Former Afghan commanders no-shows at ceremony to mark mujahedeen victory over the Soviets

By Deb Riechmann, AP
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Afghans mark anniversary of mujahedeen victory

KABUL — Former Afghan commanders who toppled a Soviet-backed regime 18 years ago were no-shows at a national celebration Wednesday marking their victory, a boycott that revealed fractures in the Afghan government as it tries to close ranks on Taliban insurgents.

The ceremony, at a heavily guarded sports stadium, was a display of the nation’s growing security force. Police and soldiers, clad in crisp uniforms and shiny helmets, marched in formation as more than a dozen attack helicopters and other aircraft flew low over the crowd. Men and women injured in the conflict, including amputees on crutches, joined the crowd in the reviewing stand.

But it was who didn’t come that was telling: The mujahedeen commanders who forced the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime on April 28, 1992, but now feel sidelined by President Hamid Karzai’s government.

That message was clearly conveyed on a bright blue banner carried by relatives of the estimated 1.5 million Afghans who died in the conflict from late 1979 until 1992. “The participation of mujahedeen in political, cultural and social affairs will strengthen the pillars of the government,” it said, referring to the anti-Soviet fighters.

Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who gave the keynote speech, appealed for national unity and expressed hope that a peace conference next month in Kabul would achieve a national consensus for reconciling with the Taliban.

“The only way to come out from the current situation is to believe and create a unity that cannot be infiltrated and a political situation where everybody speaks with the same voice,” said Fahim, who stood in for Karzai, who was at a regional conference in Bhutan.

“We are keeping open the doors of negotiations for those who ware interested in peace and participation for a normal life,” he said.

However, many former guerrilla leaders who battled the Soviets and their Afghan allies feel isolated from the Karzai government — which has been under Western pressure to distance itself from some of the former guerrilla chiefs who became warlords after the communist regime collapsed.

“The mujahedeen leaders are disappointed,” said Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, former interior minister and deputy prime minister in the mujahedeen government. “The holy war fighters freed Afghanistan from Russia, but in this government they have no space.

“This government has been made for Westerners and it is not representative of the Afghan nation,” said Ahmadzai, who did not attend the event. “Afghans should not be proud of this government. I am telling the Westerners that if you respect the Afghan people, make a broad-based government including the mujahedeen.”

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, killing the Moscow-backed leader and installing another to stop infighting within the government. After a decade of fighting against guerrillas, who were getting financial and military backing from the United States, the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

The government that the Soviets left behind collapsed in 1992 when the guerrillas seized Kabul. Rebel leaders then fell out among themselves, triggering a civil war that paved the way for the Taliban, which ruled from Kabul from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion five years later.

Ibrahim Malikzadai, former top jihad commander and now a member of parliament in Ghor province, said the commanders should have participated in the celebration of their victory if only to show that the role of the mujahedeen isn’t forgotten.

“We sacrificed 1.5 million people for the freedom of Afghanistan from a superpower — the Red Army,” Malikzadai said. “But today it is a celebration by people involved in corruption. Nothing changed regarding security.

“This celebration today inside the Kabul stadium is just symbolic — celebrating by the criminals. The people are not satisfied. The people are suffering from poverty in this country.”

Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who ran against Karzai in the last presidential election, said he was heartened to see the Afghan security forces on parade. Abdullah, who mingled with government officials in the reviewing stand, said the absence of Karzai and the mujahedeen leaders was disrespectful to those who died.

“Karzai is president of the country and he’s absent?” Abdullah said.

He said he thought the mujahedeen commanders have become “kings of their own.”

“They feel they have started a new chapter so why bother about this?” he asked.

All day, the capital of Kabul was on alert for possible Taliban attacks during the national day of celebration.

In April 2008, militants fired rockets and automatic rifles at Karzai and other dignitaries during a military parade marking the holiday. Three people were killed and eight others were wounded.

While the vice president expressed his hope for peace and stability, violence continued across the nation.

An international service member was killed in a bomb blast Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, NATO announced without giving the nationality. That brought the number of NATO service members killed in Afghanistan this month to at least 31 — half of them Americans. Fourteen international service members died here in April of last year.

Also in the south, a tribal elder was killed Wednesday in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province, according to district chief Haji Jabbar. In the east, a roadside bomb hit a car, killing six civilians, including two children, said Mubariz Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Khost province. Also in Khost, the Ministry of Interior said an Afghan policeman and four militants died after a police patrol was attacked in Sabari district.

Also Wednesday, an Afghan-international patrol seized 4,600 pounds (2,090 kilograms) of raw opium and 24 pounds (11 kilograms) of what was believed to be heroin in Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan’s flourishing opium poppy crop. Two men were arrested, NATO said in a statement.

The drug trade is a major source of funding for the Taliban.

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