HELPING THE WORLD'S HOMELESS; A tale of Russians, rubble, refugees
"The West does not really care about Afghanistan," asserts an exiled Kabul University professor now living in this bustling Pakistani city. "You talk of helping us but you do nothing. The Russians still occupy our country and our people continue to die."Skip to next paragraph
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Many Afghans, some of whom keep surprisingly well informed through short-wave radio broadcasts, express similar sentiments. They are distressed by what they see as the West's failure to take a firm stand against Soviet military expansionism.
There is also intense disappointment, particularly among resistance groups, with the reluctance of the United States and its allies to provide them with much more than humanitarian relief.
As far as the Afghan rebel is concerned, support for his cause against the communist regime in Kabul does not mean just tents, blankets, food, and medicine. It means weapons, too.
"We have not given up hope," says the professor. "But we realize now that we cannot rely on the West for assistance. We are on our own."
Nevertheless, conflict, starvation, and repression inside Afghanistan continue to force refugees -- most of them women, children, and old men -- to flee into Pakistan. Soviet occupation forces show no signs of leaving and persist in their attacks on villages, bonbing houses, mowing down tribesmen with helicopter gunships, and sowing the land with mines and booby traps.
According to the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are now roughly 1.2 million Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistani camps. Other experts place the number at 1.5 million. Thousands cross the frontier every week. An additional 300,000 are believed to have sought asylum in Iran.
Relief officials stress that to ensure refugee survival, particularly during winter months, continued international humanitarian aid remains vital. In 1980 alone, almost $100 million was needed for food, shelter, health supplies, water, and other requirements to sustain the swelling population. More may be necessary for 1981.
"With no end to the conflict in sight, it is difficult to determine how long these influxes will continue. Whenever reports of heavy fighting come through, we get new streams of refugees," says a representative of the League of Red Cross Societies. The league, with the Pakistani Red Crescent Society, provides much of the camps' health care.
Relief officials also point out that tens of thousands of Afghans, mainly from the outlying villages, are said to have converged on Kabul in recent months to escape the war. Some sources say the Kabul regime is providing those displaced persons with little or no relief because many are believed to be rebel sympathizers.
Soviet armed forces, now estimated at roughly 100,000 men, have been occupying Afghanistan since their sudden invasion last Dec. 26. Yet they only barely control Kabul and other major towns.
Although the resistance groups remain as divided as ever -- united only in their spirited hatred for the communists -- the poorly armed mujahideen ("holy warriors") continue to fight on hundreds of fronts throughout the country with varying degrees of success.
Reliable sources maintain that not one of Afghanistan's 28 provinces lies in government hands. Only in the Wakhan corridor of Badakhshan Province -- the northeasterly "tongue" sandwiched between Pakistan, the USSR, and China -- have the Soviets managed to assert full control by more or less annexing the region.
The area is populated by Kirghiz and Pamiri nomads who have put up little resistance to the communists. About 1,000 Kirghiz have sought refuge in northern Pakistan. Relief officials say they are now seeking asylum in Alaska, yak herds and all.
Since the communist takeover in April 1978 by Khalq (People's Party) leader Nur Muhammad Taraki, sources estimate that up to 5000,000 Afghans may have succumbed in the strife. While many are known to have been killed in direct clashes or bombings, others have died from starvation or communist repression. One brutal example: An April 1979 massacre in Kyralla (or Kerala) in which more than 1,000 men and boys were machine-gunned to death by Afghans government troops and their Soviet advisers.
The number of Soviet casualties are equally difficult to gauge. But various sources say that between 2,000 and 10,000 Soviet military personnel have died since the invasion. Recent reports from Kabul state that 20 to 25 Soviet coffins are airlifted out each week.
While Afghan military personnel continue to defect, resistance groups have penetrated the cities. Diplomatic reports earlier this month said that Kandahar , Afghanistan's second-largest city, has been partly taken over by resistance forces. The rebels reportedly have imposed a curfew and occupied certain administrative positions. Soviet forces have since bombed the city, causing heavy casualties, these sources say.