New Delhi — Soviet truck convoys rumble though Kabul, hauling prefabricated sections of military barracks to construction sites.Military transport planes landing in the Afghan capital disgorge cargoes of potatoes, and truck convoys deliver loads of firewood from across the Soviet border.
Around Kabul and across Afghanistan, according to diplomatic reports, Russian encampments are buzzing with construction activity as the Soviets rush to build permanent winter quarters and lay in supplies for the long rugged Afghan winter ahead.
Both the building boom and the warm reception given to Afghan President Babrak Karmal during his official visit to the Soviet Union this month are firm indications that the Russians are in Afghanistan to stay for the foreseeable future, diplomatic analysts are saying.
Some also are warning of a grim immediate future for the Afghan populace. "With the approach of winter, a real danger of famine exists in the country," says a report prepared by diplomatic sources in New Delhi. "Disease may also spread due to a growing shortage of medicines."
Crops and livestock have been destroyed in the fighting between insurgents and the Soviet-backed Afghan government forces. Refugees fleeing to Pakistan have taken 1.5 million head of livestock with them, thereby reducing the supply of meat, dairy products, and warm hides for clothing.
In addition, the diplomatic report says, Soviet forces have been removing livestock from farm areas they have attacked -- apparently to deter the population from returning and to deprive the rebels of food supplies.
Citing the observations of a French medical group, the report said that medical care had completely broken down in some areas, with chicken pox, pneumonia, tuberculosis, polio, and leprosy becoming endemic. According to another diplomatic estimate, more than half of Afghanistan's government-sponsored medical and educational facilities have been destroyed in the fighting.
The Russians, however, are bringing in virtually all their own food, fuel, and building supplies. "They're not living off the local economy," says a traveler from Kabul. The government-controlled news media have announced numerous grants of Russian commodity aid, including food, to selected Afghan groups such as government workers and students -- an indication of official concern about shortages.
Mr. Karmal's official visit to the Soviet Union ended last weekend, although he is staying on for an unspecified time for what Radio Kabul called medical attention and rest.
His visit was short on business and long on sightseeing, but it produced a strong restatement of Soviet political, economic, and military support for his government and a reiteration that the Soviets would not withdraw their troops until "outside aggression" -- ascribed to the United States, China, and Pakistan -- ended.
Together with a lavish public welcome intended to highlight Karmal as a legitimate head of state, "all [signs] point to Soviet commitment to sustaining a revolutionary regime in Afghanistan," a diplomat commented.
Karmal's visit produced no sign of new Soviet strategies to deal with the ongoing resistance by Afghan Mujahideen, or "holy warriors" -- a fact that has touched off considerable debate within Kabul's noncommunist diplomatic community , according to informed sources.
"Most are struck by the lack of major government-Mujahideen battles in recent days,' says an analyst. "Some observers suggest that the situation indicates that the Mujahideen were just as active as before but that Soviets were awaiting the promulgation of new strategies before moving against them."
A few others agree with their Soviet and East-bloc colleagues that the Soviets have finally begun to gain an upper hand, the analyst continues.
"But most seem to accept the notion that both sides are too busy preparing for the winter to bother to launch major new attacks."