The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was one of the major events of the last century, and it was also one of the least understood.
The 30th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan just passed. During the almost one-decade-long occupation, more than one million Afghans were murdered by the USSR and its Afghan Communist regime in Kabul.
Although the events from that time are mostly considered undeniable historical facts, it often appears that large parts of Afghanistan's Communist history are unknown, and even among many Afghans, it is sometimes barely understood.
In many debates, the focus lies on the armed resistance from that era and the Mujahideen groups. Yes, we all knew about the involvement of Pakistan, Saudi-Arabia and, of course, the United States and its Western allies in the region.
We also know about Operation Cyclone, the Cold War and Zbigniew Brzezinski the then US National Security Advisor. But constantly talking about these things doesn't mean that the whole story is being told.
Such short-sighted debates have allowed the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion to look like it was a "foreign controlled" enterprise by "imperialists". It also led to conspiracy-like theories that the CIA directly created Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups. Over the years, I have even met people who believed that Brzezinski and Osama bin Laden met each other, which is a ridiculous claim.
But what is probably far worse is that until the present day, the horrendous crimes of the USSR in Afghanistan, its allies and the regime in Kabul which Moscow backed are being ignored.
Their crimes were brutal and their war against Afghan civilians genocidal. Different observers came to such conclusions. Whole villages were wiped out by the Red Army, thousands of Afghans vanished in the torture dungeons of the Communist regimes in Kabul.
According to the United Nations – Mujahideen violence which undeniably existed – was not closely comparable with the violence of the Red Army which between January and September of 1985 murdered at least 33,000 civilians.
Afghan Communist dictators such as Noor Mohammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, who ruled before the Soviet intervention in 1979, and their successors who were directly installed by the Russian Politburo, Babrak Karmal and Mohammad Najibullah, were brutal mass murderers and torturers. Their crimes are now mostly forgotten.
Noor Mohammad Taraki, the self-styled "Great Leader of the Revolution" who became both President and Prime Minister after the Communists (or "People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, PDPA) bloody coup against President Mohammad Daud Khan in 1978, started mass killings and purges that worried even Moscow.
Taraki considered the 300,000 traditional mullahs as an obstacle to "the progressive movement of the homeland." He tortured and shot many religious leaders, or buried them alive. The so-called "Great Teacher", as he was referred to by his followers, also gave orders for members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups to be immediately killed.
Ideologically, Taraki was a strong believer in the "Red Terror" that occurred in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. "Lenin taught us to be merciless towards the enemies of the revolution, and millions of people had to be eliminated to secure the victory of the October Revolution", he once said to a stunned Alexander Puzanov, the then Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan.
According to former senior KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, Taraki was recruited by the Soviets long before he came to power and had the code name "NUR". Taraki's student, Hafizullah Amin, would eventually kill his teacher only to continue the Communist regimes genocidal policies.
However, contrary to Taraki, Amin was not recruited by the KGB. Some suspected that he had been recruited by the CIA after he went to study in the US. Additionally, it was said that Leonid Brezhnev the leader of the USSR, who had a good relationship with Taraki, despised Amin for killing his mentor.
In the end, Taraki's murder and Amin's incompetence was a big reason for Moscow's military intervention in Afghanistan, a fact that is not even known by current US President Donald Trump who recently endorsed the Soviet invasion and claimed that the USSR intervened in Afghanistan "because terrorists were going into Russia".
Amin himself was soon killed by the Soviets, and they installed a new ruler, Babrak Karmal (KGB code name: MARID).
Karmal was the perfect puppet. From the moment he was installed, he was no longer his own master and, according to the late Afghan historian Mohammad Hassan Kakar, "still less the Afghan ruler."
"His Soviet cooks, waiters, and waitresses, the Soviet driver on his black limousine, and his Soviet advisers took care of him around the clock. Behind the curtain in his office a Soviet adviser and an interpreter; his conversations were taped. Contingents of Soviet guards patrolled the palace in the city where Karmal lived.
Afghan guards surrounded him, but their weapons were without ammunition. The Karmal of the old days, when he roamed freely, suddenly became a pearl."
Karmal's successor, Mohammad Najibullah (KGB code name: POTOMOK), was a different kind of man and ruled Kabul during the Soviet withdrawal.
He once led the brutal intelligence service of the Afghan Communists, KHAD, and tortured and killed countless people.
During that time, Najibullah earned the moniker "kashok" ("spoon") in reference to his alleged fondness of gouging out eyes with the aid of the utensil.
Until today, Afghanistan's last Communist president is just called "Najib" by many Afghans. Originally and according to the KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, he preferred to be called that because he felt embarrassed by the reference to Allah in his surname.
Najib, in particular, is still being celebrated by many Afghans, including left-wing figures, around the world.
His portraits are omnipresent in many parts of Kabul and on social media channels. With ongoing negotiations between the US and the Taliban, this final saga is being compared to Najib's era when the Soviets withdrew.
Najibullah was from the Pashtun Ahmadzai tribe, similarly to current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. However, this fact might be the only similarity between these two Kabul rulers.
Najib's whitewashing might have reached its peak, but this does not change the fact that the brutal intelligence apparatus that he led resulted in the systemic torture of countless men, women and children systematically. Many of the intelligence's actions were similar to the Stalinist purges in eastern Europe, and many KHAD victims have never been found. Many Afghan families are still looking for the bodies of their loved ones.
During this era of terror and the Soviet occupation, many Afghans became refugees. The Afghan diaspora spread to Pakistan, Iran and later to Western countries. Most Afghan families were directly affected by the war, and whole generations destroyed. Because of the horrendous crimes of the Red Army and its allies in Kabul, the Afghan resistance that emerged was natural.
Most Mujahideen were not power-hungry figures and criminals like some of their leaders, but average Afghans who wanted to defend their country. Additionally, some of them did not become "radicalised" because of the CIA, but because of the horrific Soviet crimes they saw and faced.
They had a reason and every right to resist against the brutalities of the occupiers, and they were not "foreign stooges" or "imperialist puppets" who were allegedly controlled by different intelligence services, as they were often described by the Afghan Communists who, ironically, came to power thanks to the Soviets, a foreign imperialist force.
It is undeniable that Afghanistan's misery was far from over after the Soviet withdrawal. The Mujahideen groups started to fight each other, civil war emerged, and Kabul along with many other cities was destroyed.
The Russians for their part are expected to commemorate the Afghan war in pomp and ceremony. The Russian parliament, according to the Washington Post: "is expected to pass a resolution justifying the Soviet invasion in 1979, overturning the Kremlin’s previous condemnation of the war as a 'political mistake,' and lavish commemorations will be held across the country."
All in keeping with Putin's wish to reimagine lost Soviet greatness.
But all of that will never whitewash the genocidal crimes of the Soviets and their regimes in Afghanistan.
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