KABUL: Twenty years ago the tanks and armoured cars started to rumble north out of Kabul as the Soviet Union began its withdrawal from Afghanistan after eight-and-a-half years of war. The mujahideen, backed by money and weapons from an alliance of the United States, Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, had beaten a world superpower. Today the country is scattered with reminders of the Soviet occupation – you don’t have to go far even in Kabul to stumble across the rusting wrecks they left behind.
The aptly named Zamir Kabulov first arrived in Afghanistan as a young Soviet diplomat in 1977 and has lived through the last turbulent 30 years of this country’s misfortunes. Now he is Russian ambassador in Kabul and his voice of experience will ring in the ears of today’s Nato- and US-led forces. “There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated by the international community here in Afghanistan,” Mr Kabulov said, listing the problems. Underestimation of the Afghan nation, the belief that we have superiority over Afghans and that they are inferior and they cannot be trusted to run affairs in this country.”
“A lack of knowledge of the social and ethnic structure of this country; a lack of sufficient understanding of traditions and religion.” Not only that, but he says they the country’s new patrons are making their own new mistakes as well. “Nato soldiers and officers alienate themselves from Afghans – they are not in touch in an everyday manner. They communicate with them from the barrels of guns in their bullet-proof Humvees.”
And he admits to some satisfaction, watching those who once backed the mujahideen now suffering in the same way. “To some extent, yes, I would not hide that. But I am even more satisfied by not having Russian soldiers among Isaf [Nato’s International Security Assistance Force] because I don’t want them to suffer the same results, implications your soldiers are suffering.” After the Soviet withdrawal the mujahideen turned on each other and tore Afghanistan apart.
Kabul crumbled in the civil war as the various factions rocketed at each other across the city, killing thousands of civilians. Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a mujahideen leader and prime minister in exile during the 1990s, admits they failed in the years following the Soviet withdrawal. He is now an opponent of the government who stood against President Hamid Karzai in the last election and also draws parallels between the 1980s and the current international mission. “The Russians were beaten because they invaded our country. They were the transgressors, not us,” he said.
And asked how the Soviet occupation compared to today’s mission: “To my opinion the ground situation is no different because the Soviets were imposing their Communist regime on us. The present forces – they are imposing their so-called democracy on us. “They were wrong then and the present Nato forces are doing wrong now by killing innocent people – men, women and children.”
Nato commanders object to this and say they are doing everything they can to stop civilian casualties, arguing they are making military progress against the insurgents. “They are winning the battles but losing the war,” ambassador Kabulov said, explaining that things are even harder now than they were in the 1980s. “The structures of government then were very much there and our task was very much was to support and to win loyalty – or, if you will, hearts and minds – but we had a working administration.”-SANA