6. Urban Uprisings and Their Suppression

6. Urban Uprisings and Their Suppression

The Afghans are a dynamic and excitable people. When left to their ways, they go quietly about their own pursuits. When outraged, they may go to any extreme—and, like most people, they are outraged when their values are encroached on. Since the Afghans have a long history, and since in the course of it great religions such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Islam have spread in their land, their traditional and religious values are rooted in time. During the course of history Afghans have been molded by these religions as a set of commands and prohibitions and by their own traditions. They look on these social and religious codes as sacrosanct. Because of their experiences, they lead lives centered on religious values; on a code of honor that emphasizes family, ethnicity, and country; and on a code of conduct that governs relations between individuals and groups. Most important, they prefer to live within a framework that imposes the fewest restrictions on them.

Both religious and social conventions require Afghans to have a political structure. This is particularly true of tribal Afghans. The Pashtunwali of Pashtuns, governing their individual and social life, is a code of behavior for all, including their elders. In the past, even in times of war when the central political structure had disintegrated, the Afghans have lived within their social codes. Yet, contradictory as it may seem, the Afghans are not resistant to innovation and modernization. “Afghan cultural traits enable survival because the social structure, while strongly traditional, is, at the same time, surprisingly resilient, not rigid and intractable.”[1] A pragmatic people, the Afghans have shown appreciation for change when, in this period of rapid transformation elsewhere, they have become aware of their backwardness. They have, however, wanted change to happen within the framework of their value system. The Afghans can be coaxed to hell, but not forced to heaven. The truth of this saying was made clear in the constitutional decade, when governments ruled on consensus. In this period even rural Afghans demanded schemes of modernization, calling for them either directly or through their representatives. For this purpose they volunteered their services and offered contributions in cash and plots of land. Such was particularly the case with regard to schools for both boys and girls. The rapid increase in the number of schools in the 1950s and 1960s, when Ali Ahmad Popal and Abdul Kayeum were the cabinet ministers of education, was the result of such cooperation. But those who embarked on schemes of modernization after the constitutional period did not show this wisdom.

Twice in the 1970s the Afghans were outraged: in 1978 by the communist coup, and in 1979 by the Russian invasion. The Afghans regarded both as violations of their mores. Besides, the invasion occurred when a civil war was going on. The invasion turned the civil war into a war of liberation. It gave that war a new meaning, summed up in the word jehad, an expression particularly moving to Muslim Afghans in such times. There have been many periods of jehad before in Afghan life, such as those against the Sikhs and the British in the last century, but this was the most forceful of all. The Russians were godless communists, and their ruthless suppression of the Muslims of Central Asia had been related to the Afghans by the thousands of the Muslims of Bukhara who had taken refuge in Afghanistan.

The Afghans worried that if the Russians dominated their country, not only would they lose their independence, but their land might become a Soviet republic, as the Muslim Bukhara had become. This explains why, with the exception of pro-Moscow communists (and not all of those) and the small group of the Sitam-e-Milli, the bulk of Afghans opposed the invasion. The opposition was shown throughout the country in a form and to a degree that has not been shown before. Except for pockets of the regime’s supporters here and there, every group—religious, ethnic, and social—rose in protest. Even the religious minorities of Sikhs and Hindus covertly assisted the mujahideen.

• • •

Prelude to Urban Uprisings

The national opposition was marked by two stages: spontaneous, disorganized urban opposition, and rural guerrilla opposition. It soon became clear that the Soviet army could suppress the former but not the latter. The mobile mujahideen could fight almost indefinitely.

Following the invasion, the Soviet army contingent increased in number. Within a week it swelled to about 85,000 and subsequently to 120,000. Its materiel included varieties of modern weapons, both chemical and strategic, which were deployed temporarily against possible attack from the outside. In addition, Soviet warplanes from bases across the Oxus also took part in operations inside Afghanistan.

Army contingents were stationed in and around cities as well as along some main roads. Some were dispatched to frontier areas such as Kunar and Gardez. The bulk of them were stationed along the main roads leading to the Soviet border. A protective line was drawn around the city of Kabul, but the army did not immediately take part in operations. Until the uprising in Kabul in February 1980, the invading army acted in self-defense. The Soviets acted on the view that since resistance to their invincible army was futile, it would be a matter only of weeks or perhaps months before the country settled. They also held that since the invading army had rid the Afghans of the tyrant Khalqis, they would accept its presence. The promises of the new regime were likewise calculated to soothe the Afghans.

With that in mind, the authorities instructed provincial governors to establish a dialogue with those who had taken up arms. They were to persuade the militants to lay down their arms and enjoy the benefits of a peaceful life. This approach, on the contrary, emboldened the mujahideen, who soon appeared close to provincial capitals and roamed about in groups in villages surrounding the cities. There they either killed Communist Party members or drove them to cities. By 24 January the province of Laghman, for example, had been cleared of party members and their collaborators, while by mid-February the whole countryside had been wrested from government control. The mujahideen even controlled some main roads in the sense that they searched transport vehicles for party members and government officers. The Karmal government became confined to cities, and even there unparalleled opposition was shown to the invading power and its client government.

• • •

Herat and Kandahar in Turmoil

Individual acts of opposition were first shown by urban Afghans following the invasion when Russian soldiers walked here and there in the city of Kabul, acting as though Kabul were Moscow. Ordinary Afghans abhorred the very sight of the soldiers. In separate attacks, a butcher and a shopkeeper killed roaming soldiers in broad daylight on 3 January. The attackers also lost their lives. During the first week of January individual attacks became common in Kabul, particularly in quarters such as Khair Khana, Dasht-e-Barchi, Qala-e-Shada, and Pul-e-Sokhta. A particularly dramatic attack was made by a young villager of Qala-e-Abdullah in Kohistan in May 1980. Approaching as a peddler, he stabbed to death a patrolling Russian soldier when the latter became interested in his fanciful commodities. Dressed in the soldier’s uniform and armed with his weapons, the “peddler” shot dead seven Russian soldiers who were swimming in the nearby river.

Such attacks were an indication of the storm that was soon to come. The movement of contingents of the invading army into cities, in addition, made it clear to the ordinary Afghans that atheists had occupied their homeland. Their response to the invaders now came quicker than the response of their forefathers to the invading British army a hundred years earlier. Popular opposition in the city of Kandahar was even more dramatic. Five days after the invasion the people of the city of Kandahar, who numbered over 130,000 in 1970, rose against the Russian army. After they killed a few men, the invading army withdrew to the cantonment. The uprising was followed by closure of the shops as a form of protest. By the first week of February the demonstrations became general. Shopkeepers closed their shops while men and women called azans (calls for prayers) on their flat rooftops and recited passages from the Quran. Denouncing the Russians and their puppet regime, they headed toward public cemeteries in protest.

The inhabitants of the city of Herat, who numbered 73,700 in 1970, made an even stronger commotion. During the first week of January 1980, the men of the city, at the first sight of the Russian soldiers, left their homes for mosques and other open spaces and called for prayers. All shops, except those selling essential commodities, were closed. The city of Herat was the innovator of anticommunist commotions. Its inhabitants had been the first to arise en masse a year earlier against the Khalqi regime, as already noted. The cities of Mazar and Balkh were also disturbed, but not to the extent that Herat and Kandahar were. In Kandahar and Herat the commotion was continual. On 22 February 1980 the population of Kabul, which numbered 513,000 in 1970, also participated in the greatest uprising in its history.

• • •

The Great Uprising of Kabul

The commotion in Kabul was a reflection of the will of the people because it was the capital city of the country. Party activists tried to dissuade shopkeepers from closing their shops and stores, but to no effect. A day before the uprising security officials arrested about two hundred persons, including a number of Khalqis, for inciting the people. The closure of the shops had been preceded by the distribution of clandestine antigovernment leaflets (shabnamaha). To incite the people still further, a group of two or three young men would appear in front of each shopkeeper and warn him to close the shop. He was also told to repeat with them that “Karmal was a traitor, and the Russians should leave our fatherland.” It was also said that “under-ground groups had smuggled rifles into the city beforehand.”[2]

The next sign of the storm was shown in the moonlit evening, when the cry “Allah o Akbar!” (God is great) echoed and reechoed over the breadth and length of the city, something unheard before. This was said to have been ordered, but who had ordered it is not known.[3] The chanting was an extension of the practice in Herat and Kandahar, where two evenings earlier such azans had become intense. In Kabul only men, including myself and young children, called the azans. The azans sounded the whole night. Nearby villagers also took part in making them. Soon the sound and color of rockets fired into the sky accompanied the azans. The invaders from the military cantonments in the city fired the rockets to frighten the people. In response, the Afghans raised the volume of their calls. It was as if a competition was under way, and indeed it was. This protest coincided with a reception in the Soviet embassy commemorating the sixty-second anniversary of the foundation of the Soviet army. The reception was announced in the name of the military attaché of the embassy, yet Babrak Karmal had also attended as head of state. This further angered the Afghans, who saw it below the dignity of the office of the head of state, even though they now opposed that office.

Early the next morning (22 February 1980, or 3 Hoot 1358) thousands of Afghans consummated the uprising, beginning in the old part of the city. Almost simultaneously, groups of people by the thousands appeared in different quarters of the city: Dasht-e-Barchi, Pul-e-Khishti, Mohammad Jan Khan Watt, Salang Watt, Jamal Maina, Beni Hissar, and Qala-e-Fathullah.[4] Along the way thousands of others joined the march, which made it difficult even to estimate their total number. Except for the pro-Moscow communists, the people of the city either took part in the uprising or supported it, and Kabul was the first to oppose the invaders and the regime. The marchers were determined and undaunted. Those in the front ranks carried the green flag of Islam and chanted the slogan “Allah o Akbar!” Others incited them with fiery and evocative words. In the Haji Yaqub Square a group of women also chanted anti-Soviet slogans until they were dispersed.[5]

Soon armed units that had already taken positions in streets met the column marching along the Salang Watt in the central part of the city. Some Khalqis had declined to take action against the demonstrators. The demonstrators were unarmed, marching peacefully. Security forces, speaking through loudspeakers, asked them to disperse. They declined. After firing into the air, the security forces then fired at them at random. The marchers in the front lines fell to the ground. For a while, the flags were not allowed to remain on the ground with the fallen martyrs. They were picked up by men from the rear lines, who continued the march in the face of now sporadic firing.

The demonstrators could not continue their march in the face of the cutting force. After some time they ran for safety in the adjacent narrow lanes, only to join the main body later. It was then that they looted some shops and set some transport vehicles on fire. Their targets were state property, although private property was also looted. Finally they ran to the mosque of Pul-e-Khishti to take sanctuary, as is the custom of the land. But there, too, in some places they were fired on. After the dispersal of this uprising, security forces again began firing into the air, giving the impression that they had been doing so all along.

In the Dehburi Square in the Mier Wais Maidan, many groups of demonstrators converged, forming the biggest protest rally in the western part of the city. Those who started their protest from the town of Dasht-e-Barchi were the largest of all the groups. In their long march to the area, thousands of others joined them. When they reached Pul-e-Sokhta, the security men fired at them. Some protesters were lost, but the rest continued their march. The police of the Mier Wais Maidan headquarters also fired on them. This time they lost a larger number and dispersed. At about this time another column of protesters arrived from Qala-e-Shada and headed toward the government bakery through Dehburi, where the dispersed protesters of the Dasht-e-Barchi column joined them. The combined group occupied the headquarters of the police of the Khushal Maina. Here the police not only did not oppose them but even let them have weapons. The house of the fallen Amin was looted. An armored Russian contingent then appeared in the area, and helicopters flew low over the protesters, apparently passing on information about their movements to the armored units.

Toward midday the sounds of heavy bombs exploding elsewhere shook Khushal Maina. High in the sky warplanes roared. Rockets were fired from the low-flying helicopters. Armored units on the ground also began firing. Thus, both from the sky and the ground the Russians used their weapons for the first time against common Afghans in their own city. But these protesters, protected by modern buildings, did not lose as many as the protesters in the Salang Watt. The invaders apparently intended more to frighten than to kill. At this time I fled the area for safety, feeling a sense of appreciation for those journalists who cover the forefronts of battlefields. The sound of firing in Khushal Maina was heard until six o’clock in the evening.

Another column of protesters emerged in Chindawal near the center of the old city. After taking weapons from the area police headquarters, the protesters marched toward the main road of Jada-e-Maiwand in the middle of the crowded part of the city. This section had also been the scene of clashes in the preceding summer between the locals and the Khalqi government. Both uprisings were suppressed. The column of protesters in the Bagh-e-Ali Mardan part of the old city also succeeded in acquiring weapons from the local police headquarters. A determined column of these protesters managed to reach as far as the east gate of the presidential palace (often called the People’s House), but after suffering casualties they were forced to retreat and disperse. In the confrontation with the presidential guards about fifty soldiers were killed.

From the suburban interconnected villages of Deh Dana and Afshar close to Darulaman, people went out of their homes and, chanting “Allah o Akbar!” and anti-Soviet slogans, attacked a few nearby tanks. The tanks withdrew from the area, but shortly afterward a number of military jeeps containing armed men appeared at the scene. By that time the number of protesters had also increased. The men in the jeeps, speaking through loudspeakers, told the protesters that gatherings of more than four people had been declared unlawful under martial law; thus, they were required to disperse. When the people declined, they were fired on. About 120 fell dead, and the rest fled. Columns of protesters also appeared, as noted, in many other parts of the city, but information about them is not available. By nightfall calm prevailed over the city. About two thousand people were said to have been killed, but the actual number was probably about eight hundred. Four hundred bodies were seen in the morgue of the Four-Hundred-Bed Hospital.[6] Protests still continued for the next six days, but no longer in the streets. During this period shops and stores, except those for essential goods, were kept closed until the security men compelled shopkeepers to open them. Knowing in advance that the storm was coming, the authorities responded quickly. They took measures to suppress the marches, and they adopted other measures to forestall disturbances in the future. Around midday, in a special television broadcast, the government announced that martial law was in effect in the city. Declaring meetings unlawful, it forbade people to be seen in groups of more than four persons. It also declared the city to be under curfew at night and ordered people to surrender the unlicensed weapons in their possession. Further, it stated that agents of the governments of Pakistan, the United States, and China had tried to disturb security and destroy state property. “An unfortunate group of sixteen Pakistanis, with two Chinese, two Americans, and an Egyptian, were arrested in Kabul, accused of being agents to create bloody pogroms and murder.”[7] The government did not mention the name of Iran, although the Afghan Shi’ite followers of the Ayatullah Khomeini were active in the uprising and had chanted his name. In the uprisings during the Khalqi period, both Iran and Pakistan had been blamed. Later in the evening the regime announced that government offices were closed until further notice; they were reopened on 25 February. “Many more Kabulis were summarily shot from among 5000 arrested after the uprising.”[8] Among them were a number of pro-Amin Khalqis.

The measures opened a new stage of repression for the period when Karmal headed the regime. Common sense would have regarded the uprising as an indication of the will of the people. The policy of occupation should have been revised, as the British had done under similar circumstances about a hundred years earlier. Instead, the Soviets stressed violence in reaching the goals their rulers had set. To establish the regime, they abandoned a defensive posture in favor of offensive measures. The new posture became clear in other cities, where bands of armed agents of KhAD searched houses for suspects, while army units searched for draft evaders. During the curfew hours KhAD agents roamed the streets of Kabul. Not a night passed without shops being looted or houses searched and their inhabitants molested or insulted and their valuables taken. The Russian patrols also looted shops. In the name of security the regime created insecurity, and its measures to undo some of the repressive measures of its predecessor lost meaning. The regime became more isolated from the people and more dependent on the Soviet might.

In evaluating this uprising, we might note that no group of protesters was organized, although it has been claimed that “to oppose the Russians the whole city of Kabul had been organized to rise on 21 February.”[9] Only the column of Chindawal seemed organized. No prominent figure was seen among the marchers, who were ordinary citizen. In this respect, the protesters differed from those who had risen against the British during the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the last century. At the time such men as General Mohammad Jan Khan Wardak, General Ghulam Hayder Charkhi, Mier Bacha of Kohistan, and others led the uprising. The actions of the present protesters were not coordinated.

A conspicuous feature of the opposition was the participation of the Shi’as with their Sunni brothers; together, they constituted the great majority of the city’s population. The Shi’ite Qizilbashes and Hazaras dominated the columns of demonstrators emerging from the Dasht-e-Barchi, Qala-e-Shada, Deh Dana, Jamal Maina, Karta-e-Sakhi, and Chindawal. The significance of this can be understood when it is borne in mind that their role was reversed during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. A portion of the educated Qizilbashes were Parchamis, who were now called “the internal Russians.” In opposing the regime and the occupation army, the Sunni followers of the Islamic Party, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Shi’ite followers of the Islamic Movement, led by Ayatullah Shaykh Asif Muhsini, and thousands of others joined hands. The Maoist Shu’lais likewise incited the insurgents, particularly the Qizilbashes and the Hazaras. In this they were quite successful, working as if they were competing with the Islamic movement. A number of pro-Amin Khalqis also took part in the uprising, either by inciting the insurgents or by not performing their jobs in critical hours. It was because of the unwillingness of some Khalqi officers to go against the insurgents that the Russian forces were brought in. All Parchamis and most Khalqis joined hands with the occupation forces against their own compatriots.

Although rifles were smuggled into the city, they were apparently not used. The protesters, particularly those who were from the suburban areas, carried spades, clubs, a number of antiquated rifles, and swords. A lame, middle-aged villager with an antiquated sword in his hand was seen struggling toward the city to join the multitude, denouncing the infidel Russians as he went. The voices heard among the protesters were directed against the Soviets and infidelity (kufr) and showed concern for the country. Some said, “O Muslims, infidels have come and occupied our fatherland and endangered our religion,” while others cried, “O Russians, get out of our land!”

The number of the protesters cannot be determined. It is, however, not difficult to say to what segment of society they belonged. The areas from which they emerged are areas mainly of the lower professional middle class and unskilled laborers. They are also areas of shopkeepers and artisans of various professions. The Hazara coolies also come from these areas. Eight of them were found dead near Dehburi with their sacks on their backs.

This description might suggest that the protesters’ grievances were economic. Far from it. In the face of a ruthless enemy, prudence dictated that prominent persons remain behind, while thousands of anonymous persons—inspired by their religious values, which were now visibly threatened by atheists, and by the values of their country, now openly endangered by foreign occupants—confronted the occupying forces with empty hands, even going so far as to sacrifice their lives. They did so knowing that the army of one of the mightiest powers in the world patrolled their city. The Afghans showed an opposition to foreign intruders that transcended religious, linguistic, and ethnic boundaries. The ties that now bound them overshadowed their mutual differences. That the resistance groups in the opposition camp had not yet mul-tiplied, that the followers of the few existing ones had not aligned against each other on party lines, and that the traditional way of waging jehad in a collective spirit was strong may in part account for the solidarity. So against the Russian intruders the Afghans responded in unison, despite the intimidating odds. In the entire period of national resistance, it was the peak of Afghan solidarity.

• • •

Student Uprisings

Educational institutions were opened after the winter holiday in March 1980 in Kabul. Kabul has a large number of high schools and professional and higher educational institutions in proportion to its population. Most are located in the western part of the city, where the student population was conspicuous. Among these institutions is Kabul University, which before the communist coup had twelve thousand students and eight hundred professors.[10] A month after the start of the academic year, students demonstrated. Before that they had distributed antigovernment leaflets. In one of them, Falah (Salvation), they demanded the withdrawal of the invading army and proposed that until it had been withdrawn, ideological differences should be put aside and a united front formed. The underground periodical Jabha-e-Danish (The Front of Knowledge) called on the opposition organizations even more forcefully to set up a common front. In ordinary circumstances such activities may pass unnoticed, but under conditions of repression it can be a sign of an imminent storm.

One of the first waves of the storm came on 27 April 1980, when the regime commemorated the second anniversary of the coup in a strict ceremony attended by only a few select party members and government officials. This restriction gave the ceremony the aura more of a funeral than of a public festival. On the eve of the inauguration school students had disturbed the city. During the disturbances female students had been so agitated that they ridiculed police officers sent to silence them. Some girls called them “Russian slaves” while others put their scarves on the officers, telling them that now they had become “women,” an insulting word when uttered in such a manner to men in Afghanistan. Others snatched caps from the police and accused them of having accepted slavery in return for money. It was extraordinary for schoolgirls to be so brave, but the police were sympathetic to them. The police showed reluctance to harm them, but the Parchami youths who had accompanied them acted brutally. They had already shot dead four students at the Omar-e-Shaheed Lycée and one at the Habibiyya High School when the students had risen in defiance on 25 April.

On 29 April 1980 the peaceful procession that students held on the campus of the university turned even bloodier. They shouted anti-Soviet slogans and demanded that the Soviet army leave. When their procession, originating at the College of Engineering, reached the College of Pharmacy, armed Parchami youths, after firing first into the air, fired at them directly, killing three. The procession nevertheless continued until ten students were lost to the bullets of the Parchami youths in front of the nearby Teachers Training Institute. Among them was Miss Naheed, a high school student, who, while holding a wounded fellow student in her arms, was inciting others. She soon became a martyr and a symbol of patriotism. A Parchami from a nearby building had fired at her. Months later the assassin was also killed for the killing of Miss Naheed. At the institute the procession dispersed without reaching the center of the city. On that day, while the students of a number of schools had taken to the streets, other schools had been besieged. When a procession of the students of the Habibiyya High School reached the nearby Soviet embassy, armed Parchami youths fired at them, killing three.

Despite the repression, students were still inflamed. The majority of students continued to boycott classes. On 3 May 1980 a still greater number of university students took to the streets and headed toward the city, moving in a more organized fashion. This time they refrained from uttering provoking slogans and observed the spirit of the newly enunciated provisional constitution, the Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which guaranteed the right to peaceful demonstrations. I witnessed the beginning of this march, and, although I admired the students, I felt depressed at the thought of the fate awaiting them. When the procession reached Barikot, it was encircled by a contingent of mounted army instead of by the police. After initial hesitation, the contingent dashed at the students, beating them with clubs and using tear gas. More than five hundred were arrested. On that day security forces also besieged government offices in anticipation of the rumor that government officials intended to join the procession. On 22 May 1980 the fourth and last procession by students of the College of Engineering was suppressed immediately after it started. But high schools throughout the city remained disturbed. Students went on strike, and their schools were besieged by contingents of the police. Students, particularly female students, were loud in denouncing Lenin and Brezhnev in their slogans, in spite of the fact that their parents had cautioned them not to do so.

During the second week of June 1980 a melodrama of a different kind was played out in some schools. Ever since the communist coup, many events had taken the Afghans by surprise, but the poisoning of school students was the most surprising of all. For three consecutive days a large number of students of the Soriya High School (an academy for girls) and a number of other schools were poisoned. Thirty workers at a government printing press were also poisoned. A few days later (12 June) students at ten high schools were poisoned. On that day alone more than five hundred students were taken to hospitals for treatment. No one was fatally ill. It was said that the poison was released into the air from a small “cartridge.” Others said that drinking water had been poisoned. It is still unknown who did all this. The regime blamed the “agents of imperialism and reactionary forces,” that is, the ikhwanis or mujahideen, while the mujahid organizations in Peshawar blamed the Soviet Union and the Kabul regime. In Kabul it was said that KhAD was responsible. According to this theory, since the month-long student agitation had discredited the regime, KhAD, in order to forestall a repetition, decided to intimidate the students and their families. It was further argued that had other people committed the act, KhAD would have caught the perpetrators and made the case public. This theory is also reinforced by the fact that a proportionally larger number of students of the Soriya High School suffered in the tragedy, for they as well as their teachers were most active in the agitation. Following the agitation and the poisoning, Kabul schools were paralyzed, and many schoolboys fled abroad.

Unlike the city uprising, the student uprising was organized. By the time the students arose, seven student unions had become active on the university campus, among them the Council of the Revolutionary Youth of the University, the Union of Liberationists, Salvation, and the General Union of Professors and Students. With about six hundred members, the Council of the Revolutionary Youth was the biggest, with branches in city high schools. The council, like the Union of Professors and Students, was composed of noncommitted students, while others were branches of political groups such as the Maoist Rihayee, the Islamic Association, and the Islamic Party. But along with two more, the council did not favor open demonstrations on the ground that by holding rallies students exposed themselves. They stood instead for strikes and boycotts. The committed unions and others carried the day by persuading others to hold rallies, but, as described, KhAD suppressed them. For this purpose KhAD, through its secret agents, had set up its own union to persuade students to hold rallies.[11] It has well been said that “pro-Khalqi students opposed Parchamis, resenting the Soviet presence, and almost equally Parchami disparagement of Amin, together with his policies. Nationalists and anti-Marxists [joined] with Muslim fundamentalist sympathizers, girls as well as boys, in riot[s] and demonstrations, which were put down only after shootings and mass arrests.”[12] How many students were killed in this monthlong period of agitation is difficult to tell. Estimates have varied between seventy-two and one hundred; others put it as high as two hundred.[13] The number of those who were injured cannot be determined, because the injured students, fearful of being imprisoned, did not seek treatment in hospitals. But those arrested were said to number about two thousand. Subsequently, no more rallies were attempted, and the students concentrated on boycotts.

On 13 May the authorities released about five hundred students on certain conditions and further announced that the cases of “a few” imprisoned students were pending in the court. The “few” were many students who spent years in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison. The imprisoned students did not defend the rallies in the courts. An exception was Ashuk Kumar (a Hindu student from Kandahar), Abdul Widud, and one other. Not only did they defend the rallies, but they also opposed the Soviet invasion. Each was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment, the longest term for the imprisoned students.[14] Other measures included the dismissal and transfer of high school teachers, who were suspected of having incited their students. As for the university, no drastic measures were taken, but the regime speeded up the Sovietization program that it had already started. The program consisted of changing university curricula in line with Marxism-Leninism, of changing the administrative system to conform to that of the Soviet system and of stressing the spirit of friendship with the Soviet Union.[15] All of these changes required an increase in the number of instructors and advisers from the Soviet Union and communist bloc countries.

Although the student agitation was a minor problem, the regime feared that it might provoke the people of the city to yet another disturbance and tarnish its image in the Soviet Union. Since the students were their sons and daughters, the city’s residents abhorred the use of force against them. For the same reason, the regime also tried to suppress the student processions as quickly as possible. Coming as they did in the wake of the city uprising, the agitations revealed certain matters that damaged the regime politically and morally. The Karmal faction was predominantly a city group. Until the student demonstrations, the Parchamis had claimed that the intelligentsia supported them. This claim was convincing, since the intelligentsia had twice elected Karmal to parliament in the constitutional period. The uprisings proved otherwise: now his erstwhile supporters also rejected him. By becoming the man of the Soviets, he eroded the only support he had ever had.

From yet another angle, the Parchamis were also discredited. In the 1960s they held rallies as the present protesters did, taking to the streets when they thought a government had breached a democratic right. But now they suppressed rallies permitted by their own constitution. If the regime had had any moral basis, it now disappeared. The Parchamis were, however, acting on the instructions they were receiving from the Soviets. Ominously, the Soviets could impose their client regime on the Afghans only by subduing them by force; they could secure the country only by destroying it.


1. Farr and Merriam, Afghan Resistance, 2.

2. Hyman, Afghanistan, 179.

3. Zadran, History of Afghanistan 1:671.

4. Haqshinas, Russia’s Crimes and Intrigues, 404.

5. Anonymous, Uprising of the Muslims of Kabul, 17. I am grateful to Professor Sayyed Yusuf Ilmi for giving me this and a number of other pamphlets. See also Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 673.

6. Anonymous, Uprising of the Muslims of Kabul, 22.

7. Hyman, Afghanistan, 180.

8. Ibid., 179.

9. Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 671.

10. A. S. Aziemi, personal communication, Peshawar, February 1989. Mr. Aziemi was chancellor of Kabul University before the communists took over.

11. S. Sh. Ayyar, personal communication, San Diego, 1993. Ayyar and Mahfuz (Baryalay) Kakar were among the seven founding members of the Council of Students.

12. Hyman, Afghanistan, 181.

13. Ibid.

14. S. Sh. Ayyar, personal communication, San Diego, 1993.

15. For details see, Ilmi, Afghanistan; Ilmi and Majruh, Sovietization of Afghanistan; Shah, “Soviet Interferences.”