Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Soviets getting bogged down

Who are the Afghan guerrillas?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 5, February 29-March 13, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Despite the Soviet Union’s blitzkrieg invasion of Afghanistan and their deployment of almost 100,000 heavily armed troops there, the resistance of the Afghan guerrillas and the general population is growing.

For the first time, open mass resistance has broken out in the capital city, Kabul. On February 21 virtually all of Kabul’s shopkeepers began a general strike against the Soviet occupation. The strike quickly spread to all major cities. “We have shown the Russians what the Afghan people think of them,” one merchant said.

Massive demonstrations were staged in Kabul on February 22 to 24. “Death to the Russians,” “Death to the social-imperialists,” and pro-Islamic chants rang through the streets and from the rooftops, until ground troops and MiG planes subdued the protests. Three hundred people were reportedly killed.

Fighting in the countryside continues to spread. On February 18, guerrillas captured the strategic airfield at Faiza-bad in the northeast. In the east, all roads to Jalalabad, the fourth largest city, are under guerrilla control, and the airport is under constant rocket and mortar attack.

The Afghan resistance is obviously giving the Soviet invaders a tough time. But many people, especially in the West, do not know who the Afghan fighters are. The Russians claim the guerrillas are “rag tag bands of unorganized bandits,” “CIA-financed reactionary thugs” and “reactionary feudal landlord elements.” These attacks are parroted in the U.S. by the revisionist Communist Party (USA) and various trotskyists. But in reality the resistance is a broad-based people’s war fighting to rid Afghanistan of foreign domination. The following is a brief look at who the Afghan guerrilla forces are.

The Afghan resistance to the succession of Soviet-backed governments in Kabul has been steadily mounting since April 1978, when Moscow overthrew the Daoud government and brought Taraki to power. Resistance activity gradually spread to 22 of Afghanistan’s 28 provinces, and it is estimated that the number of armed guerrillas, or mujahideen, is upwards of 100,000.

There are scores of mujahideen groups fighting in the countryside, varying in size from several dozen fighters to many thousands. The vast majority of the Afghan population are poor peasants, and it is they who make up the largest sector of the guerrillas. But the mujahideen contain in their ranks Afghans from all walks of life, including intellectuals and civil servants who have left the cities to fight in the countryside, workers, former soldiers of the Afghan Army, large landowners, businessmen and others.

Most Afghans are practicing Moslems and Islam is a central pillar of their lives. In their attempts to control the population, the Soviet-backed governments in Kabul have systematically tried to suppress Islam and have pillaged the mosques in the countryside. It is for these reasons that Islam has become one of the main centers of organized resistance.

United front

There are differences between the various guerrilla groups, due to differences in nationality, tribal differences and political differences. Geographical considerations also play a role, as most groups are based in distinct areas of the country and have little regular contact with each other.

But at the same time there is clearly growing unity in the struggle against the Soviet Union. In late January six of the largest guerrilla organizations joined together to found the Islamic Alliance for the Liberation of Afghanistan. Its headquarters is in Peshawar, Pakistan, near Afghanistan’s eastern border. The Islamic Alliance united around the principles of fighting the Soviets, upholding non-alignment and working for the establishment of an Islamic state.

The Alliance includes groups with a range of different political perspectives. One of the largest is the Etlehadi-Ingelabi-Islami- Wa-Meli (National Islamic Revolutionary Front), led by Savid Ahmad Gailani. Gailani was a political adviser to former President Taraki, though he was later jailed by the pro-Soviet regime for supporting the country’s independence from Soviet domination.

Gailani organized the National Islamic Revolutionary Front after being sent into exile. Its platform calls for a democratic and non-aligned Afghanistan and it is supported by much of the national bourgeoisie.

Another of the groups in the united front is the Hezb-yi-Islam (Islamic Party) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. It has a particularly strong base in southwestern Afghanistan. The Islamic Party, along with another group called the Jabhai-yi-Nejat-yi-Meli (National Liberation Front), have fundamentalist Islamic platforms.

Also in the Islamic Alliance is the Jamaite-yi-Islam (Islamic Society), a Moslem group which strongly opposes Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The other two groups in the united front are the Haraket-yi-Ingelabi-Islam and the Yunis Khalis group, both of which have significant followings inside Afghanistan.

Many other forces are also fighting the Soviet invaders and the puppet government. One of the most active is Shula-yi-Javed (Eternal Flame), a Marxist-Leninist organization led by Dr. Rakim Mahmud. Eternal Flame broke away from the pro-Soviet Parcham (Banner) Party in 1968 and has considerable influence and support in northeastern Afghanistan.

People’s war

In addition to the organized guerrilla forces, one of the main sources of anti-Soviet activity is the entire Afghan population. Anti-Soviet sentiment is so widespread among the population that even in the urban areas, Russian soldiers venture forth only at the risk of being beaten up or killed by angry citizens.

The Afghan people give the mujahideen firm backing and shelter from the Soviet troops.

The Soviets thought it would be a fairly easy task to take over Afghanistan, but they are now finding out firsthand what it means to be an imperialist power caught in a people’s war.