Ghulam Shah Sarshar Shamali, who, while under interrogation in Sadarat in 1982, was kicked to death.

In the city of Kabul detainees were taken to one of eight detention and torture centers, four of which were known as the KhAD-e-Sadarat (the Central Interrogation Office in the Prime Ministry), KhAD-e-Shashdarak (the KhAD Office in the Shashdarak district), KhAD-e-Panj (the KhAD Office Number Five in Darul Aman), and KhAD-e-Nezami (Military KhAD). These were the main detention centers. The remaining four were in two private houses near the Sadarat building, the Ahmad Shah Khan house, the Wazir Akbar Khan Maina, and the KhAD office in the Barikot district.[20] When a large number of people were detained, they were taken directly to the Pul-e-Charkhi concentration camp. Also, every provincial city had one or more detention and torture centers and a prison. The provincial prisons of Qunduz, Mazar, and Kandahar were the major ones. The Soviets also detained and tortured detainees in their army units before handing them over to KhAD. In Kabul the detainees were kept in the main detention centers until their interrogations were complete or almost complete.

Investigations often took weeks or months before the detainees were taken to Pul-e-Charkhi and then to the courts. Our group of professors was detained for nine months in Sadarat. This phase of detention was agonizing, since everything imaginable was likely to happen to the detainee, especially in Shashdarak. Of those detained in Shashdarak, I have neither met nor heard of anyone who was not tortured. Pul-e-Charkhi was a haven by comparison. Almost every one was taken to Shashdarak at least once for different periods of time. I was detained there for only an hour before I was transferred to Sadarat. Even during this short time I saw the Soviets in droves.

Some detainees were held in a small cell in a group of a few each, while others were herded into rooms where they could hardly move or sleep because of overcrowding and the swarms of lice. Some were held in solitary confinement, each in a cell of two and one-half meters square. Mohammad Osman Rustar, a member of our group of professors, was detained in such a cell for six weeks. He was transferred there as a punitive measure, apparently because he complained to the information officer, Rajab Ali Saighani, about the insufficiency of food. From the time prisoners detained, they were no longer their own masters. The authorities controlled everything they needed as human beings. The one exception was the air they breathed. Indeed, prisoners were deprived of fresh air, since, except when they were taken to the interrogation cells or to the washroom (three times in twenty-four hours), they were always confined. They were given rich, greasy, salty food, usually in insufficient quantities. Good medical treatment was available. The idea was to keep the inmates fit to stand up to the exacting conditions so that the interrogators could extract confessions. Detainees were cut off from contact with the outside world. Not only were they not allowed any visitors, but they were also denied access to means of communication, such as pens, books, and paper. Only when a prisoner’s family sent clothes was he or she given a short pencil for a brief time to write down what had been received. When the detainees made beads from dried cooked rice or dried loaves of bread, or when they made playing cards from cigarette boxes, these items were confiscated if detected. Inmates were permitted nothing with which to pass the time. They were, however, given plenty of time to stare and brood. Guards were charged with not letting inmates laugh or talk loudly, although it was impossible for them to enforce this order completely. Powerful light bulbs were left on day and night. This almost total isolation made the detainee all of a sudden seem like a special person, regardless of his or her social status. This was because KhAD treated each detainee as if he or she were a missing link in the chain of an enemy organization.

The inmate’s real ordeal started when he or she was interrogated, which commenced following arrest. First an attempt was made to make the prisoners feel overawed. In the interrogation cell the detainees were alone in the presence of one or more interrogators and a few other strong men. Soviet advisers also took part in the interrogation. According to Amnesty International, “There are consistent accounts of the complicity of Soviet personnel through their presence during interrogation under torture.”[21] They did not participate in all cases. However, whether present or not, they directed the interrogation. The Afghan interrogators brought written queries with them, presumably dictated by the Soviets. Only rarely did they compose written queries in the presence of the detainee.

The queries were directed to make detainees admit not only to the crimes for which they were accused but also to specify their accomplices and the organizations to which they allegedly belonged. The detainees were compelled to do so, as two examples show. Qari Mohammad Sharief, a native of Badakhshan, who was an imam in Shakardara in Kohdaman near Kabul, listed more than two hundred persons as his associates in the Islamic Association. Qazi Bismillah Zarif, a native of Panjsher, listed about four hundred persons as his accomplices. The latter had been tortured so much that he listed anyone whose name he knew. He was said to have organized a resistance group in Panjsher. It was not in the interest of the interrogator to establish the true state of affairs. The establishment of the truth, which was likely to lead to the acquittal of the detainee, would deprive the interrogator of the rewards (promotion, cash, trips to the Soviet Union) that he was granted when he made the detainee confess to the crime of which he or she was accused. It was in his interest to make the detainee guilty. Since KhAD intended to suppress the opposition, the arrests were viewed necessary for the establishment of the regime. The detainees then had to be punished, and for this they had to admit to the crimes of which they were accused. This was why only a negligible number of those arrested were acquitted, and the greater number were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment or were executed.

The detainees were charged not for opposition to the invasion but for acts that were considered crimes in the criminal code, the most repressive code there ever was in Afghanistan. This code had been promulgated in 1977 for the suppression of the communists. Now the communists who abrogated the main laws of the period not only did not annul this code but enforced it fully. I was not charged for my attitudes and actions: specifically, that I opposed the invasion and the violation of the basic rights of individuals; that I and others monitored the academic rights of professors and students; and that I maintained a critical attitude toward the regime. Of the twelve charges actually brought against me, the main ones were that I was a founding member of the Rihayee, a Maoist group, and of the nationalistic group Afghan Millat. Two of the charges carried the death penalty. Although it was impossible for my interrogator, Asad Rahmani, to substantiate any of the charges, he persisted, hoping that he might detect some contradictions in my responses that would incriminate me. KhAD did not physically torture me to extract a confession. Had Amnesty International not taken my case (together with those of other professors), KhAD probably would have accorded me more serious punishment than eight years of imprisonment. But more than 90 percent of the detainees were not as lucky as I was.

The unlucky majority were accorded standard punishment. The accused were to confess to the charges brought against them and reveal the names of their accomplices and the organizations to which they allegedly belonged. KhAD also arrested a few foreign journalists who were covering the war, charging them with being counterrevolutionaries “in the service of imperialism…[who have] come to Afghanistan to gather military intelligence on behalf of the diabolical international spy organizations.”[22] The accused would be told that the authorities knew all the things they had done, but that they would receive kinder treatment if they themselves confessed their crimes. When the accused, as was natural, refused to respond positively, then the interrogators would resort to torture. Psychological torture, which had begun with the detention, was common, but that was in the background and was usually insufficient to extract a confession. What was needed was effective, direct physical torture. All types of tortures previously applied in Afghanistan were used, as well as innovations on them, and new Soviet-style tortures were also introduced.

Fariduddin’s description of his torture is typical, though incomplete. “They started cursing me,” he says, “with foul language, then beating me with their fists and clubs. Then they kicked me. Then came the electric shocks. They [tied] wires to my feet, and they strapped my hands and legs to a chair and gave me electric shocks.” Electric shocks were given even to the most sensitive parts of the body: “They also give you electric shocks in your ears, on your head, your mouth and the private parts of your body.” The intensity of the torture was such that not many people could stand up to it. Again in the words of Fariduddin, “No matter how strong you are, you must confess. The only way to stop them is to say, ‘Yes, yes, I am what you say I am. I did what you say I did.” ’ Naturally, Fariduddin’s view of the interrogators is unfavorable: “No matter how much you scream and no matter how much you plead, they do not listen. They are savage human beings. They are worse than wild beasts. Even animals are not that cruel.”[23] The Italian journalist Fausto Bilolavo has vividly described the condition of the victims of torture in his cell: “I was surrounded by human wreckage: people with their backs smashed to pieces, dislocated jaws, twisted nasal septa, their bodies covered with scars of every description and bearing the hallmarks of cigarettes [snuffed] out against their skins.”[24]

Other tortures were applied when the lesser ones did not lead to a confession. Among the main ones were those intended to rob the accused of dignity. Men were threatened with having glass Fanta soft drink bottles forced into their rectums, while women were threatened with having hot eggs forced into their vaginas. Worse still was the situation in which accused males were threatened with having their wives or female relatives sexually assaulted in their presence. It was then that even the strongest of the accused would plead guilty to the charges brought against them. These methods were applied or threatened in more serious cases. In such cases Fariduddin is right in saying that “no matter how strong you are, you must confess.”

The accused were, of course, deprived of a lawyer. If they were illiterate, the interrogator also wrote their responses to written queries. The accused were required only to place their thumbprints on the papers of inquiry. That was not all. Before the file of the accused was sent to the Special Revolutionary Tribunals, KhAD reviewed it. The tribunals were set up following the Soviet invasion. Staffed by party members trained in the Soviet Union, they were not impartial bodies but legalized instruments for suppressing the “counterrevolutionaries” in an effort to vindicate the “revolution,” as Felix Dzerzhinsky had suggested.[25]

When KhAD reviewed the case of the accused for the last time, the role of the Soviet adviser was decisive. It was he who “advised” the type of punishment to be accorded to the accused. Before the actual trial, the adviser penciled in the term of the sentence in the file; another adviser in the tribunal was to see that the sentence was carried out and the penciled recommendation erased. In the Special Revolutionary Tribunal—which, except for certain cases, was held behind closed doors—the appearances of legal procedures were observed. A few days before appearing in the tribunal, defendants were handed an official statement from the state attorney, charging them with the crimes that they had allegedly committed. Again, they had access neither to a lawyer nor the law on the basis of which they had been charged. They were thus denied the basic rights of defense. Illiterate defendants were lucky if someone in their cells could write their defense for them. But condemnation in the tribunal had already been fixed, no matter how convincing the prisoner’s statement of defense and no matter how convincing the defendant was in protesting the charges and the tortures he or she had gone through. The file, which was already determined, was paramount.

The rationale for ruining the life of a person and his or her family and disturbing the community of which they were an organic part could be traced to the view that the “guilty” person was a “counterrevolutionary” who had committed a crime against society and the state that the PDPA claimed to represent. Translating that view into actuality was made possible by the state structure, in which the departments of secret police, public attorney, and special tribunals, dominated apparently by the official party but in fact by the Soviet Union, worked toward the same goal: to realize the domination of the state over individuals. Persistence in such an effort was bound to intensify the existing tension to the point of rocking the society from its foundation.

Prisoners of Pul-e-Charkhi

Nearly 100 inmates were left in Pul-e-Charkhi after the Parcham regime in January 1980 released 2,700 inmates of the Khalqi period. But after the February uprisings the new regime started arresting people. The number was on the increase, and the increase was an indication of opposition to the regime. At the time of my transfer in January 1983, Pul-e-Charkhi had the highest number of prisoners, about thirty thousand, held at any one time.[26] In the new Pul-e-Charkhi prison, before all the cellblocks were ready for use, about 250 inmates were accommodated in each main hall. Each hall was about 320 square meters in space. Between 180 and 200 inmates were quartered in two-level wooden beds in a hall. Probably more than ten thousand additional prisoners were held in detention centers outside Pul-e-Charkhi in Kabul and provincial capitals. The total figure—forty thousand—is terribly excessive for a regime that, as noted, had about 2.5 million people under its direct control. The upkeep of so many persons under strict conditions was bound to be troublesome.

Of the Pul-e-Charkhi inmates, the majority were from the Kabul province. Among them were also members of the official party who had committed nonpolitical crimes. Women inmates were confined in part of cellblock number three and in the detention centers in Sadarat and Shashdarak. Their total number is unknown, but they must have been a sizable number to go on a hunger strike in 1982.[27] The Pul-e-Charkhi inmates ranged in age from twelve to eighty-six years old. Some were blind. Inmates suffering from various illnesses, even tuberculosis, lived with the others. During the two years of 1980 and 1981 alone from hall number 248, in which 250 inmates had been placed, 4 died of tuberculosis.[28] An inmate with leprosy also lived with the others in cellblock number three in 1984. Some inmates were considered mad because “they were indifferent to food and water; many among them would always laugh while others sometimes would weep, and would have waste material in their trousers.” In 1981, in one hall containing 250 inmates, 12 such inmates were officially listed as “mad” but were not released.[29] Pul-e-Charkhi had two clinics, but until 1983 the one in cellblock number two was in reality a resting place for imprisoned party culprits or for inmates who had paid bribes to stay there.

Inmates faced a painful situation regarding the basic necessities of life—food and toilets. While criminal inmates in cellblock number four were allowed to provide their own food, an important concession, political prisoners were dependent on the authorities. There were, however, canteens in almost every block where out-of-date cans of fish from the Soviet Union and a few other basic items of food were sold. This was because the food in the Pul-e-Charkhi was much poorer and more insufficient than the food given to the inmates in the detention centers in Kabul. This in itself would not have been a problem had the food been given purely as food. It was not. The inside of the thick bread baked in the Russian-made bakery was unbaked, but its outer skin had plenty of dust and sand. The cooked rice had plenty of sand, and the watery soup sometimes had pieces of cooked mice and always many flies. Although the food improved as a result of a hunger strike in 1982, in 1983 I saw a piece of cooked mouse in a soup pot. More agonizing was an incident before the hunger strike when some substance was mingled with the food to cause diarrhea. The inmates, who lacked antidiarrhea medication, were permitted to use the toilets—few in number anyway—outside their halls only at fixed times. The inmates thus had to use plastic bags as toilets in their living quarters. This situation—which deteriorated still further after the execution of inmates—resulted on 1 May 1982 in a prisoners’ strike, the greatest in the history of Afghanistan.

The hunger strike was triggered when a teapot of hot water was given to a sick inmate by a friend who worked in the only workshop set up in cellblock number two. A guard beat both of the prisoners—standard punishment for minor infractions. Scuffles followed, but this time the enraged fellow inmates of the sick inmate drove the guard away from their hall and began a hunger strike. By evening, inmates of the whole cellblock number two had joined the strike and locked the iron gates of their halls. No amount of pleading by the authorities—something the officials had never done before—could soften the attitude of the inmates, who issued a statement demanding that their conditions be improved to meet international standards. But the authorities rejected the demands as “illegal.” By then Soviet advisers were in command, and the army had encircled the cellblock. On the fourth day of the strike (24 May 1982), the inmates were overcome by commandos, who cut through the iron bars on the windows. By then, because of hunger, most inmates had grown weak. While most discontinued the strike, others persisted in it for two weeks, despite threats from the authorities. Three inmates—Mohammad Osman, Mohammad Qaseem, and Abdul Rahman—died. Various types of punishment were accorded to the striking inmates throughout the year. For instance, about 600 inmates were forced into a hall in cellblock number 3 where formerly 250 had been quartered.[30]

What most disturbed the inmates and society was the execution of prisoners. The actual number executed in the Khalqi and Parchami periods will never be known. Execution was related to the degree of opposition to the regime. In the Parchami period the inmates sentenced to death were not told of the decision of the court. Those inmates who were sentenced to death were not executed immediately but after a long time. KhAD persuaded a number of such inmates to spy for it, insinuating that their lives might thus be spared, but they were still executed. Periodically, inmates sentenced to death were taken out at night, apparently for purposes other than execution. During the years 1983 and 1984, each week between six hundred and seven hundred inmates would be taken from cellblocks number two and one. Some would be transferred to the cellblocks controlled by Sarindoy, a number would be taken back to the headquarters of KhAD, and the rest would be executed.[31] The cellblocks were soon to be filled with new inmates. The biggest execution operation was the one carried out on 23 December 1983, when from 350 to 400 inmates were picked up for execution from half past five in the evening until one o’clock the next morning, mainly from cellblock number 1, where I had been held. In a little over four years (until May 1984), between 16,500 and 17,000 inmates were taken out for execution to places in Dasht-e-Chamtala beyond Khair Khana to the north of the city.[32]

Inmates’ Responses

How the inmates responded to the strict prison conditions and how they behaved among themselves is a fruitful field for study. Here, though, I can examine only its barest essentials. As noted, during the first phase of detention, prisoners were kept under strictly supervised conditions with the possibility at any moment of physical injury and torture; in addition, inmates depended on the authorities for the necessities of life. Yet among inmates the tendency to defiance was strong. Some despaired and submitted, but the majority stood up for themselves, demonstrating their honor by defying a tyrannical agency that they considered an instrument of an untenable puppet regime. Likewise, the solidarity among inmates of the opposition groups (excluding the Parchamis and Khalqis) was also remarkable despite the differences that existed among the organizations to which they belonged. What hurt the inmates most was the degree of isolation. The greater the isolation and the longer the duration, the stronger the pangs of inner pain. Here, too, inmates battled despair by clinging to hope and the feeling of righteousness in their cause. Inmates felt strong in the company of others, even if they belonged to hostile groups. Even the voices of KhAD’s staff was a source of strength. Their distant voices linked the inmates with a humanity at large with whom they felt unity.

Under the changed conditions of Pul-e-Charkhi, however, the inmates behaved differently. In the overcrowded warrens of that prison, discord and divisiveness gradually took the place of the original solidarity. The inmates quarreled over space and food, since the latter was given to representatives of groups who distributed it among themselves alone. In the matter of food, the educated inmates were generally more conscious about their own health and less concerned about others, while the majority were concerned for others, sharing their meager rations in a spirit of hospitality and community. One wonders whether the opposition to the invasion would have been as strong as it was if the more educated and self-centered Afghans had predominated. A factor of considerable significance in creating the atmosphere of divisiveness was the crystallization of group behavior, particularly ideological behavior. The stricter the party, the more rigid its followers. Inmates with no attachment to a party were more open in their behavior toward others. But KhAD played a big role in creating an atmosphere of suspicion.

To forestall disturbances and to collect intelligence, KhAD directed a network of spies. For this purpose it also planted police officers in the guise of prisoners. The appointed heads (bashis), with their many covert and overt assistants and collaborators, worked for the same purpose. In return for concessions in food and scores of other favors, they not only collected intelligence but also played a role in defaming and intimidating others as well as distributing varieties of homemade narcotics and committing homosexual acts. Teenaged inmates were the special target of homosexual acts, perpetrated not only by them but also by others, including some educated inmates.[33] The strict conditions of prison life as well as these other factors adversely affected all groups of inmates. Not a single group of inmates remained as solid as before, but split into rival or hostile subgroups. Scuffles and quarrels among them became common. More common was the recitation of the Quran, when leaders of prayers ended with a plea to God: “So make us victorious over the infidels.”


1. Amnesty International, Afghanistan, 2, 6. [BACK]

2. Quoted in Bullock, Hitler and Stalin, 59. [BACK]

3. Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 15. [BACK]

4. Sharq, Memoirs, 230. [BACK]

5. Rasul Bie, son of Haji Barat Bie, personal communication, Pul-e-Charkhi, 1983. Rasul Bie said that his efforts to get the gold back failed because the Soviet advisers had a share in it. For details about KhAD, see Kakar, Afghans in the Spring of 1987, 55-64. [BACK]

6. Sharq, Memoirs, 230. [BACK]

7. B. Rubin, quoted in Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 10. [BACK]

8. KhAD officials had told the imprisoned members of Afghan Millat that on Karmal’s order they were going to be released. For a list of the names of members of the imprisoned Afghan Millat, see Amnesty International, Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, 8. [BACK]

9. Personal communication, Pul-e-Charkhi prison, 1985. [BACK]

10. M. Nabi, formerly director of interrogation, personal communication, Pul-e-Charkhi prison, 1986. About twenty elders from Laghman Province, led by Abdul Aziz Kakar, twice met Najibullah as well as Prime Minister Kishtmand to discuss my release. But the officials declined their request, stating that Kakar did not want to budge from his opposition to the Soviets. If they could have released me, they probably would have done so to make the elders grateful. [BACK]

11. Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 14. According to Yves Heller from the Agence France Presse, “KhAD has become not just a state within a state, but the state itself” (quoted in Laber and Rubin, A Nation Is Dying, 77). [BACK]

12. Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 14; Rustar, Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, 9. [BACK]

13. Sharq, Memoirs, 230. [BACK]

14. Ibid. [BACK]

15. Laber and Rubin, A Nation Is Dying, 77. [BACK]

16. K. Matiuddin, quoted in Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 14. [BACK]

17. Fahima, quoted in Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 9. [BACK]

18. M. Rasuli, personal communication, San Diego, 1991. [BACK]

19. Barnet Rubin, quoted in Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 15. [BACK]

20. “Torture in Afghanistan,” Amnesty International Newsletter (London), December 1983, 1. [BACK]

21. Amnesty International, Afghanistan, 1. [BACK]

22. Bilolavo, “One Man’s Sentence,” 13. [BACK]

23. Mackenzie, “Brutal Force,” 15. [BACK]

24. Bilolavo, “One Man’s Sentence,” 12. [BACK]

25. Sharq, Memoirs, 231. [BACK]

26. I arrived at the approximate figure of thirty thousand with the help of inmates who had been to all the cellblocks in Pul-e-Charkhi. It is satisfying to note that another inmate, Mohammad Jan Werr, formerly press director in Baghlan Province, had arrived at almost the same figure by a separate approximation. The difference between our figures was 400, the number of criminal inmates in cellblock number 4. Shafi Ayyar notes that the number of inmates for the cellblocks number 1, 2, and 3 alone was 20,000. Shafi Ayyar was also a prisoner; see Ayyar, Bloody Fists, 7. [BACK]

27. In the Sadarat detention center, women were confined to separate cells in a separate block, adjacent to the block where I had been. Women with babies were also imprisoned. Once the authorities punished them for tying the names of cabinet ministers to the tails of mice—a form of insult. Saliha and Tajwar Kakar were known inmates in 1982. T. Kakar, personal communication, Peshawar, 1988. [BACK]

28. Ayyar, Bloody Fists, 12. [BACK]

29. Ibid., 16. [BACK]

30. Ibid., 20-43. Ayyar had also taken part in the hunger strike. [BACK]

31. A bashi, or head, of cellblock number two, personal communication, Pul-e-Charkhi prison, February 1987. [BACK]

32. A former director of operation of KhAD number five, quoted by an inmate, Pul-e-Charkhi prison, February 1987. [BACK]

33. Homosexuality is, of course, viewed differently in different cultures. Although it is practised among the Afghans, they condemn it on moral and religious grounds. The act is liable to punishment and viewed seriously when it becomes a scandal. For how KhAD abused this ruling and blackmailed a former junior university professor in prison to spy for it, see Rustar Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, 96. Conversely, KhAD condoned the homosexual activity of one of its former agents, who also worked for it in the prison. On homosexual acts in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison, see Ayyar, Bloody Fists, 13, 23. [BACK]

10. Military and Administrative Measures for Consolidation of the Government

Since the Soviet policy was to consolidate the regime, it tried to suppress resistance. For this purpose, among other things, the Soviets tried to build a new army. The Soviets, distrusting the Khalqi-dominated army, began to weaken the hold of the Khalqis over it, first by wresting control of weapons stores from the Khalqi officers. By late March 1980 the Soviet advisers had made the weapons, including tanks, inoperable in all the units that they controlled. Next they collected antitank weapons, antiaircraft rockets, and other heavy weapons from the army. By January 1981 the army in and around Kabul had been disarmed, and the armored units numbers four and fifteen, the pride of the Khalqis, had been removed from their headquarters near Kabul and sent to Muqur and Herat. By March 1980 about three thousand soldiers were left in the city of Kabul. The capital city was thus almost denuded of the army from which the regime felt danger. Only units of the invading army were stationed in and around the city, patrolling it at night.

The regime now set for itself the task of building a new army. But its new policy of recruitment not only failed but also created social tensions of a new kind. The regime reemployed those former officers whom the Khalqi government had dismissed. It also set up short-term courses for training new officers, enrolling its own supporters even if they lacked the proper qualifications. Known to the public as “instant officers” (mansabdar ha-e-mashini), they made the army inefficient. But the basic problem was the shortage of soldiers. It was difficult to recruit new soldiers to compensate for the desertions. As early as April 1980 the regime began taking the recruitment problem in earnest. Unsuccessful in its initial efforts, the regime then called to military service university graduates who had either been exempt or whose recruitment had been postponed. The call-up was accompanied by concessions and bonuses. New enticements were also devised, among them granting university entrance to high school graduates who had passed only a nominal examination; Kabul University suffered academically as a result. Also contained in the new policy of recruitment was the call-up of university professors and government employees under twenty years of age. The age of enlistment was reduced from twenty-one years to twenty, but in practice younger men were also recruited.

The method of recruitment resembled more a system of kidnapping. Since the draftees were unwilling to join, the authorities dispatched army units to search houses for them. Units of the army roamed the cities for that purpose. Conscription also became a purpose of the military expeditions in the countryside. Draft dodgers (askar guraiz) were on the watch, and as soon as word passed to them of an impending expedition, they would head toward the upper parts of the valleys or the nearby hills. This became a source of public concern, the more so since those draft dodgers who were caught were sent directly to the battlefields. It was said that the regime was out to kill young men. The claim was not without foundation, since the regime had authorized its military units to fire on men fleeing conscription. In the summer of 1981 a number of young men, while fleeing from the press gangs, were shot dead in front of the public in the city of Kabul. Fear spread, and senior students in high schools and in the military school in Kabul boycotted classes in August 1981 for a time until the regime assured them that students were by law exempt from military service. Nevertheless, the program of recruitment and conscription failed to work, and the regime called reservists to duties.

Recall of the Reserve Army

The story of the Kabul regime is a story of a regime stubbornly holding on to power in the face of popular opposition. Worse still, it is a story of subordination to the Kremlin masters. Afghan history knows of no such regime in the past. Instead of drawing lessons from the failed policy of recruitment, the rulers embarked on a more unworkable policy of recruitment because their Soviet masters had undertaken such a measure in Russia following the October Revolution.

On 8 September 1981 the regime announced that those Afghans who had completed military service between 1968 and 1978 and who were under fifty years of age should present themselves to the centers of recruitment. Chief of Staff General Baba Jan stated that since the number of “rebels” had increased, it had become necessary to take this measure to make the “revolution” a success and to ensure the security of the country. He also stated that in this way “regional reaction” and “world imperialism” led by “American imperialism” would be defeated.

If the summons had been honored, the total number of the reserve army during that ten-year period would have run well over half a million men. The regime could not have provided supplies for such a number. The Afghan regular army numbered less than 100,000. The authorities knew that because theirs was an unpopular regime, and because the reservists had to support their families in this troubled time, only a fraction of this number would be available. To get that fraction, they were willing to make their regime still more unpopular. To lessen that unpopularity, though, the regime promised the reservists not only various bonuses but also 3,000 afghanis per month, an amount of money far larger than that ever before paid to Afghan soldiers.

Reaction to the recall was swift. On the day after the announcement reservists started leaving cities, and people in Kabul denounced the measures. If they now could not oppose the regime openly, they opposed it by spreading rumors calling for a boycott of the recall. Following the announcement, students either took to the streets or held rallies inside their besieged school compounds, shouting, “You have killed our brothers, and now you want to kill our fathers.” The demonstration was an act of courage because the regime had authorized security men to suppress all opposition, no matter its source.

Armed party activists entered schools, beating the striking students with rifle barrels and dragging them into waiting vans for imprisonment. About two hundred were imprisoned on that day. Students repeated their strikes the next day in the compounds of their besieged schools. Army personnel refrained from molesting the youngsters, but armed Parchamis fired at the legs of the demonstrating students. In the Jamhooriyat Hospital six students were treated for the loss of their legs. A few were killed. The city’s residents were outraged, and resistance groups distributed leaflets urging them to rise against the regime. The next day shopkeepers closed their shops in protest, but later security men forced them to reopen. The regime modified the recall by exempting university and school teachers as well as students. Subsequently, other groups whose work the regime considered essential—such as drivers of state-owned trucks and government officials—were also exempted from the recall.

The regime also released most of the imprisoned students on bail. Meanwhile, it sent delegations of women to students in schools to mollify them, but without success. A student of the Jamhooriyat high school told a delegation that the present situation would continue if the Russian army did not leave. When she was told that the army had come to suppress the “rebels,” her answer was brisk. She said that they were not rebels, that they were real patriots, that “we are also mujahideen, and that we are not afraid of death, and that the government is not a legal government.” Among the imprisoned female students was Miss Kobra, whose courage won for her the admiration of her fellow students when she surprised everyone by answering the interrogator with courageous words. She told him that her name was “War,” that her father’s name was “Pul-e-Charkhi,” and that her aim was “Death.” The full weight of such answers can be appreciated when it is borne in mind that the interrogators could inflict terrible harm without being accountable. A student from the Zarghoona high school, Miss Kobra was fifteen years of age. Palwasha Safi, an imprisoned fellow student, said that Miss Kobra was the most undaunted girl she had ever seen. Her only fear was that of being raped.

The impact of the recall was felt among those who were ordered to present themselves to the recruitment centers. They did not. They had to be summoned, but most of them had fled. Although security forces had blocked the two main routes leading from Kabul to Logar and Ningrahar, during the three days preceding the deadline of the summons, far more than 100,000 men fled the city, either joining the mujahideen or taking refuge in Pakistan. On Friday morning, the market day on the eve of the deadline, the bazaars of Kabul filled with men hurriedly shopping; by midday the bazaars were almost empty. After the reservists fled, Kabul no longer looked like the capital city of a country. I had never seen Kabul like this before. The city had lost nearly 20 percent of its population, and it continued to lose inhabitants fleeing conscription. Meanwhile, the mujahideen increased their activities inside the city, kidnapping party members at night. In certain areas of the city the regime’s men could not go out at night. But during the day the regime’s military units were ubiquitous, searching houses for draft dodgers. The city looked as though it had a dual system of government, one for the day and one for the night. By recalling the reserves, the regime created serious security problems that it had to resolve if it wished to be a government. Once again it used weapons. For over a week near the end of September, government forces furiously shelled the hilly districts from which the mujahideen were penetrating the city.

Contrary to the intention of the regime, the recall of the reserves strengthened the mujahideen. Not far from the city they set up centers to receive the fleeing reserves, who were taken in buses to Pakistan. Moreover, this measure, like many previous measures, discredited the regime. Rumors soon circulated that because of the regime’s unpopularity, the Soviets had decided to replace Karmal through a coup. To combat such rumors, the dispirited party activists gave out that the Soviets had decided to withdraw their forces, but before that could happen the government must have a strong army of its own. This was, however, not possible. Despite nearly desperate exertions, by mid-October the regime had recruited perhaps five thousand men. Only in Herat did many reservists present themselves to the recruitment centers. They did so to obtain weapons; when they had the weapons in hand, they defected, a practice that had become common.

Military Posts

Along with the efforts to build up the regular army, the regime tried to establish military posts and organize militias. The regime followed this policy after its efforts to build up the army failed. In this it was successful. Since the calling of tribal militias was a tradition, the governments in the past had made extensive use of it. Since the Afghans are good marksmen, the militias were equal, if not superior, to the regular army. But the success of the policy depended on the standing of the rulers. The Karmal regime could not count on the loyalty of the militia. It had to buy it for money.

The regime set up military posts first around provincial capitals and then in areas of military significance in the countryside. The military posts were manned by mercenaries whom the regime recruited from among the poor people. Each was paid 3,000 afghanis and additional bonuses. When these mercenaries searched houses, they also took away valuables. By the standard of the time and by comparison with the pay of government employees, the incomes of the mercenaries were high. Some were even given government posts. The militiamen were equipped with sufficient weapons, including long-range guns. They fought better than did the unreliable soldiers, who sympathized with the mujahideen. The militiamen were safe in their posts, which were surrounded by barbed wire and minefields. But the posts were defensive. The increase in their number meant the mining of more areas, which, along with mines planted around military garrisons or dropped from the air, long remained a deadly legacy of the Soviet invasion.

The mujahideen were unable to overcome the military posts by frontal assault. They had to infiltrate them to effect their surrender. In this way they would dismantle the posts, but the regime would replace them with new ones. Since the militiamen in the posts were unable to move about, the regime supplied them by either helicopters or armored units. The militia posts were also unable to influence the districts where they were stationed. Their presence in the midst of the hostile rural people was merely an odious symbol of the regime. When the mujahideen attacked that symbol, the militiamen played havoc with their guns on the villages. They were so accurate in shelling that they could hit a small target miles away. I will never forget the wailing of a father, Ali Mohammad, whose only son was hit fatally when he was going shopping from the village of Deva to the town of Alishang in Laghman. Farming and other activities—weddings, funerals, and the like—became hazardous. In the villages and towns around Mihtarlam, the provincial capital of Laghman, villagers could neither put on the lights at night nor go from village to village for fear of being fired at from the nearby posts. They begged the mujahideen to leave their villages or not to fire at the posts. A rift was thus created between the villagers and the mujahideen. This was a victory for the regime. A network of military posts throughout the country would have enabled the regime to pacify the land, but the government was, of course, unable to create such a system.

Relations with Frontier Tribes

Unable to overcome by force the frontier tribes bordering on Pakistan, the regime tried to penetrate them by negotiating with them on security matters and setting up militia posts in their territories, giving them weapons and money in return. Had the policy been successful, it would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for the Peshawar-based resistance groups to use these territories as conduits for mujahideen and weapons.

In the frontier province of Paktia the regime encountered a difficulty in connection with the military posts. Before September 1980 it had set up in the frontier areas a number of military posts garrisoned by men from different tribes but officered and supervised by the Khalqis of the same area. The Parchamis could not continue this system. Being opposed to the Parchami regime, the Khalqis acted independently, although the regime gave them money and weapons. Finding this intolerable, the regime stopped paying the posts and demanded that their weapons be returned. The militiamen, as well as the Khalqis, declined, arguing that by taking up arms against their own tribes, they had made them their enemies, and now they had to have the weapons to protect themselves.

The regime commissioned Fayz Mohammad, minister of tribal affairs, to implement the new policy with the frontier tribes of the province of Paktia. Well-versed in tribal customs, he was suited for the task. A Massed Pashtun from across the border in Pakistan and educated in Kabul and the Soviet Union, Mohammad had served the interests of the Paktia tribes when he was minister of interior in the government of President Daoud. Daoud had raised Fayz Mohammad to high state positions for his leading role in helping to overthrow the monarchy. Now, having achieved some success with the tribes of Sayyed Karam and Khost, Fayz Mohammad tried to negotiate a settlement with the tribe of Zadran, which had, since spring 1979, blocked the Sitta Kandow Pass between the garrisons of Khost and Gardez. Had the regime been successful in negotiating with this tribe, it might have achieved further successes in the region, but on one of the missions a tribal police force, the arobaki, killed Mohammad in the Mizzi territory after he had negotiated a settlement with elders of the Zadran tribe. The regime ignored the killing of its minister. However, it scattered leaflets over Paktia calling the act a disgrace, a direct contravention of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of behavior. But in the tribe’s view Fayz Mohammad had abandoned Pashtunwali when he sided with the invaders and distributed money. Also, Fayz Mohammad had neither been invited nor sought admittance or asylum (ninawatay) to the Mizzi section where he was killed. The code therefore did not apply.[1]

As among other tribes of Paktia, so among the Zadrans the arobaki, made up of young men of important families (kahole), is authorized to undo a settlement that it believes its elders have negotiated against the interests of the tribe. As it maintains other service groups—mullas, shepherds, and millers—the tribe maintains the arobaki to enforce the decisions of jirgas and a host of other decisions affecting the community. Supported by the community, the arobaki is a force against disorder. Among these groups, membership in the arobaki is prestigious, and its members sometimes rise to higher positions; for instance, Babrak Zadran became elder of the whole tribe and military general in the reign of King Mohammad Nadir.[2] In the present case, the “interest” of the tribe was to fight the invaders and their client regime, a decision reached by a tribal jirga after the Soviet invasion. It also had decided “to bury their differences” until the invaders had been pushed back. However, by offering money and weapons Fayz Mohammad had persuaded the heads of the tribe to maintain security in their region and to leave the Sitta Kandow Pass open. Had this agreement been implemented, the regime would probably have influenced the whole region. These terms were to be regarded as a model of negotiations with other tribes as well.

A similar deal had been made with a certain Haji Kandahari (Ahmadkhel), who had retained a large number of the militia of the Zazay tribe. Through him, the regime had distributed money among his tribe, as it had among the major Mangal tribe. By September 1981 the regime had made “peace” with the “tribes” of Paktia. It is not known which tribes these were. Presumably they were Zazays and Mangal, since they had provided the regime with a militia that had taken part in operations against the Wardak tribe. In addition, the regime was successful with these tribes in part because of their estrangement from the mawlawis of the Islamic Revolution, who had caused the execution of some of their kinsmen on the grounds that they had become renegade and had collaborated with the regime. The regime had paid them money in return for their remaining quiet, an arrangement that enabled the regime to send troops to other areas. The mujahideen and the people of Kabul grumbled about this point. But peace or no peace, as soon as military units of the Soviets or of the regime appeared in Paktia, the tribes turned against them. Haji Kandahari turned against the regime when such forces appeared in the region in November 1981. The Soviets and the regime undertook the expedition to control this area, through which passed the shortest route from the border to Kabul. This strategy clashed with the interests of the tribe—hence the estrangement of Haji Kandahari.

Toward the east of the Zazay tribal territory is the territory of the Khugianay tribe in the province of Ningrahar, divided among the three main divisions of Wazir, Kharbun, and Sherzad. The latter group (the most important division of the tribe) suffered from internal conflict between the two principal families, that of Malik Qays (who died at the age of 120 before 1978) and Mohammad Jan; this conflict had resulted in the killing of more than 150 persons from both sides. The Kabul regime tried to capitalize on this difference by resorting to the same tactics as it had with the Zadrans. It succeeded in persuading the Malik Qays faction to rule over the district as district governor (uluswal) in return for money and weapons, but the ploy did not work. The Malik Qays faction was interested in weapons and money with a view to opposing the regime later. Realizing this, the regime declined to meet the terms of the bargain. This move of the Malik Qays faction, led at the time by Aman Beg, was tactical: during a meeting in Peshawar, the two rival factions had already agreed to leave their enmity aside and fight the invaders. The opposition of Malik Mohammad Jan to the communists was a known fact. The Khalqi regime had imprisoned some of his sons and nephews who were serving the government as military officers and had bombed his locality; he then took refuge in the mountains and threatened retaliation unless the prisoners were released and compensation (nagha) paid for the damage wrought by the bombing. Unwilling to provoke the Khugianays further, Hafizullah Amin acquiesced to his demands. He also paid 50,000 afghanis as a compensation for Mohammad Jan’s dog, which had been killed in the bombing—an exorbitant sum for a dog, especially since the government’s hands were stained with the blood of thousands of human beings.

The relationship of the regime with the Khugianays is further explained by a story concerning Malik Khair Mohammad and others, who had conspired in the killing of seventy-two KhAD personnel from the provincial capital of Jalalabad. Apparently the KhAD personnel had been invited for the purpose of winning over the recalcitrant tribe, but when they arrived in the Khugianay territory, the Khugianays killed them. Only their chief managed to escape alive. The date is not known, but it falls within the scope of this study. In 1985 certain men posing as representatives of the Khugianay tribe attended the jirgas that the regime held in Kabul, but they carried no influence with the tribe and could not even live with their own tribesmen. They lived in the city of Jalalabad, as did many others like them. The Khugianays were also under the influence of Afghan Millat and of the Islamic Hizb, led by Mawlawi Mohammad Yunus Khalis, himself a Khugianay.

The significance of the Shinwar tribe can be understood from the fact that one of its four main divisions, Ali Sher Khan Khel, lives across the border in Pakistan. For the Shinwar tribesmen the border is not a border, because many routes pass through their territory to Pakistan. Among the Shinwars almost the whole Sangokhel (also Sunkhel) section had turned Khalqi. The man responsible for this conversion was Hafizullah Amin, who, as principal of the boarding schools of Teachers’ Training and Ibn-e-Sena in Kabul, had influenced the students who had come from that valley. Throughout the district (uluswali) of Shinwar, Nazyan alone had a high school, which the government had opened in the 1950s to influence the major Afriday tribe beyond the border in Pakistan. The Nazyan Valley stretches over to the Afriday land in Pakistan. During the Khalqi period, the educated elements of Nazyan, whether in the military or civilian departments, were given high government positions. Any educated and skilled person from among the inhabitants of Nazyan could benefit from the regime. Most inhabitants of the infertile valley of Nazyan became well off. They pretended to be more communist than the communists themselves. This their tribesmen could not tolerate.

After the invasion the tribe held consultations. The mujahideen also participated, but they were obliged to act within the tribal code. The gathering passed a resolution condemning the Sangokhel section to death. Led by the noncommunist Sangokhel, the Shinwar tribesmen massacred the communists, looted their property, and burned their houses. Although the mob could not massacre all, no communist remained in Nazyan. A considerable number fled to Jalalabad and informed Shamladar, the Khalqi governor, of the incident. The governor—who was from Nazyan and who was at one time a teacher of the school and responsible for the spread of communism there—retaliated. For days many villages in Shinwar were bombed and many people killed. The Nazyan communists became refugees in their own land. Those among them who were fit for duty were enlisted in the militia to maintain the security of Jalalabad. Others settled in Ghani Khel or were employed in the Ningrahar Valley project. From time to time some of them acted as if they were the representatives of the tribe, giving proregime interviews, especially on television.

Among the major Mohmand tribe the institution of eldership (khani) has developed to a high degree, partly because of the issue of Pashtunistan, which brought the elders subsidies, and also because of the large tracts of land certain families possessed. The growing of opium poppies there had also enriched some of the tribespeople. This is not to suggest that all in the tribe were well off or that the tribe had retained its traditional significance. The bulk of the tribespeople lying on both sides of the Durand Line were poor. In the period under discussion, three groups of elders were important among the Mohmands: the khans of Ghoshta, the khans of Atamarkhel, and the descendants of the late Haji Mohammad Hassan Khan of Kama. The khans of Girdab and of Lalpura were no longer significant. To block the routes that pass through Mohmand to Peshawar, military units of the invading army as well as of the Kabul regime descended on their territory and, after some setbacks, established military posts there. The khans crossed the border and, living either with their kin in the border area or in Peshawar itself, took up the cause of resistance. Among them, particularly among the descendants of Haji Hassan Khan, many are educated, and Kama had been a town with a number of public libraries confiscated by the Khalqis. One khan, Pir Dost Atamarkhel, finding life in Peshawar difficult because of the association of his rival peers (turboors) with the resistance groups, went over to the side of the regime and in 1985 attended the jirgas in Kabul. But he could not organize either a militia or live with his kinsmen in Afghanistan. In the past Afghan rulers exploited the traditional rivalry (turboori) that existed (and still exists) among elders of the Pashtun tribes to their advantage. Even the British exploited this situation with some success after they invaded Afghanistan twice in the last century. But the Kabul regime could not make headway among the Mohmand or other tribes, although Karmal gave one of his daughters in marriage to an Afriday tribesman apparently for that purpose.

Administrative Measures

In the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, no clear line divided the government and the PDPA. Both had elaborate structures, and the party was supreme. Officially this was the only legal party; hence, there was no room for opposition to work for change without bloodshed. Like any other Leninist party, the PDPA was hierarchical in structure, organized on the principle of “democratic centralism,” a contradictory expression for a system that was, in practice, centralist but not democratic. Local decisions were made (often the party merely implemented instructions it received from Moscow) in the party politburo, which was composed of eleven leading members and headed by the general secretary, who, in the period under discussion, was Babrak Karmal. This office, the highest in the party, in theory was elective. In fact, it was not.

As noted, Babrak Karmal was raised to this position not by members of the politburo, as he should have been, but by the Kremlin rulers. Also, the term of the office of the general secretary was not fixed or limited, depending instead on the goodwill of the Kremlin rulers. Likewise, the term of membership in the politburo and the central committee was not fixed. Members could stay on so long as they enjoyed the support of the authorities. Membership was then the result more of partisanship than of qualification. The decisions of the politburo, which acted as the governing body of the party, were discussed in the central committee, which acted as parliament of the party. A much fuller assembly of the central committee, the plenum, met from time to time to discuss issues of special significance. The decisions reached in these assemblies were channeled to the lower cells of the party. The reverse was rarely the case. The supremacy of the PDPA over the government, state, and society was laid down by the constitution, which called it “the leading and guiding force of society and the state.” If these words were meant seriously, then the party was assigned an impossible task.

Until June 1981, Babrak Karmal was the general secretary of the party, president of the Revolutionary Council, president of the Council of Ministers, and commander-in-chief of the army, thus officially wielding the highest party and government positions. He appeared to be all-powerful, but in fact he was a yes man. In June 1981 the sixth plenum of the party relieved him of the post of prime minister, conferring it on Sultan Ali Kishtmand, a member of the politburo. Seen in the context of the rivalry between the two factions, Kishtmand’s promotion also strengthened Karmal’s position, but it created problems for the regime. Although he had a faction of his own, Kishtmand was pro-Karmal, and this was considered more important in view of the intraparty squabble, which had made it difficult for Karmal to run the administration. Before this point is discussed, it is necessary to say why Kishtmand was promoted to the post and to discuss its implications.

Kishtmand, one of Moscow’s yes men, had established a special relationship with Soviet advisers. Subsequently, two of his daughters married Russians in Moscow. Kishtmand was a graduate of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Kabul and experienced in administrative and planning affairs. He was known to be a Hazara, the third largest ethnic group. As a member of a minority group, he was sympathetic to minorities as well as to Sitam-e-Milli, whose founder, Tahir Badakhshi, was his brother-in-law.

More important, Kishtmand’s promotion reflected a new policy. The Soviet authorities and party leaders were worried about the success of the mujahideen and the failure of their own pacification programs. In particular, politburo members worried about their future, especially if they lost the shield of the Soviet army. They then embarked on a new policy, the essence of which was to embroil ethnic groups among themselves: the war of the people against the PDPA and the invaders would be transformed into a war of the people against the people. The shift was intended to weaken the basis of the resistance, that is, national solidarity, and prepare the ground for socialism. The Soviet ambassador Ahmad Fikrat J. Tabeyev reportedly initiated the policy. Kishtmand was to work with politburo comrades, each of whom was assigned a task in making the policy work. In Samara-e-Dosti (Fruit of Friendship), a booklet issued for the benefit of party comrades, Kishtmand had dwelt on the issue. He had stated how the non-Pashtun ethnic minorities could be made oversensitive to each other and how, at the same time, they could be persuaded to form an anti-Pashtun front. Politburo members and others were made responsible for the affairs of ethnic groups. Each was also to supervise contingents of militias of the ethnic group assigned to him. To implement the policy, they earmarked billions of afghanis free from state audit. In the name of “international socialism,” Pashtun and non-Pashtun members of politburo alike undertook to make the policy a success. It was to be implemented through the new Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Nationalities, which replaced the former Ministry of Frontiers.[3] These persons deafened the Afghans by preaching that they toiled for the welfare of toilers, but in actuality, and on instruction from the Soviets, they devised ways and means to embroil the toilers in wars of hatred among themselves so that they themselves could stay in power. Having already sacrificed national sovereignty, they now showed that they were more loyal to socialism than to their own people or the land of their birth.

Kishtmand was known for his opposition to the Khalqis, who had tortured him while he was imprisoned in 1978. His family also shared Kishtmand’s views, and one of his brothers, Asadullah Kishtmand, a newspaper editor, let a remark be published about Taraki that likened him to Dracula. The paper also called the Pashtuns “the uncultured majority” (aksaryat-e-bayfarhang). Although Asadullah Kishtmand was demoted because of these remarks, the Khalqis and Pashtuns were not satisfied. The remark was, of course, not valid, since every group of people has a culture, since “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by men as a member of society.”[4] As the creators of Pashtunwali, their complex social code, the Pashtuns are conspicuous among their ethnic neighbors in having a distinctive culture. But as a pretext for an anti-Amin campaign, and under the shadow of Soviet might, the Kishtmands and others had started an anti-Pashtun campaign. They frequently called Amin and his cohort “fascists.” The promotion of Kishtmand was also important because it would placate the Shi’ite Hazaras and improve relations with the Khomeini government of Iran. It was hoped that both would be pleased to see an Afghan Shi’a as prime minister of the country for the first time in its history. But Kishtmand had liabilities, and these outweighed his assets.

Although it was not generally known, Kishtmand was not a full-fledged Hazara, although for political reasons he had associated himself with them. He was in fact a Gadee, a mixture of the Hazaras and other low-ranking people of unknown origin; he was born in the Qala-e-Sultan village close to Unchi-e-Bagbanan in the Chardihi basin. Whether his ancestors lived in the Hazarajat proper is unknown, but the Gadees themselves, a small group, lived in the villages of Chardi. Their neighbors held the Gadees in low esteem. The Gadees were Isma’ili Shi’as, or the Seveners, as distinct from the main group of the Shi’as, or the Twelvers, who regarded the former as Ghalis or Ghalatis, that is, those who either “exaggerate” in the matter of religion or are on the “wrong” pathway. At no time had the Gadees played a role in national politics. The Isma’ilis of the northeastern part of the country in Badakhshan, as well as in Kahmard and Saighan, were also a minority living in areas surrounded by their Sunni neighbors. Under these circumstances, it was unlikely that Kishtmand could play an important role.

Kishtmand’s promotion to the office of prime minister provoked the conservative, traditionalist Sunni Muslims: contrary to traditional and religious practices, an Isma’ili Gadee had become prime minister. In addition, Kishtmand and others were known to be atheists and communists, although they behaved as if they were Muslims. During the constitutional monarchy, when Kishtmand campaigned for a seat in parliament, he omitted the word “Ali” from his name in the election brochures. He did so because “Ali” represented Shi’ism, and he was concerned that, if he were so identified, the Sunnis of the Chardihi constituency would not elect him; and, indeed, he was not elected. While he was prime minister, even his own Gadees boycotted him.

Kishtmand’s promotion alarmed educated Afghans for a different reason. They were alarmed because of the Soviet design on northern Afghanistan, a relatively underpopulated region but potentially rich both agriculturally and industrially. Strategically it is also significant, because it is separated from the rest of the country by the Hindu Kush and also because it is close to Central Asia. The alarm was not unfounded. In 1987 the scheme for northern and southern Afghanistan was implemented: under this plan a deputy prime minister, along with sixteen deputy ministers for the nine provinces in northern Afghanistan, began to work in Mazar, the capital city of the province of Balkh.[5] Before that, Kabul had allowed the provincial governments as well as businessmen of the area to deal with the Soviet Central Asian Republics directly, a unique concession. Among the educated minority groups of this region, the sectarian tendency was strong; for instance, the Sitamis come from this area.

The Afghans feared that an increase in the number of central Asians in Kabul, the stress of the ethnic minority issue, and the promotion of Kishtmand meant the revival of Russia’s design on northern Afghanistan. They feared that through the importation of central Asians and the cooperation of Parchamis and Afghan sectarians, the Soviet Union intended to carve out a state in northern Afghanistan with a view to making it part of its empire. They also feared that with the presence of such surrogates the Soviets now intended to implement their design, as they had invaded the country when the Parcham faction provided them a pretext. Thus, the promotion of Kishtmand made the regime more unpopular, despite the view that the Soviet model of nationalities, even if applied, would not work in Afghanistan since the Afghans were socially and linguistically more integrated than were the inhabitants of the neighboring lands. Besides, the Soviet nationalities of the Central Asian Republics had been more oppressed than their brethren in Afghanistan. The émigrés from these republics had spread stories of Soviet atrocities in northern Afghanistan. This was why the central Asians who worked in Afghanistan sympathized with the mujahideen. For this reason, the Soviets recalled the approximately 32,000 troops they had sent from the Central Asian Republics into Afghanistan.[6] Still, a scheme of such magnitude was bound to have some ugly consequences.

Karmal’s difficulty with the Khalqi-dominated army has already been described. His position in the civil administration was also unenviable. The source of the troubles was the party rift, which had been accentuated by the purges of the rival faction each time the other faction was dominant. Following the invasion, it was the turn of the Parchamis. The regime tried to disarm the Khalqis while it armed its own Parchamis. This made the Khalqis vulnerable to terroristic attacks by mujahideen. Also, the Khalqis were dismissed from party and government positions or demoted. Since there is no civil service system in Afghanistan, each time a new regime comes to power new officials are employed in place of the old ones. After the communist coup, the overhaul became more general than at any time before. Party members had to have government positions even if it was at the expense of expertise. This attitude was further reinforced by the view that since the state was an instrument in the hands of the ruling class, the vanguard of the workers—that is, party members—must steer it to their own benefit: hence the justification of the view that the state should be in the hands of party members. The state was then considered sacrosanct, a monopoly of the communists. In practice this attitude meant the holding of official positions by unqualified party members.

After its rise to power, the regime tried to promote Parchamis to government positions and to remove the Khalqi officials from their posts. This proved difficult because qualified personnel were in short supply and because the regime needed unity in the party. Amin’s associates were dismissed following the invasion. But the regime needed to promote its own trusted Parchamis to high positions. In September 1980 the regime ordered the removal of about eighty government officials, among them a number of departmental chiefs, judges, and the mayor of Kabul; almost all were Khalqis. But the regime could not make such changes on a large scale. The Khalqis complained to the Soviet ambassador that the move was intended to undermine the unity of the party. They carried on their duties as usual, turning away the new officials who had come to occupy their posts. On instruction from the ambassador, the regime acquiesced. However, the regime removed the Khalqi officials one by one. But the Khalqis had to have a haven in this game of survival.

Since the invasion the Ministry of Internal Affairs, headed by Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoy, had become a haven for those Khalqi officials whom the regime had dismissed from other departments. The ministry assumed a feature distinct from all other ministries. Its top civil officials, as well as police officers and ordinary police, were almost all Khalqis, and almost all were from Paktia, the stronghold of the Khalqis. In addition, they were almost all Pashtuns and opposed to the Parchamis. The ministry functioned as a counterweight to KhAD, in which the Dari-speaking elements, mainly from the city of Kabul and Parwan, outnumbered all others. The two ministries were more rivals than cohesive organs of the regime.

In 1981 I observed that the Khalqi officials in the Ministry of Interior criticized Karmal and the Parchamis to the point of diatribe, even in the presence of strangers. Since KhAD was ruthless to the opponents of the regime, the Khalqis’ attitude was amazing. But they felt safe since Gulabzoy, until then, had opposed KhAD setting up its committees in that ministry, whereas in all other government departments it had set up a network of committees. In addition, the ministry had a strong police force (Sarindoy) of its own, armed with tanks, helicopters, and other sophisticated weapons, which enabled it to take part in military operations. Finally, the ministry was financed by Moscow. All this meant that it had such an independent status that even Karmal could not influence it. It was more like a state within a state. Gulabzoy reportedly called it “the ministry of Gulabzoy.” Since the Khalqis dominated the army and Sarindoy, and since the Khalqis, although divided, were more numerous than the Parchamis, Gulabzoy considered himself equal to Karmal.

A Zadran Pashtun from Paktia, Gulabzoy was by profession a tank commander. Before the communist coup he was a noncommissioned officer. His part in the communist coup was inconspicuous, since at a critical moment he had failed to perform his duty. He had been recruited to the party by Hafizullah Amin, of whom he was an associate until the latter’s relation with Taraki became strained. He then turned against Amin and became one of the Gang of Four described earlier; together with Asadullah Sarwari and Aslam Watanjar, he played a part in the downfall of Amin as part of the invading forces: hence his endearment to the Soviets, and hence also his rivalry with Karmal. Confident that the latter could not harm him, Gulabzoy acted independently, building a stronghold for himself as Karmal had built a stronghold in KhAD. Being a daring person, Gulabzoy patrolled the city at night, often without bodyguards. No other leader of either the Parchami or the Khalqi factions had the courage to do so.

Gulabzoy said that since Moscow had appointed both himself and Karmal to their posts, Karmal could not remove him. Gulabzoy thus acted without reference to Karmal, especially after Sarwari had been banished to Mongolia as ambassador. Gulabzoy looked on himself as his successor, organizing the human resources at his disposal. He proved to be skillful in this job. Since the Khalqis had to struggle against so many odds, this organizational task was massive. Gulabzoy made a significant contribution to his faction since KhAD had the power and the means to suppress the Khalqis much as the Khalqis had suppressed the Parchamis in 1978. In the tradition of the Afghans, he was ambitious, hoping to fill the vacuum at the top when Karmal had failed to do so. But such an outcome was unlikely. Barely literate, Gulabzoy had no knowledge of ideology. Often drunk, like General Abdul Qadir, Gulabzoy was impolitic, more at home using muscle than brain. Also, within his own Khalqi faction the Amin group thought little of him, looking instead on Shah Wali and Abdul Karim Meesaq as its leaders.


1. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 263. [BACK]

2. Ibid., 93, 98, 146, 151, 159. [BACK]

3. For details, see Sharq, Memoirs, 211-19. To make sure that the scheme was real, on 3 March 1993 I held a telephone conversation with the author, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sharq, who now lives in Laguna Hills, California. He stuck to the words in his book on the subject and, further, disclosed for the first time the names of those “who, to defeat the mujahideen, split Afghanistan, and consolidate the Soviet order in Afghanistan, had undertaken to implement the scheme.” He named the following:

Najibullah and Sulaiman Laweq, for the Pashtun “nationality”;
Babrak Karmal, Najmuddin Kawyani, and Farid Mazdak, for the Tajik ``nationality'';
Sultan Ali Kishtmand and Nabi Zadah, for the Hazara ``nationality'';
Sayyed Ikram Paigeer and Abdur Rashid Dostum, for the Uzbek and Turkomen ``nationality'';
Sattar Purduli, for the Baluch “nationality.”

Under the Ministry of Tribes, Ministry of Nationalities, and later under a separate administration for northern Afghanistan, the Central Council for the Hazara Nationality, and the Central Council for Nomads, these men spent billions of afghanis free of state audit “to embroil the Pashtuns with the Tajiks, and the Uzbeks and the Hazaras with the Pashtuns.” They had a similar program for embroiling the Sunnis with the Shi’as. Sharq, Memoirs, 212. [BACK]

4. E. B. Taylor, quoted in Schusky and Culbert, Understanding Culture, 35. [BACK]

5. Sharq, Memoirs, 233. This reference is in the errata to the volume. [BACK]

6. Seeing no foreign soldiers fighting them but only the Afghans defending their land, the Central Asian soldiers of the Soviet Union not only did not war with the mujahideen but joined them. A group that had done so told them, “Since you fight well, go on fighting. We are with you. You should be grateful that you are free. Our fathers were also free. The Russians who invaded your land, had also invaded our fatherland. If you didn’t fight, your fatherland would become like our fatherland, and you would become as slaves as we have become. The Russians are in great difficulty; don’t shun resisting them” (Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 709-12). [BACK]

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]

12. Elimination of Opponents by Nonmilitary Means

One result of the Soviet invasion was the creation of a situation in which the parties involved in the war justified the destruction of life for the slightest of reasons. The Afghans, especially those involved in politics, did not look on life as sacred; indeed, after the communist coup they made the elimination of opponents a part of their policies. Neither side found it difficult to rationalize their stand. The Kabul regime killed in the name of society, the state, the people, and the “revolution”; the mujahideen killed in the name of Islam and the motherland as well as familial and national honor.

In the regime’s view, counterrevolutionaries had to be eliminated in order to make society “free of the exploitation of man by man.” It did not consider that no one has ever been able to organize such a society. At a public meeting held in the city of Taluqan in the province of Takhar, a Pashtun resident told Deputy Premier Majid Sarbiland that the process of creating such a “just society” might require the death of the people of Taluqan. In the summer of 1981 Sarbiland had gone to Taluqan to address a meeting as part of the campaign to convince people of the good intentions of the regime to create a “just society.” The utterances were a masquerade to establish the rule of a group of people whom the Soviets had raised to power. Morality had lost its meaning; those in power acted as if might did indeed make right.

The violence that the Soviets and their compliant Afghans perpetrated could not remain unchallenged by a people whose value system demands that they take revenge. The Afghans also considered it their right to use violence since the Soviets had left no alternative to change the regime they had imposed. The resulting violence brought forth the impulse for destruction “by all sides, on all sides.” Hence, the psychology of killing permeated not only the state but the society as well. Human life, that priceless valuable, was cheapened to an unprecedented degree not only on the battlefields but also in ordinary circumstances. It is impossible to absolve those who committed a crime against an unprovoked people by imposing a war on them inside the boundaries of their own fatherland.

“What is fundamental about violence in human affairs is that a person is violated.” “A person is violated” when he or she is deprived of rights, “autonomy,” dignity, or life.[1] Here we are concerned with the deprivation of life by means other than war for essentially political purposes. Such deprivation was, of course, not something new, since, like so many others, the Afghan society and state were violent even before the invasion. However, the violence perpetrated after the various coups, and particularly after the Soviet invasion, was of such scope, degree, and intensity that it had no parallel in Afghan history. Indeed, the invasion was a violation of Afghans on a national scale.

The first person to lose his life to terrorism was the editor of the weekly Minhajuddin Gaheez, killed by a leftist radical in 1972. Until then, in the long reign of the former king Mohammad Zahir, the Afghans lived in an atmosphere free of terrorism, although before the constitutional decade the state had violated human rights, particularly the rights of prisoners. It was after the overthrow of the king that official terrorism took the lives of many people.

Those responsible for official terrorism were the Parchamis who dominated the new republic. Among the victims was the former prime minister Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, killed in a prison cell by the Parchamis; specifically, Fayz Mohammad, the minister of the interior, and Samad Azhar, the chief of the Investigation Commission, were said to have been responsible for the killing. Toward the end of the republic, waves of terrorism and counterterrorism went hand in hand, the latter committed by radical Islamists against the leftists and government officials. Among the known victims of these waves were Ali Ahmad Khurram, the minister of planning, and Mier Akbar Khybar, the number two leader and ideologue of the Parchami faction, whose killing triggered the communist coup in 1978. Their deaths, which had far-reaching consequences, were the work of the KGB. Khurram had, on the instruction of President Daoud, started to distance Afghanistan from the Soviet Union; he was soon killed by a member of the PDPA, Marjan. Khybar was killed for his opposition to the PDPA’s taking of power; he did not believe that the PDPA would be able to rule the country even if it succeeded in taking power.[2] Thereafter, first the rule of the Khalqis and then that of the Parchamis were reigns of terror, and the number of Afghans killed as counterrevolutionaries is beyond calculation. Counterterrorism likewise became widespread.

The revolutionary method of Stalinesque Russian communism, the overzealousness of Islamists, and the revenge-seeking spirit of Afghans made life in Afghanistan an inferno. It is impossible to detail what happened even in noncombatant places in these turbulent years. Indeed, it was hazardous for a person simply to collect information about it. This means that posterity will not know how the society of the time worked, or failed to work. Rumors will take the place of history, and posterity will have a distorted view of this period. What is described here is an incomplete picture of how the mujahideen eliminated the Soviet Afghan surrogates through terroristic tactics, and how the latter did the same against both the mujahideen and themselves.

After the invasion religious scholars issued fatwas saying that since members of the official party were atheists and the associates of infidels, they were to be killed. Armed with moral and religious justification, the mujahideen and others went on with killing the Parchamis and Khalqis. Even without such an injunction the mujahideen considered it necessary to perpetrate counterterrorism, since they were unable to carry out frontal assaults on the enemy; they were therefore determined to eliminate those whom they called “the internal Russians.” This may explain why, following the invasion, the mujahideen soon either killed the Soviet surrogates in the countryside or drove them to cities.

Those who had been associated with both the Khalqi and Parchami regimes also suffered, partly because the distinction between them and the communists was blurred. In addition, the official party had covert members, and KhAD had planted its agents in the ranks of the mujahideen. Solid evidence was not considered essential for acting on such a fundamental point: circumstantial evidence and suspicion were enough for taking life. In addition, the people turned against the regime because of its double face: the repressive one it presented to the Afghans, and the subservient one it presented to the Russians.

Alienation of the Pdpa

In March 1982 I conducted an informal survey of my educated acquaintances in the city of Kabul, concluding that the dominant view was that, since party members were unwilling to abandon their servitude to the Russians, they deserved to be eliminated. The public corroborated this view by their attitude. In the first place, the public excommunicated party members, in particular the Parchamis. People generally would not rent them houses and also refrained from either giving them or accepting from them daughters in marriage. In general, party members were ostracized not only by friends and acquaintances but in some cases even by members of their own families. In the second place, when party members became the target of terroristic attacks, people acted as if nothing had happened. I never heard of any person volunteering information to the police on the subject, although it was the custom to cooperate with the police on other crimes, particularly murder. Terrorists thus could not be caught on the spot. Some were caught later, but only as a result of extensive efforts by KhAD.

When party members or collaborators were killed in provincial cities, notices were served barring mullas or religious functionaries from burying the dead in accord with the rituals of Islam. Such orders were obeyed. So, contrary to custom and the injunction of Islam, the dead bodies of members of the official party as well as of collaborators either lay for days without being buried or were buried without ritual. In Kabul, because of fear of terroristic attacks and because of public pressure, most high-ranking party members and known collaborators lived in the guarded, Soviet-made neighborhoods of Macroryan and Wazir Akbar Khan Maina, where the growing number of Russians also lived. Rents skyrocketed, and the regime undertook to build new prefabricated blocks of residential apartments. Perhaps no other ruling party had become so isolated from its own people in history as the PDPA had.

Party Members Terrorized in Provincial Cities

As noted above, professional terror attacks started in the summer of 1980 after religious scholars issued fatwas; until then, party men had been driven from the rural areas, taking refuge in cities where an uncontrollable process of urbanization had started. In the beginning the Khalqis more than the Parchamis were the target of attacks. The brutality of the Khalqis was fresh, and people were harsher with them than with the Parchamis, whose brutality was not yet apparent. Party members were attacked more frequently in big provincial cities than in Kabul. Even in a city like Mazar, which is situated in a flat plain and whose inhabitants are known to be relatively mild, party members were killed in numbers that rivaled and even surpassed those of other cities.

In the city of Kandahar the Khalqis became the target of attacks on a bigger scale. Terrorism also started there much earlier, following the fall of the Khalqi regime. During the course of thirty-four days in January and February 1980, 130 Khalqis were killed in terror attacks in the city of Kandahar and its surrounding districts. This was the work of common people, not professionals. The killings were in revenge for the men the people of Kandahar had lost at the hands of Khalqis when they were in power. Two examples will suffice to make the point clear. During the Khalqi rule about a hundred prisoners from the city and the Helmand area were thrown out of airplanes into the Arghandab reservoir. Also, forty-eight elders from the Karz district were killed in the presence of Engineer Zarif, the Khalqi governor of Kandahar. They were killed because they had protested that government officials should register only the number, not the names, of their female folk when they were taking a census of the population. In the Parchami period, Engineer Zarif and other Khalqis were executed for the crimes they had committed. In any case, following the invasion the Kandahar people killed the Khalqis more in revenge than anything else. They were successful in their revenge because they were more skillful in terror attacks than the people of other cities were.

Many Khalqis were killed in the city of Taluqan following the invasion, but information about them is not available. The story of the fallen Khalqis was more striking in Herat than elsewhere, because Herat had lost more men than any other city or province during the Khalqi rule, as noted earlier. In May 1980, in all Herat only the headquarters of the governor was under the control of the regime, and that was guarded by an armored force. During that time, and for an unknown period thereafter, ten to twelve party men were killed every day. The acts of terrorism in Kabul had many sides, since of all the cities this was the largest and had the highest number of party members.

Party Members Terrorized in Kabul

In Kabul acts of terrorism followed the unsuccessful uprisings in February 1980. By July terrorism had become so common that every day from ten to twelve party members were killed in individual terror attacks. By November the rate had fallen to a lower level; still, on average three party members were killed every day in November 1980. Terrorism had become so common that only when important party members were killed did people talk about them. The fall of the ordinary members of the party was seldom discussed, even though they were killed during the day. The Parchamis accused the Khalqis of being responsible for these attacks in Kabul as well as other cities, calling them Ikhwanis. The accusation was a reflection of the intraparty rifts, and the Khalqis were also unkind to their rivals. By this time the intraparty animosity had reached a new pitch. The Khalqis had been exposed to dangers and were also faced the situation of losing lucrative jobs. By August 1980 about three hundred Khalqis had either been expelled from party membership or demoted for convening separate party meetings, something that had been going on for a long time as if there were two parties.

By January 1981 a new wave of terrorism had become evident. The Soviet army had given up patrolling the city, because it too was losing men to the terrorists. When the regime men took the responsibility of patrolling the city, they were exposed to acts of terrorism more than ever before. By then military officers as well as soldiers, in addition to party men, had become the target of attacks. In mid-January 1981 almost every night acts of terrorism were reported from different parts ofthe city, especially the crowded sections with narrow lanes suchas Qal’a-e-Zaman Khan, Qal’a-e-Nao, and Qal’a-e-Wahid. During twenty-four hours in the second week of February 1981, twenty-five party members lost their lives in terror attacks. It was at the height of such acts that first the political officer of the military KhAD, Akbari, and later the head of KhAD Number Five, Haji Sakhi, also fell victims. Known as the “brain of KhAD” and responsible for the arrest of the SAMA leader Majid Kalakani, Haji Sakhi was killed in daylight on the main road near the Soviet embassy. Also killed were prominent persons who had associated themselves with the regime. A number of others were killed, including a former general, Mier Fatih Mohammad Hazara, who had gone over to the regime and participated in the National Front of the Fatherland.

The National Front of the Fatherland was convened on 15 June 1981 in Kabul with the participation of fewer than a thousand members from the front-line associations and trade unions, including some local dignitaries, members of the party, and those sympathizers who might have been covert members of the party. The front had no specific duties, but the regime hoped to use it to extend its influence. It was said to be consultative, but the consultation was not about political affairs, which could influence national politics. A propagandistic organization, it was set up in imitation of the associations in some East European countries.

By August 1981, however, the number of terror attacks had decreased because the mujahideen had to pay attention to the Soviet force concentrated in Gulbahar in Parwan Province, which was advancing into the valley of Panjsher. In late September, during a time of decreased incidents of terrorism, a Soviet adviser to the Ministry of Mines was kidnapped in a daring daylight abduction and taken through Shewaki toward the east of Kabul city to the mujahideen. In October as well as December the incidents of terrorism once again increased. In the cold season of Kabul the mujahideen preferred to be more active in terrorist acts than in major engagements. At this time a number of Russians were made the targets of terror attacks.

Terrorism and Intraparty Rivalry

In February 1982 Sa’ima Maqsoodi, a television newscaster and one of my former students, fell victim to a terror attack, an incident that raised an uproar among the Khalqis. She was the victim of the Khalq-Parcham rivalry, since in the Dari-dominated atmosphere of television Maqsoodi campaigned for Pashto and criticized the Parchamis on that account. Since the communist coup the problem of propaganda and ideological indoctrination had become significant. When the Khalqis were in power, publication in Pashto was stressed. When the Parchamis came to power, they restricted Pashto publications to such a point that it infuriated the Khalqis, in particular those who worked in the forefront of cultural sectors.

The Parchamis manipulated publications without regard for cultural identity. As part of the Sovietization program, they used the mass media more for the benefit of Russian and Soviet culture than for the benefit of Afghan culture. As part of this policy, they allowed the Tajiks of Soviet Tajikistan and some writers of the Tudeh Communist Party of Iran to influence the Afghan Dari publications. As a matter of policy and also as a result of their ignorance of Pashto, the Russian and Tajik advisers favored the Parchamis and subordinated Afghan cultural values to those of the Russians. For the internationalist Parchamis, this approach was part of their cultural policy, but outside their circles the Afghans, irrespective of the languages they spoke, became furious, since to them the program reeked of cultural exploitation. They began making telephone calls to the personnel of the television, venting their anger in long diatribes, but to no effect. In fact, the television personnel could not have done much about it even if they had wanted to do so, since the Soviet advisers handled the cultural policy of the television and radio stations, and the Parchamis played the role of employees. Besides, since these stations were among the biggest centers of employment, these developments turned them into centers of rivalry, whose effects spilled over to society. Among the results of this rivalry were the murder of Maqsoodi, the killing of Pashto singers such as Qarabaghi and perhaps also Bakhtzamina, and the poisoning on 13 March 1982 of Sa’eedi, the Khalqi rector of Kabul University. Who killed these people is unknown, although the mujahideen had warned Maqsoodi to quit her part-time job as a newscaster.

The loss of the singers, the flight abroad of many others, and the propagandistic program of the broadcast stations reduced their significance. Although the killing happened at a time when terror attacks on party members were common, it was held that KhAD had engineered the killings of both Maqsoodi and Sa’eedi. The Khalqis believed so. Every time a Khalqi was killed, it was said that KhAD was responsible. That was why the Khalqis made the funeral services of Sa’eedi a major event, comparable to the funeral services held for Mier Akbar Khybar. Both events were demonstrations of strength.

My diary entry dated 16 March 1982, just before my arrest, speaks about terrorism:

These days the killing of party members has increased. Terrorism is widely perpetrated, but only when important members of the party are killed do people talk about it. When members of the ranks of the party are killed, only their own relatives know about them. The public chooses to remain indifferent. Many people seem pleased about the killing. In Kabul it has not been heard that the perpetrator has been arrested. The public does not cooperate with the police.

My last entry on terrorism (22 March 1982) reads: “In the city of Kabul terroristic activities against party members have increased. The opposition has increased their activities with a view to intensifying the animosity between the Khalqis and Parchamis. The Khalqis have been killed in larger numbers as a result of terroristic attacks. It is believed that KhAD agents kill under instruction from Parchamis.”

Party Conference Overshadowed by Terrorist Activities

Since the foundation of PDPA in 1965, no party congresses had been held, although most communist parties hold a congress of elected members every fourth year or so. Such congresses legitimize party leaders, including the general secretary, and approve guidelines for party programs. As already described, Karmal had failed to obtain legitimacy as head of the state and government. He hoped that legitimacy would follow when he established his rule. He was content with being the de facto ruler of “the exalted, nonaligned, and independent Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.”

After two years in office, Karmal hoped that the legitimacy of the party position as general secretary was within his grasp. He also hoped that an assembly of the leading members, under his guidance, would unite the party or at least decrease tension. All along he hoped he would one day become the leader of the united PDPA. But odds stood against the realization of his hope. As noted earlier, Parcham and Khalq were in fact two distinct parties, and the overthrow of the Amin regime had made it impossible for them to reconcile. For these reasons, holding a congress of the elected members of PDPA was out of question. Instead, it was decided that a national conference (kanfarans-e-sartasari) of the party should be held, to be attended by members chosen on the basis of consensus. But even this limited congress was fraught with danger.

Clashes occurred in party precincts where members were to be chosen for the conference, and the Parchamis had the worst of them. The new tension that descended on the meetings was converted into violent actions, including the killing of members of the rival groups. In the Chemical Fertilizer Factory in Mazar, for instance, three Parchamis were killed, allegedly by Khalqis. Rival gangs often fired at each other, with Parchamis the most common victims.

It was in this atmosphere that the Khalqis who fell victim to terroristic actions were said to have been killed by KhAD. The Khalqi rector of Kabul University was eliminated in such an atmosphere. One reason for the tension was that fewer Khalqis were chosen, since the Parchamis, who were in the dominant position, manipulated procedures and postponed meetings when they anticipated that the results would be to their disadvantage. For some leaders, particularly Parchamis, the conference became scandalous. To secure a consensus, they had to go to other cities where they were sure they would be chosen, particularly by the military constituencies. The surveys already taken showed that they would be defeated if they stood for election in their own constituencies. Top leaders had lost the confidence of the rank and file, and had free elections been held, most would have been swept away.

On 15 March 1982 the conference was held; it lasted for only one day, during which 830 members attended amid tight security in the Polytechnic Institute. A bomb inside the hall was discovered before it exploded. After two sessions the conference ended. It was announced that decisions were taken “in a free and democratic atmosphere.” The issue of membership in the party was the main topic of the agenda. Karmal dealt with the destructive consequences of “factionalism,” a criticism pointed at Khalqis. Gulabzoy, the self-styled leader of Khalq, openly accused the Parchamis of factionalism, since it was they who, according to him, regarded the Ministry of the Interior as the “Ministry of Rebels” (de ashraro wizarat).

Meanwhile, contrary to the custom among communists on such occasions, Gulabzoy refrained from holding hands with Karmal in the concluding session. He received more frequent applause from the audience than did Karmal. But for Karmal it was a great moment. For the first time in his life he appeared as the general secretary of PDPA before an assembly of the party, receiving applause and cries of “Hurrah!” But the conference had failed in its purpose. Because of the violence that was committed, the two factions were as much apart as ever, and the unity as unreal as ever.

Murderous Society

It is impossible to ascertain how many lives were destroyed as a result of terror attacks following the invasion. The highest number killed were party members, most of whom were buried in special graveyards. Every provincial capital had a graveyard of its own, the biggest being in Kabul in Tapa-e-Maranjan, renamed Tapa-e-Shuhada (Martyrs’ Hill). The violence that had permeated society, the state, and the ruling party showed the psychology of killing. I commented on this psychology in my diary entry of 21 January 1981:

The Afghan society may now be regarded a murderous society. The sad thing about it is that there is no investigation of murder cases. Human life has become the life of a sparrow, and the principle that might is right dominates. Time was that a murder case was investigated not only among the people where the murder had taken place but also among neighbors, who were summoned to the security centers for questioning. In this way social conscience against murder was awakened. But now killing has become so common that only a few people come to know about it. Only they bemoan the fate of the dead. We have become soulless and dry, no longer beings of care and love, but brutal and fierce animals. It is not right to name a society murderous, but the Afghan society may be called so. For now conditions prevail in which the Parchamis kill the Ikhwanis, and the latter kill the Parchamis, the Khalqis, and the Russians. And the Russians kill not only the Ikhwanis but also innocent civilians. They even kill the Parchamis and the Khalqis. The state is the state of killing, not only in the battlefield but also in the lanes and streets of cities where there is no state of war. No one feels secure, and because of this many families have fled abroad.

Because of the frequency of killing, there is now public indifference to it. Onlookers who in the past cooperated with authorities in seizing culprits now gaze impassively, doing nothing. Consider the incident that happened yesterday, on a bright day in the crowded part of Mier Wais Maidan. Three youths fell victim to the bullets of murderers. Two of the victims were killed instantly. One of the murderers drove a short distance with his companions, then returned and fired at close range at the fallen youth who was still alive. After kicking the youth several times and making sure that he was dead, the murderer got into the waiting car and drove away. The spectators just looked at what happened. They did nothing else. It is not known who the murderers were. They got into the same car from which official announcements are made, but whether they were agents of KhAD cannot be said with certainty.


1. Garver,“What Violence Is.” [BACK]

2. For details of the assassination of Ali Ahmad Khurram as well as his assassin, Marjan, see Popal, “Ali Ahmad Khurram,” 33, 43. [BACK]

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