Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

David Kline

Exclusive: Afghan rebels on the march

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 32, August 27, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Battered by an escalating guerrilla war, the Soviet-backed regime of Noor Mohammad Taraki in Afghanistan is nearing collapse.

Moslem guerrilla armies control nearly all the Afghan countryside and many of the cities. The Taraki government and army is riddled with desertion. And as many as 1,000 Soviet military advisors may have already been killed on that country’s hot, arid battlefields.

This is the picture presented by confident leaders of the Islamic Society of Afghanistan, whom I interviewed in their cramped office-in-exile in Tehran, Iran. Their group is just one of several organizations that have united in an effort to rid Afghanistan of Taraki and his Soviet mentors.

Though at first surprising, these guerrilla leaders’ claims have now been substantially confirmed by independent press sources who have broken through the wall of silence surrounding this strategic West Asian nation. Reporters stationed along the Afghan border and in some cases secretly entering the country have detailed a mass popular resistance that has severely shaken the Taraki regime.

In the last few weeks, for example, rebellious army units in the heart of the capital city of Kabul staged an uprising that was only crushed with the help of Soviet jets and tanks. In addition, at least 30 Soviets were massacred Aug, 16 by angry citizens in Kandahar. By Aug. 20, the capital had been ringed on three sides by the rebels.

Significantly, one respected Iranian magazine reported last month that Taraki has sent his family to safety in the Soviet Union and has himself moved to a secret military bunker on the outskirts of Kabul. A Western newspaper has reported on secret Soviet feelers to find a replacement for Taraki who may be more acceptable to Afghans.

“The Afghan people see that every hour of their lives is controlled by the Russians,” the Islamic Society leader– who identified himself only as Tekouli told me. “The people see that the only way to get an independent government is through armed struggle.”

Tekouli then described the military situation:

“Our soldiers operate in all 28 of the country’s provinces, and at present we control two-thirds of Afghanistan.”

He pointed out on his office-wall map a zone of liberated land. It ran from the northeast regions around Kabul down along the border running southwest, and then back up to the western city of Herat.

There are only four small circles of total government control, Tekouli claimed. These are the centers of the four major cities of Kabul. Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

“The Russians have their largest concentrations of forces in the extreme north of our country, where they guard shipments of supplies from their border to Kabul,” Tekouli went on. “But we can beat them, I am sure. After all, Afghanistan beat the British three times and were never colonized by any power.”

The Soviet Union and supporters of Taraki contend that the insurgency is “counter-revolutionary” and backed by foreign powers. But Tekouli denied any outside help, saying, “We fight on empty stomachs.”

Taraki’s supporters in the U.S. include the pro-Moscow CPUSA and the Guardian newspaper, which claims the rebellion is “led by large landowners” who supposedly “object to widescale land reform.” But there is no evidence to support these charges.

In fact, it would seem that Taraki and his Khalq [People’s] Party represent the anti-popular interests, to judge from the violent suppression of the citizenry his regime employs to stay in power.

From the very first day of Taraki’s bloody coup d’etat in April 197&, during which as many as 15,000 were killed, his regime launched a systematic reign of terror against religious leaders and intellectuals, according to Western press reports. Adding together those executed in prison and killed on the battlefields, Tekouli stated that the number killed since Taraki came to power is 100,000.

The isolation of the Taraki government is also apparent from its reliance on air power to preserve its rule. Western analysts say smuggled-out photos confirm reports that napalm has been used on rebellious villages.

I spoke with one refugee from a massacre in the city of Jalalabad, who has since joined the Islamic Society: “The government killed a quarter of the population of the city in two days of fighting–I was there.” he said. “In the camps [for refugees] in Pakistan, I heard of many villages demolished because the government said they were helping the guerrillas.”

Taraki’s repressive methods were further revealed during the Herat Uprising last March, details of which are only now trickling out of the country. An army major, who led a large section of Taraki’s Herat garrison over to the rebels during the battle, told me what happened:

“People rose up because there was so much killing and repression. At first it was spontaneous street fighting,” said the major, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against his family.

“We fought for three days, and the true patriots in the army gave leadership. But when we had finally liberated Herat, the government counter-attacked.

“For two days, their air and ground forces bombarded the city,” the major continued. “Russian pilots even flew their jets from bases inside the Soviet Union. We had to retreat and leave the city–there was no choice.”

He claimed that 25,000 Afghans died in the fighting, along with 200 Soviets killed and seven Soviet jets shot down. According to the major, among those killed was a certain General Mechinkoff, Chief Soviet Military Advisor for Herat.

I asked both Tekouli and the major why so few photographs of Soviet prisoners had been taken, and why no one, to my knowledge, has Been presented alive to reporters?

“We don’t take Russian prisoners,” the major spat out.

Tekouli added quickly: “We try to tell the people not to kill them, but it’s of little use.” Their statements called to mind the many reports I had read of Soviet advisors lynched by the populace.

What about Taraki’s claims that the rebellion is an anti-communist holy war by religious fanatics rather than a genuine independence struggle?

“It is true,” Tekouli said, “that our people think Russians and Marxists are the same and oppose communism. They say, ’If you know any Marxists in Afghanistan who oppose the Russians, please introduce them to us.’ The people say they are fighting communism’s imposition by a foreign power.

“But I believe there is no similarity between Russia and communism,” Tekouli continued. “We are Moslems, but if anyone wants to help us and respects our independence, then we welcome them. Cannot brothers have different ideas and still be in the same family?”

It was obvious to me that the Afghan rebellion has a deeply religious content. Its leaders do not embrace Marxism, nor do they intend to establish socialism.

This does not in the least alter the fact, however, that the people of Afghanistan are waging a revolutionary, anti-imperialist struggle against Soviet domination. In fact, they are on the front lines of battle against worldwide Soviet expansionism.

When asked if the guerrillas were pro-West, Tekouli laughed: “The Americans were in Afghanistan before the Russians. We know them very well. We don’t like imperialism no matter what its shape.”

As for the future, The Islamic Society wants “a government of the poor people, of the Islamic people,” Tekouli stated. “It is the poor who are fighting, not the rich.”

Tekouli painted a picture of a future Afghanistan that gave land to the peasants, nationalized major industry and finance, promoted a free press “because we are not afraid of debate,” and carried out a foreign policy that supported “oppressed people everywhere.”

“We support South African Blacks, and we support the PLO,” Tekouli added.

With the situation for Taraki and his Soviet benefactors deteriorating daily, most observers predict one of three alternatives:

•The Soviets may commit ground troops on a massive scale in order to save the Taraki government. This, said Tekouli, would plunge Moscow into a Vietnam-type quagmire from which it would never recover. Moscow is already blaming Pakistani and Iranian “interference” for the rebellion–clearly a pretext for a direct Soviet invasion under terms of the Soviet-Afghan “Friendship” Treaty.

•Moscow may dump Taraki and install a more acceptable leader. Already, reports have had Soviet officials secretly meeting with former Afghan ruler Mohammad Daoud Khan as well as his Prime Minister, Noor Ahmad Etemadi.

•The Soviets may decide to simply cut their losses and see the Afghan insurrection come to power.

This last possibility seems the least likely, in view of the fact that Moscow has important strategic interests in Afghanistan. The country is a base for their operations throughout West Asia, as well, as a key link in the Soviet drive for access to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

Whatever the Kremlin’s plans, however, it is clear that the 17 million people of Afghanistan have plans of their own. And it seems these plans do not include living under the Soviet thumb for very much longer.