Report From Heroic Jalalabad: Front Line Afghanistan
Crush CIA’s Mujahedin
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard, No. 482, 21 July 1989
From Our Correspondent in Afghanistan
JALALABAD, July 7—Thousands of people thronged through the streets of this revitalized city today to celebrate an important military victory over the ClA’s mujahedin (holy warriors). Two days ago, the armed forces of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) government, spearheaded by an armored Special Guard unit and heavily backed by the Air Force, forced the counterrevolutionaries to pull back to positions they occupied before the March offensive against Jalalabad.
Not only has the months-long bitter siege been broken, but Jalalabad and the surrounding parts of Nangarhar Province of which it is the capital are once again secure from the threat of rocket attacks. The rout of the mujahedin was so sweeping that the initial impulse of advance elements of the armored unit was to roll all the way up to Torkham, on the border with Pakistan. But the order came from the High Command to consolidate their positions before advancing further.
This reporter was with the first group of journalists to visit Jalalabad since May, and only the second visit since the mujahedin siege began in March. It was particularly moving to be here on behalf of the international campaign of humanitarian assistance conducted by the Partisan Defense Committee and fraternal legal and social defense organizations in other countries which raised over $42,000 to aid the civilian victims of the siege. The English-language Kabul Times (3 July) and the Dari-language Payam (2 July) had both carried articles reporting on a message of acknowledgment from the Nangarhar Province Defence Council to the PDC. Part of the message quoted by the Kabul Times read:
The front has now been pushed back to Samarkhel, some 12-15 kilometers further east, a key fortified outpost that was the scene of heavy fighting in March and again now. We were taken by bus to Samarkhel. A few kilometers away, we could see a tank firing shell after shell over a ridge, along which some Afghan soldiers were advancing. This ridge is the mujahedin’s only natural defense line for many miles, but there was no sign that they were holding their own or fighting back.
The officers and soldiers of the Special Guard unit proudly showed us around, describing the weapons captured, while warning us to stick to the areas that have already been cleared of mines—i.e., where a tank tread has left its “signature.” We could see the damaged buildings of the housing complex, the school and the shop, and visit the big diesel power station.
A City of Determination
At the head of the line of march of today’s victory celebration was an armored car atop which rode our team of journalists. Following the military and civilian leaders of the city came dozens of multicolored banners and Afghan national flags and some five to ten thousand residents of Jalalabad. People were everywhere in the streets. There was not a sign of fear, but rather an evident determination which exploded in loud chants of “Afghanistan Zindabad!” (Long Live Afghanistan) and “Marg ya Watan” (Death or Country) that punctuated the march throughout. Young and old, women and men—many carrying their weapons—Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus joined together in this march from Jamhuriat Garden to Pashtoonistan Square.
After listening to a speech by Lt. Gen. Manookay Mangal, governor and chairman of the Defence Council of Nangarhar Province, the participants adopted a resolution “expressing all-out solidarity with the victorious and heroic armed forces in the defence of homeland, independence, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the country.” The roofs of the mainly two-story houses along the route of the march were guarded by young militiamen (some appeared to be no older than 13), their Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders looking almost too big for them.
From the helicopter and from the road, it was clear that Jalalabad, once renowned as a tourist resort for its beauty and greenery, is a wounded city, whose scars will take a long time to heal. The ravages of the brutal war against the population can be seen in torn walls, damaged houses, smashed window-panes and roads full of ditches and debris. Between March and July, 973 houses were damaged along with 150 government buildings, shops and markets, mosques and temples. Many of the houses are made of mud bricks—making them relatively easy to rebuild—and the people have been working hard at repairing them.
The airport, some five kilometers to the east of the city, shows all the signs of the fierce battle that went on around and for it in March and April: hangars blown apart, the airstrip damaged, remains of jeeps and helicopters lying around, the control tower heavily damaged. It’s clear that there has been no time to care for the niceties of appearance: the airport is functional again and that’s enough.
The civilian population has suffered terribly: 1,993 injured and 1,002 killed, half of them children. On the single day of March 8, the mujahedin cutthroats, bankrolled by the Pakistani ISI [Inter-Service Intelligence] and the CIA, bombarded Jalalabad with 5,000 rockets. But they did not succeed in overwhelming its heroic defenders.
At the Central Hotel we met some of the civilian victims of these rocket attacks. Among them was Hayatullah, aged 14, a bright kid who lost his right leg in February. He had been afraid of rockets, he said. When one hit his home in the eastern district of Jalalabad, a brother was killed and another lost his leg. Hayatullah was a student at the time and wanted to become a teacher. With the stern look of a young man who had to grow up a lot faster than kids his age in luckier parts of the world, he asserted his resolve to complete his studies, because he very much wants “to teach small children.” When asked how he felt about those who did this to him, he replied, “They should all be eliminated,” adding that “America” is ultimately responsible as the country that supplies the rockets.
An Internationalist Struggle
Toward the end of our eight-hour stay in Jalalabad we met the governor. After the deputy governor, who was accompanying the team of journalists, learned that this reporter was a representative of the PDC campaign, he made it known to the governor. When we entered the room for the press conference, Lt. Gen. Mangal shook hands with every reporter, but embraced me enthusiastically, saying “Ah, Partisan.”
A doctor by profession, the 41-year-old former chief of political affairs of the interior ministry in Kabul has been governor of this crucial border province for six months. He said that “Pakistani militarists and the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad decided to declare war on Jalalabad on the 6th of March.” The reactionaries—with a total of 40,000 troops, including two Pakistani tank battalions and 120 units of “reactive artillery”—were supposed to occupy Jalalabad in 72 hours; planes were ready in Peshawar to bring the mujahedin “provisional government” onto Afghan territory. “But they could not occupy the city,” Lt. Gen. Mangal declared proudly. “Nangarhar men and women fought valiantly,” including PDPA members as well as the military, he added. The Air Force played a major role in the defeat of the attackers.
I asked the governor if the defenders and people of Jalalabad are aware that in many countries of the world, working people are following their struggle with extreme concern. “Certainly,” he replied, adding that the struggle of the Afghan people is an “internationalist struggle.” Mangal mentioned specifically Pakistan’s plan to dismember Afghanistan and to impose a government that would join with Pakistan and Turkey in a “new CENTO” anti-Soviet and anti-Indian U.S.-dominated alliance. He again thanked the PDC for our efforts in support of the people of Jalalabad. The international aid campaign clearly boosted morale in Jalalabad. The message from the Defence Council said, “Your great and humane move is so noteworthy that no devilish eyes can dare see it.”
In the course of these three months of fighting, the defenders of Jalalabad had lost some 800 killed. But using a combination of high-level bombing by converted propeller-driven Antonov AN-l2 cargo planes—which can fly above the range of the U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles—and long-range SCUD missiles fired from the Kabul area, the Afghan armed forces have inflicted far heavier losses on the enemy. At a July 3 press conference in Kabul, Gen. Alumi, head of the military section of the PDPA and secretary of the Supreme Defence Council, explained that the counterrevolutionaries have taken more casualties between March and June than “in any previous two years of fighting taken together.” He gave a figure of 35,000 mujahedin casualties (including 3,000 Pakistanis) since the signing of the Geneva agreement in 1988.
Bakhtar News Agency (5 July), reporting a meeting between bereaved Afghan mothers and a delegation of Pakistani journalists, quoted one mother saying: “We were pleased with the signing of the Geneva accords, we thought that in the light of these agreements war in the Republic of Afghanistan could be stopped…. But unfortunately after the signing of the accords, war in the Republic of Afghanistan has further intensified.” In fact, Gorbachev’s pullout has served only to embolden the imperialists and their cutthroats.
The Soviet intervention in 1979 was mandated by defense of the gains of the 1917 October Revolution and opened up the prospect of extending those gains to Afghanistan; that is why the international Spartacist tendency, now the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), proclaimed “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” After the Soviet withdrawal, Washington and Islamabad thought the instant the Soviet troops pulled out, the Afghan government would crumble. They have been proved wrong by the fighting valor of the Afghan people.
Meanwhile, the PDPA’s policy of “national reconciliation” aims at luring the reactionaries into a coalition. Kabul papers regularly report agreements with regional mujahedin commanders, effectively leaving them in control of their fiefdoms. The day after Payam reported on the internationalist aid campaign by the PDC, it carried a speech by the foreign minister headlined, “Except a Political Settlement—No Other Way Exists for Putting an End to War in Afghanistan.”
But to put an end to the imperialist-backed war against social progress requires rooting out—not conciliating—entrenched feudal and capitalist reaction through workers revolution. In the extremely backward conditions of Afghanistan, the tiny industrial proletariat does not have the weight to effect a fundamental transformation of society. But next door in Bhutto’s Pakistan, the home base for the CIA’s mujahedin, conditions for social revolution are brewing, with national minorities in turmoil and the regime divided. In Iran, the Islamic theocracy is now headless and the population sick of a decade of bloody war and domestic terror.
Jalalabad besieged was the focal point of imperialism’s jihad (holy war) against social progress and the Soviet Union. Jalalabad victorious can inspire revolutionary struggle throughout the region, from India to Turkey. That requires above all the program of Leninist internationalism, the banner of the International Communist League.