Afghanistan Goes Mongolian

Puddington, Arch

Arch Puddington AFGHANISTAN GOES MONGOLIAN What a bear hug can do. At the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, many Western observers were quick to draw a parallel to the American...

...He was given a Soviet foster mother, lectured in Marxism, given firearms training and taught how to infiltrate rebel camps and direct Soviet bombers to their targets by lighting fires...
...As one observer noted, these homes amount to "a mechanism for the regime's self-perpetuation, the creation of a pool of loyal, obedient cadres, who may go on to hold important posts in the state bureaucracy...
...The Khalqis likewise believed that they, Lenin's descendants, could bulldoze through comparable changes in Afghanistan...
...As events have unfolded over the nearly five years of Soviet occupation, it has become ever more apparent that the Kremlin seriously miscalculated if it expected to bring Afghanistan under firm control with the surgical neatness which marked previous interventions in Eastern Europe...
...To compound the growing chaos in the countryside, the regime next issued a sweeping land reform measure and, with maximum crudeness, moved posthaste to implement the new policy...
...Western diplomats have further reported that thousands of very small children have been dispatched to Soviet Central Asia, many against their parents' wishes...
...The next and ultimate step will be to convince the Afghan people that not only was there never an Afghan language, but in fact there was never a unified Afghan nation...
...By moving ex-peditiously to punish Andrei Sakharov within a month of the intervention, the regime sent an unmistakable warning to the already beleaguered dissident movement, and Soviet dissidents have generally refrained from criticizing the war...
...Lenin and Stalin had acted with inflexibility in overhauling a stubborn peasant society, a society the Afghan disciples no doubt saw as quite similar to their own...
...in an overwhelmingly agrarian society, the party drew its strength almost exclusively from the educated urban elite, especially teachers and radicalized students...
...When he returned to Afghanistan, he was taken in as an orphan at a rebel base...
...Although it is considered highly unlikely that Moscow would formally incorporate Afghanistan as a Soviet republic, some believe that the Kremlin is weighing a Mongolian solution, whereby, like Mongolia, Afghanistan would be allowed to retain nominal independence while in reality surrendering sovereignty to the Soviets...
...Moreover, while it is not unusual for Communist party memberships to reflect a narrow segment of society, the PDPA took unrepresentativeness to an extreme...
...In fact, Afghanistan's agriculture was organized along family and clan lines, with smallholders a much more significant factor than even rich peasants...
...General Assembly ritualistically adopts a resolution condemning "foreign" intervention in Afghanistan, but the sanctions imposed by the U.S...
...recall Pham Van Dong's derisive comment that the very idea of the North's annexing the South was "stupid and criminal...
...The PDPA also exerted disproportionate influence on the Afghan military...
...Another dimension of the Soviet strategy to emerge in recent years is a growing inclination to annex this unruly neighbor...
...The West and the indigenous opposition would have to accept the "irreversibility" of certain "reforms" instituted since Afghanistan came under Soviet domination...
...Having thus given insult to Afghanistan's many devout Moslems, the PDPA proceeded next to another sensitive subject: relations between the sexes...
...the Soviets, on the other hand, have decades of experience in forcing recalcitrant societies to bend to their will...
...Nonetheless, the accumulated evidence reveals the Vietnam analogy to be glib and inappropriate...
...Afghanistan has thus provided the Soviets with two unique opportunities: The first, to use Afghanistan as a proving ground for new weapons and battlefield techniques...
...Here in particular the Communists betrayed an almost total ignorance of their own economy...
...At the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, many Western observers were quick to draw a parallel to the American experience in Vietnam...
...Repeatedly during the Vietnam War we were told that the overthrow of the Saigon government and its replacement by a coalition that included the Vietcong would not lead to the Sovietization of South Vietnam...
...Unlike other people faced with Communist aggression, the Afghans have fought back...
...In addition to faculty purges and curriculum "reforms," the Soviets employ more direct techniques in an effort to inculcate sympathy for Communism among Afghanistan's urban youth...
...One of the regime's first acts was to redesign Afghanistan's flag, replacing the Islamic green banner with one that from a distance was indistinguishable from the Soviet red standard...
...Yet even by the expansive standards of Third World Marxism, the PDPA's revolutionary project stands as col-ossally ambitious, amounting to an immediate, sweeping assault on the most sacrosanct institutions of a tradition-bound society...
...If the Soviets intervened primarily to prevent Afghanistan from abandoning the Communist path, it then becomes inconceivable that such extreme measures were undertaken simply to prevent the government from falling into the hands of religious fundamentalists...
...Meanwhile, those peasants who did accept expropriated land found themselves in an economically untenable position...
...The regime's response to the burgeoning rural hostility was true to form: Local notables and large-holders were arrested or killed on the spot...
...The Soviets seem to be treating the indoctrination of these children as a long-term project, since it is reported that the children will remain in the USSR for up to ten years...
...One can hardly condemn the Soviets for taking advantage of this remarkable opportunity...
...Will it succeed...
...Although exhibiting little grasp of Marxian ideas, Taraki and Amin were great admirers of Lenin and Stalin...
...But whereas Soviet chances of winning over the older generation are remote, one should not dismiss Marxism's appeal to young Third World elites...
...Traditionally, Afghan peasants have relied on credit from money-lenders in purchasing seeds and tools at the start of the planting season...
...As reward for achieving one of the Communist world's most impressive food production records, Bulgaria was handed the agriculture portfolio...
...In no country in the world, not even Nicaragua, is the threat of a totalitarian future so imminent.ragua, is the threat of a totalitarian future so imminent...
...Their schooling involves much more than Marxian dialectics and the intricacies of collectivized farming...
...Perhaps more significantly, the Administration has failed to make Soviet disengagement a priority of its foreign policy...
...The secret lay not in the specifics of a program, but in the unrestrained ruthlessness of the party leadership...
...The question of what motivated the Soviet decision to launch the fateful invasion has been much discussed, and requires little elaboration here...
...Afghanistan's plight brings to mind Trotsky's comment about the ill luck of twentieth-century people who wish for quiet lives...
...Predictably, the students encountered resistance...
...The Soviet plan for Afghanistan is not merely to add another country to its sphere of influence, but rather to disrupt traditional patterns of behavior, to set group against group, and to destroy the network of traditional relationships that bound Afghanistan together...
...One can sympathize with the Administration's predicament, given the many crises that compete for attention and the lack of allied enthusiasm for a policy that challenges Soviet imperial aims...
...Yet one would have expected more from an Administration that has insistently drawn the essential distinction between totalitarianism and traditional authoritarian dictatorships...
...At the same time, the Soviets launched a campaign to identify and reward potentially sympathetic clergymen...
...First, the regime issued a decree abolishing usurious lending practices, a seemingly worthy objective...
...But little is known about developments in Kabul, the nerve center of the Soviet operation to transform Afghanistan into yet another outpost of the vast Russian empire...
...The Soviets issue decrees...
...Soviet advisers were established in all the important ministries, and were joined by various experts and consultants from Eastern Europe...
...Since surviving Afghan scholars were ill-equipped to teach these subjects, Soviet academics were imported to succeed those teachers who had been purged, executed, or sent into exile...
...Maiem demonstrated his skill with a captured Soviet 9mm automatic pistol and said he had been trained to use Soviet TT pistols...
...No matter how much the students may detest the'Soviets, participation in this "exchange program" carries an all-important benefit: It enables the student to avoid military conscription...
...Thus while the PDPA took pains, at least initially, to camouflage its Communist credentials in deference to local sentiment, in unguarded moments party leaders would refer to the Afghan developments as nothing less than another stage in the Great October Revolution...
...A persuasive case can be made that the Afghan people will never accept Communism...
...These two revolutionary father figures, particularly Stalin, were the role models for the Khalq...
...Heedless of reality, the regime soldiered ahead, determined that the facts should not be permitted to interfere with a revolutionary enterprise...
...Of the two factions, the Khalq (Masses) was the largest and ideologically most extreme, although less slavishly pro-Soviet than the smaller Parcham (Banner) group...
...only since the Revolution have they been dealt with fairly...
...It can, in fact, be argued that the Soviets have benefited from the prolonged nature of the war...
...the resistance ranks as one of the most impressive national uprisings of our time, and stands in stark contrast to the multitude of Third World groupings which have fraudulently expropriated the title "liberation movement...
...Party leaders prefaced their remarks with religious invocations and issued declarations emphasizing the Moslem nature of the government...
...Afghans carry them out...
...There is a seductive power in the proposition that under Communism the future belongs to the young...
...Persuasion and indoctrination are the preferred methods...
...as the policy was carried out, however, the ban proved a disaster...
...The indigenous Communists would never have succeeded in totalitarianizing Afghan society...
...East Germany undertook the job of training party cadres and organizing the secret police...
...those Afghan officers who exhibited pro-Communist leanings were encouraged, nurtured, and where possible, recruited as Soviet agents...
...These visiting scholars have been joined on the faculties by patently unqualified Afghansójournalists, propagandists, and semi-literate relatives of the political leadership...
...Here, in fact, was the key ingredient in the 1978 seizure of power...
...The praiseworthy sanctions adopted by Carter have been lifted...
...More worrisome is the cynical exploitation of the discontentsóreal or imaginedóof Afghanistan's myriad national minorities...
...Arch Puddington is executive director of the League for Industrial Democracy and currently at work on a study of contemporary totalitarianism...
...Now credit was no longer available from the usual sources and the government failed to establish a mechanism to replace the private credit market...
...But if the United States were to withdraw support from the mu-jahedeen and collaborate in pacifying the nation, the Soviets would permit the ensuing government to follow a domestic course in keeping with Afghanistan's traditions and religious sensitivities...
...In Afghanistan, however, this alternative is at present foreclosed...
...Each nationality is encouraged to use its own tongue, and it is furthermore argued that there never really existed a national, dominant Afghan language...
...Nor has world opinion presented much of a problem...
...The Soviets, it was widely predicted, would soon understand what happens when a Great Power tries to impose its will on a proud and fiercely independent Third World people...
...Declared the Times: "A decade ago, a Communist gain anywhere would have been felt as a distinct loss for Washington...
...Since the 1950s, young Afghan officers had regularly been sent to the Soviet Union for advanced training, a policy that in retrospect seems astonishingly foolhardy given Russia's historic designs on Afghan sovereignty...
...But where the soft approach proves insufficient, the Soviets do not hesitate to use bribery and punishment...
...In the cities, non-Communist teachers were purged or killed, and the curriculum drastically revised to reflect the ideology of the Communist leadership...
...To supplement the educational efforts of the Afghan secret police, the Soviets themselves have initiated an ambitious program to train the best and brightest of the coming generation of Afghan students...
...For Afghanistan to avoid a Soviet-ized fate will require decisive action from the United States and the rest of the democratic world...
...With the exception of a few friendly reporters and academics, the capital city has been closed to intruding Western eyes, and the refashioning of Afghan institutions has effectively proceeded in camera...
...While it was acknowledged that Moscow enjoyed an advantageous geographic position for launching its imperialist designs, it was emphasized that through the centuries the Afghans had repulsed numerous foreign intruders despite the country's economic and military backwardness...
...Already Soviet specialists on Afghanistan have begun to work closely with experts on Mongolia, an ominous development given other Soviet initiatives, such as projecting the image of Russia as the only guarantor of Afghan independence...
...The first actions of the post-invasion regime were intended to defuse the hostility of the religious leadership...
...Roving bands of land reform enforcement squads, made up of urban students, were dispatched to the countryside to see to it that the new arrangements were immediately put in place...
...At least some are given military training, and then returned to their native land to serve as spies or even to undertake terrorist operations against their countrymen...
...The failure to win popular support, or even grudging acquiescence, was preordained given the PDPA's character...
...Khalq produced Afghanistan's first two Communist leaders, Nur Mohammed Taraki and Hafizullah Amin...
...Photographs of Afghan religious figures praying in Soviet mosques are prominently featured in the Kabul press...
...While the emancipation of women would have been a priority of any genuine reform government, regulating the bride price was a monumental blunder...
...While they now owned their own land, they could not farm it since access to credit had been cut off by the usury abolition...
...A project by the KHAD, the Afghan secret police, takes children orphaned during the war and raises them to become good Communists...
...The Kremlin-installed regime of Babrak Karmal redesigned the flag as part of a strategy to placate the mullahs...
...This initial misreading of the nature of the PDPA served largely to embolden the regime, which concluded, correctly, that radical changes could be introduced without fear of Western reprisals...
...they run the ministries, and the Afghans serve as advisers (if the Soviets choose to listen to them at all...
...Kremlin censors have ensured that the Soviet public receives carefully rationed and scrupulously vetted reports on the course of the war, and is told nothing at all about casualty statistics, battlefield setbacks, or the Afghan people's contempt for the invaders and their alien ideology...
...More to the point, the blatant Soviet aggression against an Islamic people has scarcely damaged Moscow's relations with the Moslem world, suggesting that in the crunch fear of a determined and brutal superpower weighs more heavily in the world of Islam than ties to oppressed coreligionists...
...Rather, the Soviets seem bent on incorporating Afghanistan into their empire, not as a Finlandized, neutral state, but as an extension of the Soviet Union itself...
...the wealthier landowners opposed the new policies for obvious reasons, and the poorer peasants remained unen-thusiastic, having been taught that to accept expropriated property was tantamount to theft and a violation of the Moslem code of justice...
...The Afghan freedom fighters are today struggling for nothing more than the right to be left alone...
...Ironically and tragically, resistance has also probably ensured a more complete destruction of the Afghan way of life than would otherwise have been the case...
...For example, a course on Moslem art that had been offered at Kabul University for many years was abolished...
...The orphanage, and others subsequently opened, now serve all children orphaned by the fighting, a group said to include children of the mujahedeen...
...Not only was the bride price engrained in Moslem tradition, it played an economic role by providing insurance for the woman in case of divorce or separation...
...Not surprisingly, Moscow has proceeded much more shrewdly than its slow-witted Afghan pupils...
...He was subsequently jailed for four months and released only after signing a document pledging henceforth to refrain from speaking during class...
...There had not even been a Communist movement in Afghanistan until the 1960s, and at the time of the 1978 coup (popularly known as the April Revolution) membership remained small, by most accounts numbering less than 10,000...
...We know something of the heroic exploits of the mujahedeen (not to mention the disorganized state of the opposition), of Soviet reprisals against civilians, of mass slaughters of villagers, of carpet bombing and the in-discriminate placing of land mines, of booby-trapped toys that explode in children's hands...
...a social reform would be instituted that alienated all segments of society, including those whose economic or social position the reform was intended to enhance...
...In Afghanistan, then, it is the Soviets who have assumed responsibility for remolding society, an assignment they are carrying out with a crudeness that rivals their battlefield brutality...
...What should be stressed, however, is that failure to intervene would have surely led to the demise of Communism in Afghanistan and the triumph of a governing coalition that, unlike prior non-Communist governments, would have viewed the Soviet Union with overt hostility...
...it was replaced by such subjects as dialectical materialism, the history of the international workers' movement, and the history of Cuba...
...More to the point, the Soviet system, with its massive bureaucracy, offers its university graduates the sort of employment and prestige not to be found in Third World societies...
...Although the ineptitude of Afghanistan's Communists has been much commented on in light of subsequent events, an examination of the PDPA leadership and program suggests numerous parallels with other, more successful Third World Marxist movements...
...A British citizen interviewed one such child-agent near Urgun, a Soviet-occupied town: The boy said he had been taken from his parents a year ago and flown with 200 other children to a Soviet town...
...Some implications of this practice can be drawn from the following episode: During a discussion of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, an impertinent high school student asked why they were dealing with events in faraway Lebanon given that their own country was being similarly persecuted...
...this gesture, however, had the unforeseen consequence of further embittering the populace, as it now became public knowledge that a high percentage of those jailed during the Khalq reign of terror had been secretly executed...
...their successor, Babrak Karmal, was a Par-chamite...
...America has a special responsibility towards Afghanistan, having acceded to the original April 1978 Communist coup without a murmur of protest...
...We would, in other words, have witnessed the first rollback of the Soviet empire, and without the assistance of a foreign power at that...
...Delegations of friendly mullahs have been sent to the various Soviet Asian republics, where they study agricultural techniques...
...The Soviets leave nothing to chance...
...This time around, it would be the Soviets themselves who would dictate the specifics of "Communist construction...
...Americans may not be impressed by the economic and social welfare advances achieved by the Soviets in their own country, but students from underdeveloped countries are often awe-struck by the factories, schools, and hospitals they are shown...
...rather, they lecture in Russian through interpreters...
...The regimentation inherent in Communism is alien to the Afghan way of life, and the Afghans will not soon forget the thousands upon thousands of their people killed or exiled as a direct consequence of the invasion...
...To be sure, it is inherently dangerous for an imperialist power to attempt to redesign a foreign culture, and the Soviets have traditionally preferred that domestic change be carried out by local Communists...
...Eventually, it is hoped, Russian will be adopted as the country's lingua franca, and the Russian language is already a required course in the schools and universities...
...It should be noted that in executing their vast project of revolutionary transformation, the Afghan Communists were able to draw upon the fraternal resources of the Soviet bloc...
...Czechoslovakia dispatched a team to improve the country's television system, an important task given the crucial role television was slated to play in the PDPA's propaganda offensive...
...Ultimately, Soviet patience was rewarded when officers trained on its soil executed the April 1978 coup that first brought Communism to Afghanistan...
...Between April 1978, when the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power, and the December 1979 Soviet invasion, the Afghan Communists succeeded in thoroughly alienating a people that had previously displayed a profound indifference toward any central government...
...The mujahe-deen, courageous fighters that they are, cannot do the job alone...
...In one crucial respect, Afghanistan differs from Vietnam...
...Nor should we underestimate the allure of being on the same side as the big battalions...
...North Vietnamese officials were especially insistent on this point...
...Consider the peasantry's response to the PDPA's attempt to address the land question...
...There the students are to become familiarized with Communism and the Soviet way of life...
...Carter Administration officials characterized Taraki, Amin, and the other Khalq leaders as "more nationalist than Communist," an attitude resoundingly endorsed by the New York Times...
...In one sense, however, a comparison between Vietnam and Afghanistan is valid...
...Changes were also made in the land reform program, and when these failed to mollify the peasants, land reform was effectively jettisoned, at least for the time being...
...Whereas in the Soviet Union steps are taken to discourage the use of minority languages, in Afghanistan an opposite policy is followed...
...the central authorities are incapable of enforcing the revolutionary decrees issued from Kabul, whereas the Vietnamese Communists have through the years proved themselves efficient totalitarians...
...Student loyalists are also used as spies with orders to report politically incorrect statements of teachers and fellow students to the secret police...
...The bride price decree established a pattern that was repeated time and again during the brief period of Khalq rule...
...Moscow betrays no sign of wearying of the Afghanistan expedition...
...The party was further divided along factional lines...
...The situation has little improved under President Reagan...
...Each year, the UN...
...Something similar seems to be under way in Afghanistan...
...there were in reality two separate Communist parties, both loyal to the Soviet Union...
...To accomplish this admittedly large task requires the institution of some form of Communism, albeit one that differs somewhat from the failed Khalq version...
...Revolutionary Decree Number Seven drastically reduced the bride price, an Afghan custom dating back many centuries...
...Most Americans now recognize that the world is more complicated...
...Land reform was based on the usual Marxist premise that the agricultural sector was dominated by a handful of extremely wealthy exploiters...
...Before the April Revolution, so the line goes, these and other minority groups were persecuted or ignored by the central government in Kabul...
...Over the years, a steadily expanding cadre of military men sympathetic to the Soviet system rose to positions of strategic importance within the Afghan armed forces...
...Under Soviet guidance, a campaign to rewrite history and reshape the educational system had been inaugurated shortly after the April Revolution...
...Bogus census figures have been published that exaggerate the size of precisely those groups which also have a sizable population in Soviet Asia...
...as inducements, party members invariably receive the highest marks and are given preference in university admissions...
...The KHAD, apparently in 1981, sponsored the construction of an orphanage in Kabul initially designed for the children of KHAD agents killed during forays against opponents of the regime...
...Many of the Soviet teachers are either unable or unwilling to address their classes in languages familiar to the Afghans...
...Considerable pressure is brought to bear on high school students to join the PDPA's youth arm...
...Emigre sources claim that 70 percent of the pre-1978 university faculty is no longer associated with the university, an estimate borne out by the government, which announced that by 1983 60 percent of Kabul University positions were filled by teachers from "socialist countries...
...Perhaps the most importantóand insidiousódimension of Soviet strategy is a carefully plotted offensive against Afghan culture...
...They would, instead, be amenable to a settlement that ensured the country would be governed by a pro-Soviet, but not necessarily Communist, party or coalition...
...While a handful of intrepid Western journalists have provided on-the-scene reportage from the countryside, where the bulk of the fighting occurs, journalistic coverage of occupied Afghanistan has of necessity ignored many significant developments...
...And if the Afghans are not up to the task, the Soviets carry out their own directives...
...These promises are no more reliable than earlier avowals of pluralism and independence made by the North Vietnamese...
...and other democracies have been lifted...
...Another Communist target was education...
...Given an inhospitable landscape, the Afghan people's hatred of the social rearrangements associated with Communism, and the wild card of Moslem fundamentalism, there was little reason to doubt that Afghanistan would again avoid a colonial or satellized fate...
...In 1983 it was announced that 12,000 university-age students had been sent to the USSR for the purpose of "study," a number more than twice as large as the decimated enrollment at Kabul University...
...the second, to remake the country's domestic life with the ultimate goal of turning Afghanistan into an appendage of Soviet Central Asia...
...Certainly security concerns figured in the invasion decision, but political fears-above all the fear of a humiliating violation of the Brezhnev Doctrine-were uppermost in the Politburo's mind when it gave the signal to take military action...
...This repulsive endeavor is obviously patterned on past experience of the Soviet secret police, which first began to sponsor orphanages during the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war...
...A rural "literacy" crusade was mobilized with the clear aim of indoctrinating illiterate peasants...
...The Soviets, Afghanistan's de facto rulers since the invasion, have been hinting that it is not their intention to transform Afghan society along traditional Communist lines...
...The scrupulous attention paid by the Soviets to Afghanistan's young is not limited to the current generation of high school and university students, but extends to very young children as well...
...Scattered opposition soon escalated to outright rebellion...
...Political prisoners were also released...
...Indoctrination of the young is now the centerpiece of a strategy to create a more hospitable environment for Communism in Afghanistan...
...these clerics, it is hoped, will collaborate in the creation of a captive church similar to the controlled and self-censored religious bodies that have evolved in the USSR...
...The Soviets have also supplied new history textbooks, which stress that even under the czars Russia was the only country Afghanistan could depend on for friendly relations, an arrant fabrication given that Russia had repeatedly invaded the country in the nineteenth century (and three additional times in this century...

Vol. 18 • September 1985 • No. 9


 
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