By Hanan Habibzai for Opinion Maker
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who well knows how much the Russian army is hated by the Afghans, through this knowledge tried to advise the Russian leadership not to venture into Afghanistan to support NATO on the ground. This was done because one that Russians had already suffered a defeat at the hands of the Afghans and secondly because countless Afghans were killed that rendered a large population either disabled or deprived of their bread earners.
When I heard this News that Russia will redeploy its military in Afghanistan I was taken aback. It reminded me of the atrocities that my family went through during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s. Several members of my family lost their lives at the hands of the Soviet troops, those who survived are still suffering the pain and agony given by The Red Army. No Afghan is willing to accept this return for multiple reasons, rather the hate the very idea of their return to Afghanistan. I have disabled orphans (who are young now) and widows within my family, and in the same village. So for Gorbachev knows the hatred Russian military may face in Afghanistan, if they return again.
”The military victory in Afghanistan is impossible, he said, the US had no alternative but to withdraw its forces if it wanted to avoid another Vietnam.”
Gorbachev was speaking to BBC. As soviet leader, he pulled his troops out of Afghanistan more than 21 years ago after a 10-year war.
Russia has agreed to return to the war in Afghanistan at the request of the Western countries which helped the mujahedin to drive its forces out of the country 21 years ago. According to the Independent News paper, Moscow is engaged in training the Afghan army and counter-narcotics troops and has agreed in principle to supply NATO with helicopters for use in Afghanistan. A number of aircraft have already been sold to Poland, a member of the US-led coalition, for use in the conflict. Now NATO is in talks with the Russians over direct supplies of more helicopters, training the pilots, and allowing arms and ammunition to be transported through Russian territory as an alternative to a Pakistani route which has come under repeated Taliban attack. A groundbreaking agreement with Russia on the issue is likely to be announced at the NATO summit next month in Lisbon, which is due to be attended by President Dmitry Medvedev.
It is not only my family and tribe, hundred of thousands Afghan will come forward and react to the military return of Russians.
‘Our country is suffering since USSR invaded Afghanistan. It is nothing else but a reminder of hard time to Afghans. Russian military presence in Afghanistan will drive more Afghans to support the Taliban fighters and this will be considered as new opportunity to take revenge from Russians. The sons of those who were killed by soviet forces in 1980s can now carry the gun and fight.” A Kandahar resident Hamidullah was sharing his concerns via phone.
Afghanistan turned to be a violent country following Russian invasion:
The Soviet War in Afghanistan was a ten year conflict that involved the full military might of the USSR, supporting the Marxist government of Afghanistan.
On 27 December 1979, 700 Soviet troops dressed in Afghan uniforms, including KGB and GRU special force officers from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target—the Tajbeg Presidential Palace by killing President Hafizullah Amin. This was a complete shock and aw action that momentarily had the entire Afghan people in a state of shock. Well this state was not to last for long, soon the people recovered and the resistance began.
The mujahedeen or the liberators who were scattered but soon got into some unified actions. They found support from a number of countries including the USA, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and other Muslim nations through the context of the Cold War.
The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 24, 1979 under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The final troop withdrawal started on 15 May, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989 under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Soviet Union Military withdrawal led to the collapse of USSR. “I am very concerned, we’re only half way down the road from a totalitarian regime to democracy and freedom. And the battle continues. There are still many people in our society who fear democracy and would prefer a totalitarian regime.” Gorbachev added during the interview with BBC.
Afghan institutions have been destroyed:
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan destroyed the country but badly failed to crush the will of the people. This war that was waged against the people of Afghanistan who were ill equipped and no modern training but through their sheer determination and resilience came back on the Soviets. But like the nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Afghanistan is also living with the war wounds and injuries. That trauma had yet to die then came the Americans with their Daisy Cutters and carpet bombing. We have never had any respite from these wars that have been thrust upon us after creating a media hype for the ulterior designs of the West.
We would never forget what the invaders did to us. This wound will remain fresh, afghans are known for their long term enmity and never forget to revenge their blood. This invitation extended to the Russians by the Americans has further developed more hatred against them.
The widows who lost their bread earners and life partners during soviet occupation are still alive and suffering the sorrow but with a brave face. They prepare their children to avenge the blood of their fathers.
Its estimated that about 2 million afghans died during the war, a greater number became disabled. 5 to 10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran; that means about one third of the prewar population of the country. Another 2 million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan.
Irrigation systems, crucial to agriculture in Afghanistan’s arid climate were destroyed by aerial bombing and strafing by the Soviet forces. In the worst year of the war, 1985, well over half of all the farmers who remained in Afghanistan had their fields bombed, and over one quarter had their irrigation systems destroyed and their livestock shot by Soviet or Afghan government troops. According to a survey conducted by Swedish relief experts the population of second largest Afghan city, Kandahar, was reduced from 200,000 before the war to no more than 25,000 inhabitants, following a months-long campaign of carpet bombing and bulldozing by the Soviets and Afghan communist soldiers in 1987.
Land mines killed another 25,000 Afghans during the war and some 10–15 million land mines were planted mostly by the Soviets and some government forces, were left scattered throughout the countryside. A great deal of damage was done to the civilian children population by land mines. A 2005 report estimated 3–4% of the Afghan population was disabled due to Soviet era land mines. In the city of Quetta, a survey of refugee women and children taken shortly after the Soviet withdrawal found over 80% of the children refugees unregistered and child mortality at 31%. Of children who survived, 67% were severely malnourished who with increasing age were finding it more difficult to cope with the deficiencies.
Soviet losses in Afghanistan:
The total irrecoverable personnel losses of the Soviet Armed Forces, frontier, and internal security troops came to 14,453. Soviet Army formations, units, and HQ elements lost 13,833, KGB sub-units lost 572, MVD formations lost 28, and other ministries and departments lost 20 men. During this period 417 servicemen were missing in action or taken prisoner; 119 of these were later freed, of whom 97 returned to the USSR and 22 went to other countries, the rest were killed by their captors.
There were close to 150,000 troops deployed by the soviets. 53,753, or 11.44 percent, were wounded, injured, or sustained concussion and 415,932 (88.56 percent) fell sick. A high proportion of casualties were those who fell ill. This was because of local climatic and sanitary conditions, which were such that acute infections spread rapidly among the troops. There were 115,308 cases of infectious hepatitis, 31,080 of typhoid fever, and 140,665 of other diseases. Of the 11,654 who were discharged from the army after being wounded, maimed, or contracting serious diseases, 92 percent, or 10,751 men, were left disabled. After the war ended, the Soviet Union published figures of dead Soviet soldiers: the total was 13,836 men, an average of 1,512 men a year. According to updated figures, the Soviet army lost 14,427, the KGB lost 576, with 28 people dead and missing.
A lesson of 1980s: Russians are very familiar with Afghan psychology. They knew that the return would be very hard for those who lost their sweethearts during the USSR occupation of Afghanistan.
They knew that, a military return of USSR will increase the insurgency that will lead to worsening security situation. Many Afghan expected Russian current regime to apology for what Soviet Union did in Afghanistan but instead a second invasion will result a high price for invaders.
Hanan Habibzai was born in 1979 in Baghlan Province. At the Soviet invasion, his family entered Pakistan he grew up in a refugee camp near Peshawar. After completing his secondary education in Peshawar, he studied at Kabul University. Just before the fall of Taliban regime in 2001, Habibzai began working with the BBC World Service as a correspondent and as a freelancereporter for Reuters in Afghanistan. Currently he is based in London, writing on the conflict in Afghanistan and the regional politics. Habibzai is known as one of the key critics of warlords and war criminals in the country who are still holding power. While in the UK, since last year he is working for Radio liberty as freelance correspondent covering the Afghan and Pakistan related issues around Europe and the UK. During his work for Radio Free Europe he covered Afghanistan: London Conference in the beginning of 2010. He also produced several stories on Illegal migrants and the business of human traffickers.