Feuding and Fighting
`Besides a common religion, Islam, only foreign invaders — from
Alexander the Great to the British in the 19th century, and the
Soviets in the 20th — have united the Afghans.’
Insight Magazine, 9 April, 1990
MY first full year in office, 1984, saw a dramatic escalation of the conflict on both sides. The Soviets launched their corps-sized Panjsher 7 offensive, joint Soviet/Afghan divisional operations were carried out in the Herat area, Paktia, and the Kunar Valley close to the Pakistan border. The growing effectiveness and use of Afghan troops was noticeable, as was the increasing reliance by the Soviets on helibome manoeuvres. Their use of Spetsnaz special forces became more widespread, and their tactics bolder. Nevertheless, despite the press comments to the contrary, I believe the year ended in favour of the Mujahideen.
Although half of the Panjsher Valley was lost, elsewhere the Mujahideen were stronger, better organized, trained and equipped than in previous years. Those who suggested otherwise failed to grasp the overall military situation, due to a dearth of reliable information. The media coverage of the war was patchy. Unlike the Americans in Vietnam, the Soviets and Afghans did not release their losses to the press. Similarly, the Pakistan government refused to give official coverage of the campaign, steadfastly claiming that Pakistan was not involved. Only the handful of adventurous journalists who sometimes accompanied the Mujahideen in battle could provide authentic information, and even they, as I have pointed out in the Introduction, got it wrong at times. My sources, which included intercepted enemy radio transmissions, indicated Soviet losses in 1984 of between 4,000-5,000 killed or wounded, with their Afghan allies suffering some 20,000 casualties, including defections. Despite our lack of an adequate anti-aircraft weapon, the Soviets and Afghans lost more than 200 helicopters or aircraft (mostly on the ground), together with some 2,000 vehicles of all types, including tanks and APCs.
I felt that we now had the basis of an overall strategy for the prosecution
of the war. We had a political Seven-Party Alliance in place. I was working with a Military Committee. The quantity of supplies being handled by the pipeline was increasing, training was expanding rapidly, and we had achieved some noticeable successes in the field. I was sure that we had more than matched the increased aggressiveness of our enemies. It was not the fighting that worried me so much as the feuding. I had now grasped the extent of this seemingly intractable problem and resolved to devote my efforts towards curbing its destructive aspects. At its worst feuding was civil war between the Mujahideen. During the eleven years of the Jehad hundreds of Mujahideen have died at the hands of their comrades-in-arms in different Parties, or under rival Commanders. I believe that getting feuding under some sort of control, although we never came near to eradicating it, by 1986-87 was a major factor in the Mujahideen being on the brink of a military victory when the Soviets withdrew in 1988-89. Now, sadly, internal feuding seems once again to be taking precedence over fighting the enemy. A recent example of the extremes to which feuding can divide and destroy the Mujahideen as an effective force, which involved two subordinate Commanders from different fundamentalist Parties, will illustrate my point.
On a cold, grey morning, with a little mist concealing most of the nearby mountains, a crowd of around 1,000 people had gathered to watch an execution. It was 24 December, 1989; the place was a small park in the town of Taloqan, provincial capital of Takhar, in northern Afghanistan. Four men were about to be hanged. Each had been a Mujahid; each had been found guilty by an Islamic court of murdering fellow Mujahideen belonging to a different Party from their own; each had been specifically sentenced to be hung rather than shot, the usual sentence for a soldier. Their leader was Sayad Jamal, a senior Commander of Hekmatyar’s Party. With him walked his brother and two other prominent officers. They went to their deaths quietly. At the final moment they had nothing to say, although it was for them a particularly disgraceful way to die. The relatives of their victims had received special invitations to watch.
The executions were but another phase in a long-standing vendetta between rival Commanders. In mid-1989 Ahmad Shah Massoud, the so-called ‘Lion of Panjsher’, had been the victim of a bloody ambush by Jamal’s followers which had killed thirty-six of his men, including seven of his best leaders and friends. The previous year both groups had attacked and cleared Taloqan, but had then divided the town into opposing camps. By the middle of 1989 a truce had been arranged and sealed by the reading aloud to each other by the Commanders of passages from the Holy Koran. The truce was only temporary. Whether or not Jamal was under direct orders from Hekmatyar to do what he did has never been established. Jamal led his men to Tangi Fakhar, where he positioned them at a gorge through which he knew many of Massoud’s men would shortly travel. The ambush
was highly successful. Thirty-six men died in a storm of automatic fire. They were the lucky ones. The others, who were captured, were gruesomely tortured before being killed.
Massoud spared no effort in seeking revenge. This was badal on a grand scale. Thousands of his Mujahideen combed the countryside rounding up suspects, but it took the offer of a reward of one million afghanis to produce Jamal and his brother. A tip-off led to a trap door in the floor of a house in Taloqan. In the basement below were the two ringleaders.
One of my first serious experiences of feuding and double-dealing came in early 1984, from a Commander operating in the area between Chaman and Kandahar, through which the main route from Quetta passed. The Commander concerned was a former captain in the Afghan Army called Asmat who had defected with his unit in 1981. He came from the Achakazai tribe located on either side of the Pakistan border, so enjoyed considerable popular support from that area. He had fought hard against the Soviets for a year or so, but then resorted to selling weapons, extortion and robbery to enrich himself. By the time I arrived at ISI we had ceased to supply him, although he still controlled a large force. In 1984 he started to interfere with the passage of Mujahideen supply caravans moving through his domain. His men would ambush small convoys and snatch their weapons, or demand arms in return for a safe passage. Other Mujahideen combined against him and serious fighting broke out as they sought to attack his base. Asmat fought well, casualties mounted on both sides, and it was some time before a ceasefire could be arranged. Asmat then turned his attention to our Pakistani government or embassy vehicles travelling on the Quetta to Kandahar road, demanding that arms supplies to him be resumed, or his men would kidnap embassy staff. This created panic in our Foreign Office and they turned to ISI for assurances of protection. General Akhtar summoned Asmat to Islamabad, where he apologized, professed ignorance of what his men were up to and promised such things would not recur. He was a cunning character, as he extracted a promise of arms supply provided he joined a Party. Gailani accepted him, which was unfortunate as I was at least obliged to give him small arms.
He came to me with a scheme to attack Kandahar airfield if only he could have heavy weapons. I responded that he could have them if his operation succeeded. It never happened. About then we started getting reports, and intercepting radio messages, that indicated Asmat was a KGB/KHAD agent. After long discussions as to what to do, General Akhtar agreed he should be arrested. Warrants were prepared when suddenly the Pakistan Army intelligence unit in the area got wind of what was to happen, and claimed Asmat was their man, playing a double role on their instructions. It must have shaken him because within a few days he disappeared – to Kabul.
This was in 1985. Some time later he reappeared in Kandahar as a
brigadier tasked with securing the city from the Mujahideen. He bore a charmed life as none of the attempts by the Mujahideen to kill him succeeded. They tried blowing him up in his vehicle with a remote-control-detonated mine, and they tried mining the landing pad where his helicopter was due to touch down. Four or five plans failed. Even the Soviets soon found him more trouble than he was worth. He was a heavy drinker, which once led to his assaulting a senior Soviet officer in Kandahar. As time went on his men established a covert ‘live and let live’ understanding with the Mujahideen. Eventually he was recalled to Kabul and stripped of his importance. Never being a man to give up easily, Asmat started sending us messages that if he was pardoned he would return to Pakistan after causing substantial damage of the Soviets. I had absolutely no faith in Asmat’s promises, although I had a sneaking regard for the man’s gall and could not deny his physical courage.
A year later it was again the Kandahar sector that produced further serious feuding. At this time Hekmatyar’s Party predominated in the Provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and Farah, but unfortunately major differences arose between some Commanders and their Party representative at Quetta over arms allocations. In their pique, several joined other Parties, which in turn infuriated Hekmatyar who demanded they return all the weapons that he had issued to them. This led to the Commanders concerned, under Mohammed Khan, establishing their own independent base on the border, partly in Pakistan, and waylaying Hekmatyar’s supply columns. To counter these activities Hekmatyar set up a strong base inside Afghanistan under Commander Janbaz, and a series of armed skirmishes took place between the two. Some of the fighting occurred in Pakistan which caused us acute embarrassment.
Both Mohammed Khan and Janbaz maintained a following of around 1000 Mujahideen each, which meant our efforts in the area against the real enemy were seriously diminished. Hekmatyar wanted to launch a full-scale attack on Mohammed Khan to drive him out of Pakistan, and we seriously considered using the Pakistan Army to do the same. Both options were equally humiliating. Then came allegations that both Commanders were smuggling drugs into Pakistan to help finance their bases, which was quite likely as Helmand Province is one of the largest poppy-growing regions in Afghanistan.
All our efforts to find an amicable solution failed, primarily because of the covert support Mohammed Khan was receiving from other Parties. It took months before I managed to get this support withdrawn, but by then the damage was done. This feud adversely affected the combat capabilities of Hekmatyar’s Party in the Quetta sector. It never fully recovered.
The front line of the eastern provinces was the 100-kilometre Kunar Valley which paralleled the Pakistan border at a distance of 10-12 kilometres (see
Map 11). At its base stood Jelalabad, the headquarters of the Soviet 66th MRB and Afghan 11th Division. Half-way up the valley was Asadabad, with the Afghan 9th Division. At the head, almost within rifle range of the frontier, was Barikot with its Afghan garrison of the 51st Brigade. At all the intervening villages the Afghans had constructed defensive posts. Asmar, some 25 kilometres NE of Asadabad, housed the 31st Mountain Brigade and a battalion of Spetsnaz. Such was the importance of the valley to our enemies.
Although there were large numbers of enemy troops deployed in the Kunar Valley, they were, for the most part, bottled up in their forts. The Mujahideen had the perfect sanctuary of Pakistan within a short distance of the valley road and river, and their border bases completely dominated the valley throughout its length. Most Afghan posts were under semi-siege, with the Mujahideen controlling the road, and thus the movement of supplies by truck to maintain the garrisons. All the dominating heights belonged to Pakistan, and we had reason to thank the colonial administrator, Durand, who had so long ago drawn his line with such tactical insight.
Barikot was a typical example of scores of similar Afghan garrisons that fronted the border. Its ground supply line was in the hands of the Mujahideen, it was surrounded by hostile forces, looked down on from every direction, yet it survived. In theory all these forts could be replenished by air if land links were cut, and indeed some were, but the number of such posts, coupled with their isolation in narrow valleys, effectively prevented this type of supply, except for short periods in real emergencies. So how did they feed themselves? The answer lies in yet another of the perversities of the war — they were supplied by local tribesmen from inside Pakistan.
Many Pakistani tribesmen liked to have a foot in both camps. Thousands participated in the Jehad and supported the Mujahideen, but these same people could just as easily give succour to the enemy if there was profit to be had. They found the war provided a variety of additional ways to make money. One of these was the smuggling of food into Afghanistan for sale to the garrisons of border posts. Pulses, flour, cooking oil, rice and items such as petrol, diesel and kerosene for stoves or lamps were purchased by these isolated posts on a regular basis. They came to rely on this source of supply to survive. Even the concrete bunkers at some forts were constructed with cement and iron bars brought direct from Pakistan. On many occasions they bartered arms or ammunition for the goods. There was little we could do to stop it as the Mujahideen supply caravans had to pass through the tribal area, and if the local people were antagonized they would close these routes. The tribes owned transport which was immune from Mujahideen attack, thus rendering them of great value as vehicles to hire to the Afghan Army. With the passage of time, this hiring by the Afghan authorities of tribally-owned buses and lorries became the accepted way of getting some supplies to the more inaccessible posts. These people also did a brisk trade in the sale of
[Begin Graphic – Map 11]
THE KUNAR VALLEY OFFENSIVE – SPRING 1985
[End Graphic – Map 11
arms in Pakistan which they received from KHAD agents, whom they had a habit of harbouring for reasons of financial gain. I would say that these tribes were the people who made the most out of the war, yet they blamed the refugees for ruining their economy.
It was an extraordinary situation in an extraordinary war. On the one hand the Pakistan government was providing full support to the Mujahideen, while on the other thousands of its citizens provided substantial logistic support to its Afghan enemies, enabling them to continue the fight. Militarily, I am convinced that if these Pakistani tribesmen had not sustained our enemy in this way no Afghan post could have endured within 50 kilometres of the frontier.
In January, 1985, we were caught by surprise when the Afghans took to the offensive up the Kunar Valley to relieve Barikot (see Map 11). It was winter, so we had wrongly supposed the Soviets would not take to the field with a major operation, which in turn meant that the Mujahideen bases along the valley, and in the side valleys to the west, were not strongly held. Barikot was still besieged, but with much smaller and less aggressive forces than would have been the case in summer. We had received no warning via satellite.
The enemy task force was under Colonel Gholam Hazrat, the 9th Division commander. He controlled brigades from his own and the Jalalabad-based 11th Division, supplemented by the 46th Artillery Regiment and the 10th Engineer Regiment, whose primary task was road-maintenance and improvement. The Soviet contribution was a single air-assault regiment. The attackers improved on their Panjsher tactics. Armour spearheaded the columns, aerial bombardment flattened the villages to demoralize and disperse the civilian inhabitants, heliborne units seized important heights in advance of the ground thrust, and the same techniques were used up the side valleys such as the Pech. These methods met with success as resistance was thin, a number of small Mujahideen bases were taken, and we could not assemble reinforcements from the refugee camps quickly enough to stop the enemy reaching Barikot.
This offensive was blown up to be a resounding defeat for the Mujahideen. Press, radio and television reports publicized the relief of Barikot as proof that the guerrillas were on the run. Colonel Gholam Hazrat was promoted brigadier.
In fact the Afghans had only remained at Barikot for 12 hours. We rushed reinforcements forward to harass the enemy’s lines of communication, particularly around the bases at Asmar and Asadabad. There were several fierce clashes with rearguards, supported by bombers, helicopter gunships and artillery. We kept up the pressure as far as Jalalabad. Nevertheless, I had been disappointed with the Mujahideen’s efforts, and I held a detailed postmortem on what had gone wrong, apart from our being surprised. My
enquiries revealed that rivalry and feuding were at least partially to blame. The Kunar Valley between Asmar and Barikot was the responsibility of Commanders belonging to Khalis’ party, and they had not cooperated in resisting this offensive. In particular, Haji Mir Zaman, who had been tasked with road-cratering and mining operations, had failed to perform, giving, with a look of injured innocence, as his excuse that he needed the valley road open to the enemy so that his men could capture rations and weapons to supplement their own stocks which were low. Some of his fellow Commanders dubbed Mir Zaman as a KHAD agent, so I was forced to investigate his activities thoroughly. Although the charges could not be proved, it was clear that such suspicions and accusations did not augur well for coordinated efforts in the Kunar. The whole episode was typical of the difficulties we faced in conducting joint operations, and the amount of time and effort that was wasted trying to sort out Mujahideen feuds rather than devoting our energies to the fighting.
I quickly found that a large proportion of my time was spent travelling by car or plane. I had to be in Peshawar for several days every week meeting Party Leaders, visiting warehouses, or having discussions with the Military Committee. It was through the members of this committee that I sought to influence events in the field, to get cooperation between Commanders, sort out supply problems, arrange training, or investigate allegations of illegal arms sales.
With this last matter it is of interest to note that the buying and selling of weapons was probably second only to the drug trade as a lucrative business in the border areas. It had been so for 200 years. The town of Darra, south of Peshawar, has what must surely be the biggest open arms market in the world. There are at least 100 shops where a buyer can get anything from rifles to mortars. In 1980 the cost of an AK47 was $1500, but with the glut of weapons brought about by the war it had plummeted to $750 by 1987. Much larger sums would change hands for a modern machine gun, or the latest Soviet AK74 rifle. The temptation to sell weapons supplied by ISI was enormous.
I also had to visit Quetta at least every six weeks, and the border areas and Afghanistan itself as frequently as possible if I was to keep my fmger on the pulse of what was happening. Then there were the innumerable trips down the road to Islamabad for conferences or to discuss problems with General Akhtar.
It was mostly through the Military Committee that I attempted to disentangle the feuding or organize the fighting. At the start, committee members themselves were distrustful and silent, refusing to speak on any matters of importance in front of their colleagues from other Parties. Gradually, very gradually, their reserve melted as far as general discussions
were concerned, but, despite our efforts, none was prepared to debate their own future plans in our meetings. For that I had to talk to each member separately. Infinite patience would be, I thought, the key to getting things done in Afghanistan. This meant that tact and time were to be the ingredients of success, with no shouting, no anger, no bullying and no threatening. I was careful to treat each representative as an equal, although I usually chaired the formal meetings. At the end of every month each member had to give a résumé of the operations conducted by his Party. In turn, we briefed them on the military situation in Afghanistan, based on reports from the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies, together with intercepted radio messages. I found the fact that representatives had to account for the activities of their Mujahideen in front of colleagues from other Parties had a salutary effect on the accuracy of their reporting. It gave everybody an opportunity to judge the worth of his comrades.
Every four months or so I would receive a message that a ‘Grand Bonanza’ was to be held on such and such a date. In our language of double talk this meant President Zia would be holding his quarterly conference with the seven Party Leaders. Also in attendance would be General Akhtar, the Foreign Minister (usually), myself, and an interpreter. It was a highly secret meeting at which the top political leaders of Pakistan, with their military advisers, met the men who were responsible for the conduct of the Jehad. In view of the Pakistani government’s repeated denials that it was controlling and supplying the war, absolutely no knowledge of these meetings could be allowed beyond a handful of individuals. Elaborate precautions were taken to preserve security.
I would arrange for the Leaders to be brought by car, with ISI officers as escorts, to a safe house in Rawalpindi where cars were changed. They were then driven to General Akhtar’s house. Once everybody had arrived, Akhtar personally drove his own car to the President’s house, which was only 600 metres away, to fetch him. We had deployed armed guards in civilian clothes in vehicles around the area, as Zia came to these gatherings alone, with no bodyguards, no military secretary and no ADC. He never even told these close personal assistants where he would be.
These occasions were of paramount importance, in that the President would re-emphasize that, although he was committed to supporting the Jehad, it could only succeed with understanding and cooperation by the Parties. Zia always heavily underlined the basic truth that success in the fighting would follow a cessation of feuding. The Foreign Minister would explain progress with negotiations between himself and the Soviet Union within the UN, and seek their views. Each Leader gave a report of his Party’s war efforts or difficulties. The meeting normally ended with the President’s thanks and dinner.
If a ‘Grand Bonanza’ was primarily concerned with political affairs, with
reassuring the Leaders of Pakistan’s political backing and loyalty, a `Bonanza’ was related more to military matters, stressing the importance of tactical collaboration on the battlefield. It was a forum for the leaders to meet with General Akhtar and myself, held every four to six weeks, to discuss a specific agenda. It covered the operational situation, future plans, and the logistics situation. In addition I would aim to meet each Leader individually once every seven weeks. These face-to-face encounters were critical to the build-up of confidence between us, as they all felt less inhibited than at the general meeting.
In the middle of 1984 General Akhtar ordered me to review the prevailing military situation in Afghanistan and to highlight the weak areas of Mujahideen activities. My attention was drawn to the northern provinces. It was quickly obvious that they had not been receiving the attention that their strategic importance merited. These provinces bordered the Soviet Union; the enemy’s main lines of communication passed through them, as did the Soviet’s oil for the war effort. From Jozjan Afghanistan’s natural gas was piped north under the Amu River, and I was alarmed at the Soviet’s efforts to exploit the traditional rivalry between the Pushtuns and the Uzbeks and Tajiks of this region. It did not escape my notice that somehow the northern provinces were not getting a share of arms and money commensurate with their operational importance.
Apart from my suspicions that ethnic rivalries were at the root of the problem, there were a number of other explanations put forward. The long distances involved meant higher transportation costs; neither ourselves nor the Parties had detailed information as to the effectiveness of Commanders, or the location of many of their bases; in some areas the terrain was unfavourable and evacuation of casualties to Pakistan was almost impossible, while the Mujahideen had no medical facilities.
At the next ISI’s quarterly conference I asked General Akhtar for a special quota of arms for the northern provinces to fill the vacuum, but he did not agree. I was not disappointed for long as within a few days he telephoned me with the go-ahead, so I immediately launched a crash programme for training and supply to the north. It was an ambitious plan which I tried to implement before the onset of winter. This necessitated cutting corners. We were compelled to train, and arm with heavy-weapons, Commanders we knew little about. Some reliable Commanders would not reach Pakistan for training time, and so missed the programme and did not receive the extra weapons. These things created more misunderstandings between Commanders and Parties; feuding and bickering was once again hampering the fighting.
During the next meeting I briefed General Akhtar on what I was doing, but he was far from happy with my sending such a large proportion of weapons to the north. He saw it as detracting from maintaining the pressure
on Kabul. Nor did he like my violation of his policy that we should not train Mujahideen in their own bases. I had had to confess to doing both in my haste to produce results quickly. He ordered me to cease using these locations immediately.
General Akhtar had been correct. For one thing, in my rush for results, I had been ignoring security. To train Mujahideen in insecure bases was risking our support becoming common knowledge, as, despite our precautions, these places were full of informers. This was particularly so with the refugee camps.
Refugee camps shelter over three million people. There are more than 350 of them, administered by Pakistani officials with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Camps originally intended to house 10,000 are occupied by 100,000, with one holding 125,000, making it the largest concentration of refugees anywhere in the world. They are squalid places, teeming with humanity. Overcrowding has put impossible strains on rudimentary water, sanitation, and medical facilities. Refugees arrive weak and exhausted, many are sick or wounded, all are virtually destitute. A massive influx of aid in terms of money, food and materials is required to cope with what amounts to half of the world’s refugees.
Our interest in the camps was that they provided a safe refuge from the war for the families of the Mujahideen, who could fight in Afghanistan in the knowledge that their relatives were immune from reprisals. They also acted as places to which the Mujahideen could return for a rest and to see their families without compromising themselves. Also, inside these camps was a huge reservoir of potential recruits for the Jehad. Thousands of young boys came to the camps as refugees, grew up, and then followed their fathers and brothers to the war.
But the camps had their disadvantages as well. They became a prime target for Soviet subversion. As they grew in number and size, so did the strain they put on the hospitality of the local population. The refugees took both land and business from tribal owners and traders. Their popularity with many Pakistanis was brief, and the subsequent build-up of hostility was exploited by the hundreds of KHAD agents who infiltrated the camps. It became an important Soviet objective to foster discord between the refugees and the Pakistanis. The more the violence, the more the hatred, the greater the pressure on our government to reduce its support for the Jehad. These camps and their inhabitants were used by our enemies as a means of increasing the feuding within Pakistan. We at ISI sought to use them to sustain the fighting.
Our problems were exacerbated by the rampant corruption in every camp. I will illustrate this through the experiences of a Mujahid called Farid Khan (not his real name) who fled from Kabul with his family in 1984. Their first difficulty was in obtaining registration documents. Without registration there
can be no passbook for the head of the family, and without this Farid could receive no aid. Possession of a passbook would entitle Farid to a monthly ration of wheat, oil, sugar, tea, dried milk and, sometimes, a small subsistence allowance of cash amounting to 50 rupees per person, up to a maximum of 350 rupees (about $21). This was where Farid’s frustrations started. The slow, bureaucratic process of registration can take months, during which time refugees must hang around the fringes of the camps, the lucky ones relying on relatives who are registered. Some never register at all. The only way to cut the delays is to pay the requisite bribe to one of the Pakistani officials. To be employed in the camps is popular, as the opportunities to lord it over people in desperate poverty and supplement salaries with dishonest practices are legion.
Farid eventually got his passbook, which permitted him to pitch a tent in a camp located on barren waste ground, but, as he quickly discovered, it did not guarantee all his entitlements. For example, the issue of milk, sugar, or tea was somehow always unavailable. If Farid wanted these items, as he bitterly complained, he was obliged to buy them on the black market. It was one of the Pakistanis’ perks to be able to withhold rations to sell. This was made easy by officials being able to draw food and money for non-existent refugees.
One particular racket that Farid experienced had a detrimental effect on our recruitment of Mujahideen replacements. If a head of family was absent from the camp for any reason the passbook was cancelled, making the dependants ineligible for further assistance. This happened when Farid went to join the Jehad. While he was away the officials made one of their periodic checks by counting heads. Farid was listed as missing and his passbook withdrawn. It cost his wife 500 rupees to get it back. Of course the camp officials continued to use the confiscated passbooks to draw rations — for sale.
Much of the misery of life was caused by health hazards related to the water supply and pollution. The water ration of 61/2 gallons a day per person was seldom available as the tube wells were too few, while the water trucks were often broken down, and always late — unless you kept the driver happy. Diseases are endemic, as sanitation is frequently non-existent, with everybody using the surrounding fields as one vast communal latrine. Malaria, measles, tetanus, typhoid, diarrhoea and tuberculosis are but a few of the sicknesses that plague most camps.
It is the women who suffer the worst. Eighty per cent of the refugees in the camps at any one time are women and children. Many are widows. For the first time in their lives they must fend for themselves when they are suffering from shock, depression and grief. Into these hotbeds of suffering and squalor the Afghan secret police, KHAD, sends its female agents to intimidate and subvert. Farid’s wife had first-hand experience of their
methods. At first she did not realize the young woman who befriended her was an agent, but slowly it dawned on her that the woman’s persistent railing and complaining about the Jehad was aimed at subverting her. Her ‘friend’ would continually protest at the suffering caused by the war, at the disgraceful conditions in the camps, emphasizing how the Mujahideen were dying while their political leaders lived a life of luxury around Peshawar, driving cars, spending money and seldom exposing themselves to danger. `We are not fighting a Jehad,’ she would say, ‘we are fighting each other, Afghan against Afghan. This is not a Jehad, but a war between foreign superpowers. Our men die for America or the Soviet Union.’
Agents would also do their utmost to stir up Pakistanis against the refugees. It was not hard to create hostility, even hatred. They would make a sweeping gesture with their arms, saying, ‘Before the war this was your land; now all these foreigners camp on it. They take away your business, your grazing rights, they are the cause of rising inflation. They will soon outnumber you in your own province. It is these wretched refugees that cause the water shortages. Why does Pakistan spend so much to support them? They should return to Afghanistan.’
After a few weeks it became obvious to Farid’s wife that her companion was working for KHAD so she reported her to a camp official who in turn had her arrested by the police. The end of the problem? Not a bit of it, as within 24 hours she was back again. She had been well able to afford the 250 rupees which was the going rate for the police to forget the charges.
By the end of 1985, which had seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war, I remained confident that the Mujahideen were still holding their own. Except around Kabul, where the situation was worsening for reasons to be explained in chapter nine, the Mujahideen had not suffered any major setbacks. This was despite greatly increased pressure from the Soviets, and the improved performance of the Afghan Army.
The best-coordinated offensive, and most dangerous to ourselves, was the August/September Paktia operation. It involved an elaborate pincer movement, aimed at the Mujahideen bases just west of the Parrot’s Beak, by an armoured column from Kabul moving up the Logar Valley, and another advancing SW from Jalalabad. At the end of August the enemy force around Khost moved against our forward bases at Ali Khel and Zhawar, only a few kilometres from the Pakistan frontier. There was bitter fighting before these attacks petered out. Although this Paktia offensive cost us casualties, and the loss of several supply dumps, we did not suffer as severely as the Soviet propaganda and press would have had the world believe. As in 1984, foreign journalists proclaimed that the Mujahideen were on the run, that the Soviets were coming close to a military victory and that the Kabul regime was secure.
I did not share this view. 1985 had seen some spectacular Mujahideen
successes. In June Massoud, in the Panjsher Valley, seized the heavily defended post at Peshghor which was held by a battalion of 500 men, supported by ten mortars, four 76mm guns, two T-55 tanks and five BTR-60 APCs, all protected by sandbagged bunkers, mines and barbed wire. The attackers breached the minefields during darkness, to storm the place at dawn under cover of rocket and heavy machine-gun fire. Resistance was quickly subdued and among the corpses was the Afghan Central Corps Chief of Staff, Brigadier Ahmaddodin. Over 450 prisoners were taken, including five visiting colonels from Kabul.
Also in June we had stepped up our efforts around Kandahar airfield. Rocket attacks on aircraft on the ground were so successful that the Soviets were forced to move the bulk of their planes to Lashkargah and Shindand bases. Lashkargah was developed into their alternative airfield for Kandahar. Our ambushes on the main road leading to Kandahar became so frequent and effective that a by-pass route had to be developed in order to get transport to the city.
In the northern provinces our attacks were gaining momentum, and barges were now being sunk on the Amu River. If our efforts at training, increasing the quality and quantity of supplies and persuading the Mujahideen Leaders and Commanders to spend less time feuding and more fighting the enemy had not been successful, I have little doubt that 1985 would have seen the collapse of the Jehad. Instead, the Mujahideen withstood all that the Soviets could throw at them, despite the grave imbalance in numbers and weaponry. Not that I was overconfident. I was fearful of the effect on our supply system of the Soviets’ scorched-earth tactics that deprived the guerrilla of his local source of food and shelter; there was a real need for a light, but long-range rocket-launcher to supplement the heavy MBRLs; the lack of reliable, modern radio communications to important Commanders inside Afghanistan was a major handicap; and without an effective SAM to supplement the SA-7 I despaired of ever being able to defeat the helicopter gunship. But my real worry was Kabul.