War & Peace

“Our Lives Changed”: Afghans remember the coming of the Soviet troops


Taj Beg palace in Kabul where, in December 1979, Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin was murdered. The building became the Headquarters of the Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan until January 1989. Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev (1987), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Forty years ago, Soviet forces entered Afghanistan, killed then President Hafizullah Amin from the Khalq faction of the ruling communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) on 27 December 1979 and brought to power Babrak Karmal, who was from the rival Parcham faction. The move was meant to be a relatively short-lived, regime change operation, but swiftly turned into a fully-fledged occupation that would last one long decade and plunge the country into an intricate, devastating armed conflict from which it has yet to emerge. AAN has spoken to a range of people about their memories of those days and how the Soviet invasion affected them and changed their lives  (interviews by the AAN team, compiled by Reza Kazemi).

This is the second dispatch about the Soviet invasion on 25 December and the subsequent killing and deposing of Hafizullah Amin on 27 December 1979. It offers Afghan memories of these events. An earlier dispatch described the dynamics that led to the Soviet decision to intervene by force and how this was part of a wider global reordering that still reverberates today.

For this dispatch, AAN team members interviewed thirteen Afghans; ten men and three women, who remember the days when the Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan (the capital Kabul and the three provinces of Baghlan, Ghazni and Kunduz) and installed a client regime more favourable to the Soviet Union. Back at that time our interviewees’ occupations were: three low-ranking government civilian employees, one army officer, four students, two teachers, one housewife, one self-employed man and one flour mill owner. Some were pro- and some anti-regime. Some went on to become mujahedin or refugees. Many ended up deciding to leave the country altogether. Their memories reveal how shocked Afghan people were by the Soviet invasion and, in the quickly unfolding events, how difficult they found it not to take a side in the internationalising conflict. The memories also reveal how people were affected differently, depending on whether they lived in cities, such as the capital Kabul, or in the countryside, at least before the Soviet withdrawal.

The interviewees were each asked the same set of questions. Not all of them answered every question.

 

Do you remember the day the Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan in Jaddi 1358/December 1979? How old were you and where were you? What were you doing at that time?

  1. School teacher, Kunduz

I was 22 years old and a school teacher when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It was a Thursday in a cold winter when things changed in our lives. I saw aircraft passing by in the sky and a white line of their smoke. It was very clear that these aircraft were transporting Soviet soldiers and military equipment to Afghanistan. Every one of us was looking at the sky and asking each other: what is going to happen.

At night, everyone was listening to the radio and following the news. In our family, my father, my three brothers and I gathered in a small room and stayed there until morning listening to the radio. It broadcast national and patriotic anthems for several hours. At one point, this was cut and a statement was delivered. It said that the followers of Hafizullah Amin had been thrown into the dustbin of history forever and people were rescued from them. Then, it was said that Babrak Karmal would deliver a speech soon. There were more patriotic anthems. Later, Karmal delivered a speech and said that Amin’s followers no longer existed and people were freed of his cruelty, tyranny and oppression. We then realised that there was a new regime led by Karmal.

  1. High school graduate, Kabul

I was 22 years old when the Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan. I was in Kabul and had just finished high school. I was trying to take the university entrance exam, but as the Soviets came, I failed to work on my plans. At that time, I was only thinking about how to keep myself safe. I was askar goriz [evading military service]. I managed to get a medical letter showing I was sick and [therefore] unfit to join military service. I had a shop, but friends and relatives told me not to do such a business. So, I bought a car and became a cab driver [to make a living].

  1. Army officer, Kabul

I remember the night of the Soviet invasion well. I was 35 years old and was working as an army officer. I had gone to Hutkhel [area of Kabul city]. When I returned home at night, I watched the news on TV. All of a sudden, Babrak Karmal appeared on the screen with his speech, saying Hafizullah Amin had been killed. I felt the regime was collapsing. I did not know anything about the invasion of the Soviet Union. It was because at that time nobody could talk about the regime, even in their own home. The people were very afraid of the government. I became very happy when I heard that Amin has been killed because he was treacherous. He had killed thousands of people in Kabul and the provinces.

  1. Schoolboy, Kabul

I remember the night of Soviet invasion very well. We were living in Khair Khana in police district 13 [of Kabul city]. I was a grade 6 pupil in Ghaffur Nadim Primary School and I was 13 years old. I heard the sound of tanks and armoured vehicles stationed in Hazara-ye Baghal [neighbourhood in Khair Khana]. We also heard the sound of artillery and could see smoke pluming from Darulaman area. Babrak Karmal gave a speech saying Hafizullah Amin was killed because of his wrongdoings and the Revolutionary Council had succeeded [to overthrow him].

  1. Female teacher and activist, Kabul

I remember the day when the Soviet troops arrived in Kabul. I was in Afghanistan, in Kabul, in Mikrorayon 2. I lived in the blocks constructed for families of the military during Daud Khan. I was 27 years old and a teacher teaching physics, mathematics, geometry and trigonometry to girls in grades 10 and 11 in Zarghuna High School in Kabul. I had graduated from the Science Faculty of Kabul University about five years earlier. Aside from teaching, I was the deputy head of Shura-ye Zanan-e Shahr-e Kabul [Women Council of Kabul City]. The council was independent from the PDPA and had its own statute and objectives. It had provincial councils and a Kabul city council. The head of the council was someone else. We were mainly providing training for women.

On 6 Jaddi 1358 [27 December 1979], it was 10 or 12 minutes to 7 pm when Soviet troops entered Afghan soil upon the request of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and its agreement with the USSR. I say it was 10 or 12 minutes to 7 pm because I remember my husband was a military officer, a dagarman [lieutenant]. He had just returned to Kabul from duty in Bamiyan. I remember that we had hot water in Mikrorayon on Thursdays. I had a two-month-old daughter. Around that time on that Thursday, 6 Jaddi 1358, I was washing her clothes using the hot water. My husband rang and told me that he would come home for the meal and then return to his duty. By that time, the Soviet troops had begun arriving.

It was past 7 pm when I heard the sound of aircraft and tanks and the radio and television stopped broadcasting normal programmes. I called my husband, but did not get any answer. Various government buildings had been identified for the [Soviet] troops to enter.

  1. Government employee, Ghazni

The Soviet intervention is still very fresh in my mind, so I completely remember it. I was in Kabul. I was going to Ghazni on 7 Jaddi 1358 [28 December 1979]. We came across Soviet soldiers and were shocked by this sight. They did not allow us to go on. We had been unaware about the invasion the night before. They were stationed on the road. They had closed the road. I was 37 then and worked as the control manager in Ghazni Mustufiat [Revenue Department]. I had my home in Kabul city where my family lived and my job in Ghazni city to which I commuted weekly or whenever needed. I was a government employee.

  1. Government employee, Kabul II

I was then working in the transport department of the Sedarat [Prime Minister’s Office]. Hafizullah Amin had shifted from the Arg, which was then called Khana-ye Khalq [House of the Masses], to the Taj Beg Palace. The Taj Beg Palace was renovated for some 40 days and then we moved some commodities like rugs and carpets from the Sedarat and the Arg there. Amin moved there along with his family. The first storey was dedicated to his guards, attendants and cooks. The second storey was where the ministers held their meetings. The third storey was allocated to Amin and his family. It took some three months for everything to be ready, so Amin could move to the Taj Beg Palace.

On the night of 6 Jaddi [27 December], I was at home in Khair Khana area [in the north of Kabul city]. Around 8 pm we heard the sound of gunfire and heavy weapons. My cousin came to our home and said something strange is going on in the city. We at once turned on the TV. We had a TV since the time of Daud Khan. It was broadcasting the national anthem. Around 10:30 pm, Babrak Karmal appeared on TV. He was wearing a white shirt and tie. He was speaking from abroad. He talked seriously and emphatically, saying the fascist regime of the treacherous and untrustworthy Amin has come to an end. He then assured the people, whom he called his brothers and compatriots, to feel safe wherever they were.

  1. Schoolgirl, Kabul

It was Jaddi 1357 [sic]. It was winter and very cold. I remember I was in Kabul. We lived in Chardehi area and I was a grade 8 pupil at school. I remember we were all very nervous in the family. Since the 7 Saur [27 April 1978] coup, we had lived in fear and I, as a teenager, had become very involved in politics due to the nature of the discussions going on in the family. We were against the new communist rule. It was a time of nervousness. We were helpless. The city looked like a frontline in war. With no freedom of expression, we had to watch every word we spoke, even at school among our classmates.

  1. Housewife, Kabul

I was 22 years old and giving birth to my firstborn daughter and was in hospital when the Soviet tanks and helicopters and troops arrived in Kabul. My father-in-law often joked about it later, saying ironically, I had brought such a stroke of good luck to the country. People were worried and it seemed they did not know what to do. People in the hospital, especially the doctors, tried to keep us calm and assured us that it was not a war, but that foreigners had come to Kabul. It was a very long and disturbing night. I was worried about my daughter and about my husband who was at home or God knows where. The next day, when I left the hospital to go home, the city seemed very quiet. We lived in Qala-ye Wahed area where I still live. There was almost no movement on the streets and my husband was not home for the whole week. He was a university student and a member of the [Maoist] Shola-ye Jawed [Eternal Flame] party that organised anti-regime resistance.

  1. Government employee, Kabul

I was a government employee working in the Central [Grain] Silo when the Soviet troops arrived in Kabul. I was 27 years old at that time.

  1. Self-employed man, Baghlan

I was 28 years old. My father was a tribal elder and had been imprisoned by the Amin regime. I was the eldest son and so I was responsible for looking after a large family. That night, the radio broadcast mainly patriotic songs and everyone felt something had happened. But we didn’t know what exactly.

National and patriotic songs kept playing for several hours. Eventually, Babrak Karmal’s voice was heard. He gave a speech in which he called Hafizullah Amin a savage and said he no longer led the country. Karmal also announced a general pardon for those imprisoned by Amin. After hearing this, I screamed loudly because I knew my father would be released. The whole family was shouting. That night, we were only thinking about the safe return of our father, which did indeed happen later. We were all awake until morning, celebrating the collapse of Amin’s regime. The following day, when I went out, people were talking about a Soviet invasion, an issue I had never thought about. Religious scholars and some mosque preachers were saying that Afghanistan is out of our hands and the Soviets will lead it now.

  1. Schoolboy, Ghazni

I remember the day when the Soviet Union forces arrived in Afghanistan. I was in grade 6. People in our village, my teachers and classmates, were saying the Soviet forces had arrived in Afghanistan. I also learned about the arrival of the Soviet forces from the radio that was broadcasting news saying that the Russians have come to Afghanistan. We lived in Andar district and I also worked with my father on our agricultural lands.

  1. Flour mill owner, Ghazni

I think I was about 45 years old at the time. I had a flour mill in those days. The flour mill I had was working very well and I had a reasonable business. However, after the arrival of the Soviet forces, I started to think about moving the mill to the eastern part of Andar [district]. We moved to a village there because we felt safer in that village than in our own village.

Museum of war remnants, Kabul. Photo: Thomas Ruttig

 

Did you personally see or hear anything, either on the day or immediately before or just after? Did you do anything? What did you think about the Soviet intervention at the time?

  1. School teacher, Kunduz

The day after [the invasion], more and more Soviet soldiers entered Afghanistan through Hairatan port and I saw long lines of their tanks on the highway to Kabul.

School teachers were told by the Ministry of Education to deliver pro-government speeches in the classrooms and encourage students to sing pro-government and patriotic anthems every morning before classes started. On the other side, the mujahedin started to target pro-government school teachers. At school, we split into two parts: pro-communist government and ikhwani [a general term for the members of the mujahedin groups]. Many teachers were arrested by the government and marked as ikhwanis, while many others were targeted by the mujahedin and labelled as communists. Some mosque preachers in our district delivered anti-government speeches every Friday at the congregational prayers.

  1. High school graduate, Kabul

Before the Soviets came, the PDPA regime made a lot of propaganda. They told the people not to come out of their homes during the night. They told the people to shut their doors and have heavy curtains on their windows so that they would not see or be seen from outside. Soldiers were patrolling the streets at night.

It was before 6 Jaddi [27 December] when the Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan. They came by land and air. The troops were settled in Kilagai plain in Baghlan and Khair Khana in Kabul. I saw them in Khair Khana. There was fighting in Darulaman area, in Tappa-ye Taj Beg [Taj Beg Hill].

  1. Army officer, Kabul

The next day, I heard that the Russians had come a day before the killing of Hafizullah Amin. They had told him to run the government from [the Taj Beg Palace in] Darulaman [area of Kabul city]. He had already moved there. Actually, the Russians wanted to kill him there because they wanted to avoid killing many people if any kind of rebellion arose [in the centre of Kabul city where the traditional Presidential Palace – the Arg – is situated]. On the second day, all of the Parchamis [members of Parcham faction of PDPA] took up weapons and were in charge of security. They were both civilians of the Parcham party and military people.

  1. Schoolboy, Kabul

I saw Russian airplanes which were bringing tanks and ammunition a few days before the invasion. Other Russians came through Hairatan port [in northern Balkh province]. The Russians had told Hafizullah Amin that Pakistan was attacking Afghanistan, so they brought ammunition and a small number of skilled Russians to instruct Afghans to repel the attack. The government had announced to the people of Kabul that when the government sounded the alarm, nobody should come out of their homes, no one should look outside of their homes and they should put black curtains on the doors and windows of their houses. On the second day, I saw red-faced Russians on tanks in the city.

  1. Female teacher and activist, Kabul

Two or three days before [the invasion], aircraft had been seen flying at high altitude over the country. Everyone thought they were reconnaissance airplanes flying at such altitudes. However, two days after the arrival of Soviet troops, it became known that those airplanes had transported giant tanks to the country.

On the following day [28 December], there were tanks and people on the streets who were not familiar to us. I tuned in to the radio and came across, I think, a Tajikistani radio channel, where I heard Babrak Karmal’s voice saying: I have arrived in Afghanistan and a new era has begun.

I wanted to find out what was happening. Parchamis were saying that this was the beginning of a new era of 7 Saur [27 April 1978, which was the initial communist coup]. I went to school on the Sunday [three days later, 30 December], when the atmosphere had changed. Some teachers and pupils had shown up, but others were absent. I searched for my husband, sending people around and trying to call him, until he was found [dead] in Charsad Bestar [400-Bed] Hospital [now known as Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan Hospital] in Kabul. Later, I found that my husband had been shot from behind by a Kalashnikov in his office in Shashdarak, with one bullet. His name had been registered as the first martyr in the hospital registry. No one was telling us anything at the beginning, but I learned this after almost a week’s time. My son was five years old and my daughter was two months old and I myself was a teacher. I moved to my father’s house with my children and raised them there.

  1. Government employee, Ghazni

I became aware of the Soviets coming to Afghanistan only the day after [28 December]. There was a lot of rumour and gossip circulating among the people. I heard people saying that the Soviets had brought Babrak [Karmal] [to power], or that Babrak had brought the Soviets [to Afghanistan]. There was a broadcast on the radio in which Babrak was talking. He was speaking on the radio and said that Amin had been eliminated. He congratulated the Afghan people on the killing of Amin and announced a kind of unity government between the Khalqis and Parchamis [two rival factions of the PDPA].

That the Soviets would come to Afghanistan in such a way was something that had been utterly unimaginable for me and many others I was in touch with. We were all caught unawares. It was a conundrum that Babrak Karmal would come to power through a Soviet invasion. We were dumbfounded at what was happening and how quickly this was happening. People were saying different things about the Soviet intervention. Some were saying it was a good thing because people got rid of Amin who was sucking the people’s blood. Others were saying it was a bad thing because the Soviets came and occupied our soil. They were saying now everything in Afghanistan would be in their hands; they would have all the authority in our country.

  1. Government employee, Kabul II

The following day [28 December], I did not go to work. The gunfire had fallen silent. I did not go to work because the fear and dread of Amin was still somehow in the air. Some three days later, someone came to my home. I was afraid that a government security agent had come and might take me away. So, I put some money in my pocket to give him [as a bribe] to leave me alone, if he wanted to do such a thing. I was wearing my piran tomban [shalwar kameez]. I later found out that he had been sent from the Sedarat [Prime Minister’s Office] to take me there for some official business. When we reached the Sedarat, it was surrounded by Soviet tanks. Inside, in the room where I was asked to go, I saw a Soviet general. For me, it was the first time I had seen a Soviet general, in that room in the Sedarat. There was an instruction for us from Comrade Karmal to go to the Taj Beg Palace to do an inventory of the things present there and to bring back anything that belonged to other offices, such as the Sedarat and the Arg. We were sent in a convoy of two tanks and four jeeps.

When we arrived in the Taj Beg Palace, all we saw were Soviets. Outside and around the Palace I saw the imprint of tanks moving around. The outside and inside of the Palace was packed with Soviet generals and soldiers. We were introduced to them and they let us go in to do what we had been assigned to do. We did an inventory of the things there, from sofas, to rugs, to carpets and anything that was there or that had been left there. I myself went up to Amin’s bedroom. It was large and had one large bed above which was written “Khalq” [Masses – the name of Amin’s PDPA faction]. No one could talk to anyone and no one could ask anything. There was a tense atmosphere. Some of the rooms I saw upstairs had piles of clothes scattered everywhere. On one stairway I saw blood. To me, it looked like a sheep had been slaughtered and dragged away, with the blood forming a trail behind it. We did the inventory and separated and took the things belonging to the Arg, the Defence Ministry and the intelligence service. We saw no Afghans in the palace: no sweepers, no guards, no attendants, no kitchen staff, no Afghans. They were all Soviets.

There was lots of gossiping in town about what had happened in Kabul and in Afghanistan. Some were saying Afghanistan had been occupied by the Soviets. Some were saying the Soviet Union was a global power and had come to help Afghanistan progress and prosper. Some were saying the Soviets had come to crush the ashrar [villains, ie the mujahedin].

  1. Schoolgirl, Kabul

My father and brothers were all involved in politics, opposing the [communist] government. We were in hiding when the Soviets arrived. We felt we were under constant surveillance and we could not get out of our house easily and without fear. We were all sitting and listening to the radio. I was mostly the silent observer, listening to the unending discussions of my father with my brothers, who were now not in contact with their fellows who believed in the same cause [anti-communist jihad]. Later, five months after the invasion, all five of them [father and brothers] were killed by the regime.

  1. Housewife, Kabul

The people did not know what was happening. Our neighbours did not know what was happening, either. There was a massive amount of propaganda being passed around. The women in our neighbourhood often said that the country had been sold to foreigners. Those who had a clue would say that it was an invasion and the country was occupied by the Soviets. People were being swayed by Khalqis or Parchamis or mujahedin, without understanding any of these groups’ agendas. It was a strange time back then for the people; a time of rushing, a time of not knowing what was happening and not knowing what to do.

  1. Government employee, Kabul

A few days before the arrival of the Soviet troops, the [communist] government had told the people to stay indoors if the alarm was sounded and to have curtains on their windows at home, during the day and night. It told the people that some [unspecified] incident might happen.

When the Soviets came, sounds of planes and helicopters could be heard during the night. The following day [28 December], I saw their tanks moving in a line from the Polytechnic Institute to Kot-e Sangi area… People were saying that wherever the Soviets went, they stayed there and did not think about getting out. I thought they would do the same in Afghanistan.

Before the invasion, Hafizullah Amin imprisoned and killed a lot of people. One of my friends and a relative of mine were imprisoned and killed at that time. So, many Afghans went to the villages and started fighting the communists and [later] the Soviet troops when they came. I did not stay in Kabul, either. I went to Ghazni [province]. Then, I migrated to Pakistan and finally to Iran.

  1. Self-employed man, Baghlan

I saw long lines of Soviet military vehicles and Soviet soldiers passing along the Mazar-Kabul highway. Their faces were red and they were armed. Some people along the highway were holding Afghan and Soviet flags and were celebrating the arrival of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. Others were merely watching the military parade of the soldiers. In our own groups, we began debating and arguing about the Soviets. Most of us were saying Afghanistan was no longer a safe place to live.

  1. Schoolboy, Ghazni

In the days after the Soviet forces arrived, I heard that the Russian forces had gone to different provinces and different military corps across the country. The Russian forces also came to Ghazni city. People who went to the city would say they saw Russian forces in their military tanks in Ghazni. They also came to our district in Andar. When the Russians went to the villages, the Afghan security forces would not tell the local people that there were Russians with them. Instead they said that they were all Afghan.

On the other side, a few days after the Soviet invasion, I saw the mujahedin not allowing people to go to Mirai, the district bazaar. They were trying to disconnect the people from the government. There were generally two types of thinking. Those people who were pro-government thought that the arrival of Soviet forces might bring positive changes, but those opposing the government thought the invasion by Soviet forces would mean a complete takeover of the country. These people would say that the Russians would force them to convert from Islam. Also, they thought that the new system would bring unacceptable changes, such as the confiscation of land or the targeting of tribal elders in the villages.

  1. Flour mill owner, Ghazni

I saw Russian forces in Ghazni city. When I had the flour mill, I needed to go to the city and buy fuel for the engine and bring it to my village. Whenever I went to the city from then on, I would see Russian soldiers there. They were in or around their tanks and they had white skin. They were guarding different parts of Ghazni city. I first saw them in front of the [provincial] governor’s house.

I was thinking about the Russians in the same way other people were thinking about them. People thought: the Red Army has invaded our country. Since the Red Army was non-Muslim, people thought they would promote atheism in our society and would not allow people to perform their religion openly. This was not acceptable for the people. We also thought that since the Russians had invaded Afghanistan, it was going to be their country now. We thought the Russians were colonising Afghanistan and annexing it into their union.

Soviet tank wreck, Hazarajat. Photo: Thomas Ruttig (2004)

Did the Soviet intervention change your life – if so, in what way?

  1. School teacher, Kunduz

The major change in our lives was a split between family members and relatives. Some of our relatives followed the government, while others either remained neutral or followed the mujahedin. The new government restarted the previous strategy of Nur Muhammad Tarakai and Hafizullah Amin by arresting and detaining religious scholars, local elders and influential figures who opposed the government. Schools were shut in many villages because of the mujahedin’s attacks and warnings. Government employees were warned, told to quit their jobs and join the mujahedin.

In my personal life, I lost my job and was forced to serve as a security service member. In Kabul, I was caught by the police and immediately sent to a frontline in Kandahar to fight the mujahedin. I spent one and half years there and had no clue about my family. Eventually, I managed to flee to Pakistan where I had no contact with the rest of my family for another year. Finally, I managed to send a written letter to my father to inform him about myself and how I fled to Pakistan. After almost two years, my family joined me and we remained in Pakistan until the collapse of the communist regime.

  1. High school graduate, Kabul

I joined a mujahedin party, Sazman-e Nasr [Victory Organisation, a Shia group]. We believed the Russians had come to Afghanistan to stay forever and would not go. So, I became involved with [clandestine] political and cultural activities in Kabul against the Soviets.

  1. Army officer, Kabul

The arrival of the Russians did not change my life in any way. I was very happy because the Russians made a very good decision. The only change that came to my life was that we got rid of a traitor [Hafizullah Amin]. Some people like me had a chance to speak about the politics of Afghanistan. The people were not killed, at least not in Kabul. I continued my job in Kabul happily. I served my duty in the Najib government [last communist president, 1987-92]. I lived and worked in Kabul during the mujahedin, under the Taleban and during the government of Karzai. I retired in Karzai’s time… [But] it would have been better if Nur Muhammad Tarakai had not carried out the coup. The [communist] revolution needed to wait for 200 more years [to happen in Afghanistan]. It was what Babrak Karmal was also saying.

  1. Schoolboy, Kabul

I was not happy because I was thinking that we had become a colony of the Russians. My family and I were happy with the government of Hafizullah Amin. We never liked those who were fighting against the government. Many people left their homes in the beginning, because they were afraid of the Russians, but they soon came back to their houses. My life did not change and my family and I were not affected badly. The only thing we were unhappy with was the rule of Russians over our people and our country. They were killing people in the provinces. I completed high school and was admitted in the Police Academy of Kabul. I was later recruited as an army officer. I was thinking the war would end and the situation would change, but unfortunately it did not.

  1. Female teacher and activist, Kabul

Afghanistan was destroyed with the arrival of the Soviet forces. They caused so many problems for the country due to the impact of the Cold War. I, as an Afghan citizen, am not an exception to [the suffering]. I lost my husband. The best person [in a women’s life] is her husband. It was like my house was destroyed. My children were deprived [of their father]. However, I raised them in a way so that they did not feel it.

The presence of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan led to increased problems for the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The mujahedin who had gone to neighbouring countries turned into guerrillas and paved the way for increased assistance to the opposition, and the Soviet Union was recognised as the occupier. Opposition against the nascent Democratic Republic of Afghanistan inside the country, in the region and in the world increased and took on military, economic and political dimensions. Pakistan took a more active role in arming, equipping and dispatching the opposition back to the country and reaped huge benefits from this. After the arrival of the Soviet troops and, after that, the engagement of more than 40 countries in Afghanistan, the situation in the country deteriorated, which dealt a strong blow to the country. If we look comparatively, Afghanistan [its communist government] enjoyed only the Soviet support, whereas the opposition received support from the most powerful country [USA] and many other countries of the world.

  1. Government employee, Ghazni

Our country changed. War started and has continued till this very day. Power was in the hands of the Soviets. We were besieged by other countries. Pakistan began intervening. The US and Iran did similar things. They were counteracting the Soviets. This was what befell and devastated Afghanistan. If war had not begun, Afghanistan would have been a different country: a country like our northern neighbours, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Soviets were working to develop Afghanistan’s infrastructure, but the war that ensued allowed neither them, nor their client communist government, to work on their plans. The Soviets were a better friend to Afghanistan than Pakistan has been. In fact, Pakistan has been our foe.

My family’s life did not change much. We had a hand-to-mouth existence. I was a low-ranking employee of the government. I was content with whatever I was doing and whatever money I was making at work. I was just spending my days. My work did not change much, either. However, I was threatened by the Khalqis [here a general term for all PDPA members] on a couple of occasions. Once they took me to Kandak-e Operatifi [Operations Battalion] for detention and possibly worse, but, fortunately, my father knew several Khalqis and so he managed to get me out. I worked in Ghazni until 1365 [1986]. I was then transferred to Kabul city where I worked during Najib’s time. I quit my work for some 10 years or so during the so-called jihad, including when the mujahedin captured power in Kabul. I rejoined the government during Karzai’s time and worked as an employee in the Ghazni Directorate of Public Works. I then missed my family so much that I applied to be transferred to Mazar-e Sharif, which was granted. I retired about 10 years ago.

  1. Government employee, Kabul II

For me there was no change. I was an employee of the government. Government employees, at least in Kabul, were paid on time and were given coupons to get provisions, such as wheat, cooking oil, tea and rice. There was no degrading or humiliating treatment towards us. The Soviets were not like the Americans who go from house to house [to search them]. They were stationed in their bases.

Of course, if I look at the country, we suffered and we suffered tremendously. War began and intensified. There was war in Parwan [province] and elsewhere. People’s houses were destroyed. There were bombings. Convoys transporting food provisions were attacked and disrupted. If the Soviets had not come to Afghanistan, there would not be such a war in Afghanistan. I remember the period of Daud Khan. There was calm all over Afghanistan. Roads were open. People could travel around the country unimpeded and without fear. They could work and decide where to work in the country. There was no sound of gunfire. When the Soviets came, things got worse. War in Afghanistan became a war that involved various countries. The mujahedin, who were supported by Pakistan and other countries, said our land has been invaded and occupied by the Soviets. The Soviets and their Afghan government were calling them ashrar that had to be rooted out. We suffered a lot. Our country suffered a lot.

  1. Schoolgirl, Kabul

It did affect me. When they [Soviets] came, they killed my father and four brothers. That directly affected my life. I turned against the Soviet invasion. I became a member of a mujahedin group called Sazman-e Mujahedin wa Mustazafin-e Afghanistan [Organisation of Afghanistan’s Mujahedin and Downtrodden]. I forgot my childhood. I forgot a lot of things that a child would dream of or wish for. I became very invested in politics. This was true for many of my classmates too. We were divided into factions. I was pro-mujahedin and there were also Khalqi and Parchami supporters. You would not believe this, but I remember that whenever there was news of a protest or a call for gathering, we would argue and sometimes fight in the classrooms. I was scared that my classmates would report me. I received a few warnings that I would be imprisoned if I continued my activities. I had to hide my opinions. I remember that a few days after my father was killed, I went to school. They asked me to go to the principal and she asked me why I was sad. I lied; I said it was just because my father was dead and that it had nothing to do with the Khalqis or Parchamis or the fact that mujahedin were being defeated badly in the frontlines.

  1. Housewife, Kabul

As I said, I had given birth to my daughter. She was 40 days old when they captured my husband. He was imprisoned for three months and then he disappeared. We still have no clue what happened to him. He was captured by the Parcham party on the accusation of working with the Shola-ye Jawed group. He was captured during a meeting of the group. We know for sure that he is dead, but we have no idea how it happened and when and where. It did not end here. My brother-in-law was also killed later, then another brother-in-law, then my father-in-law. It is a vicious circle. My father was killed later during mujahedin rule. I have witnessed the deaths of my beloved ones, my family, all because of these failing and destructive politics we practice in Afghanistan. It was all a horror. I went to Pakistan to seek refuge with my two kids. I have seen hunger and misery and bad days ever since. We walked 12 days through the mountains till we reached Pakistan. I stayed there for five months until I was forced to return. It was a life of migration, struggle and sorrow for me, so you can say it has affected me personally and a great deal. This is not only my life, but the life of many others I know.

  1. Government employee, Kabul

Life became harder when the Soviets arrived and Babrak Karmal was installed in power. The PDPA was divided and they had internal problems. I was alone. I had no one at home to support my family and the government wanted me to join military service. I did not want to and so I escaped. My life changed when the Soviets came. I had to migrate to Iran. I was away from my family. Working in Iran was difficult and my family lived a difficult life in Kabul.

  1. Self-employed man, Baghlan

The only [good] change the Soviet intervention brought to our life was the release of my father from prison. He was released a month later, but our daily life completely changed. The house searches, bombardments and detaining of religious scholars and tribal elders restarted. Because of my father’s background as a tribal elder and an alleged ikhwani, my whole family fled from Baghlan to Kabul. We thought people would not recognise us in Kabul and we would have a safe life there. However, even in Kabul, we were not safe. Later, we fled to Pakistan and remained there until the fall of the communist regime.

  1. Schoolboy, Ghazni

It changed my life. We left our village for Kabul where I could not complete my schooling. After a year in Kabul, the government forced me to join the army. After some time, I became a tank driver. I had a tough life. I was mostly on the frontline, fighting the mujahedin. I would drive over landmines, but I somehow luckily survived. Back in our village, the local mujahedin grabbed our land. They did not want to return the land to us after the fall of the Najib government, but, ultimately, we got it from them. We returned back to our village after more than ten years and I started to have a normal life, away from war.

  1. Flour mill owner, Ghazni

The Soviet invasion changed my life a lot. War intensified in our village and I had to leave for another village. But I did not have that kind of active business there. I had fewer customers and people did not trust me as they did in our own village.

All the people in our area, myself included, decided to support the mujahedin. I had not joined the mujahedin, but I did help them in different ways, such as providing them with food and protection in my mill.

In the village I moved to, the Russians and the communists came to my flour mill three times. They took anything they wanted. After spending a few years there, I returned to my own village where I used to have a grape orchard. The Russian tanks had destroyed it. I had to hire people and reconstruct the walls to start taking care of my land again.

The interviews were conducted by Ali Mohammad Sabawoon, Ali Yawar Adili, Fazal Muzhary, Khadija Hussaini, Obaid Ali, Reza Kazemi and Rohullah Sorush.

Edited by Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig.

Soviet war remnants at Kunduz airport. Photo: Thomas Ruttig (2005)

 

Thematic Category: War & Peace