Afghan officials, Soviets at bay
Ruka, Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan
The prisoners -- Afghan government officials, teachers, students, officers, and the director of a large cement factory -- are obediently lined up against the stone walls of the jail's inner courtyard.Skip to next paragraph
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As several armed guerilla guards look on, the prisoners stare at the visitors with glum contempt, unease, or faces totally devoid of expression.
The prison commander is a bulky former Afghan Army officer, polished pistol at his side, who has defected to the mujahideen guerrillas. He fingers one of the inmates, a blue-jeaned engineering student, as a rancher might poke at a steer.
"We have a special Islamic court to judge people like this," he declares loudly. "Depending on their crimes, they may get four months' imprisonment, or a year, or we'll keep them until the communists are finally kicked out of our country. Then the people will decide what to do with them." A broad, toothless grin indicates what he expects their fate will be.
This stone prison tucked into a side valley of the Panjshir is one of many indications of the antigovernment guerrillas' hold on huge swaths of this rugged country -- and of the demoralization of the pro-government forces.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Afghan resistance commands almost the entire countryside. True, the dull roar of a pair of Russian MIGs occasionally echoes over the mountains. Or a bearded partisan points to a distant hilltop and says: "The Russians have a base up there, but they don't dare come down here any more."
But in most parts visited by this correspondent during a 700-mile trek through several Afghan provinces there is little sign of the Soviet presence. Rural life continues under guerrilla rule much as before the 1979 Soviet invasion, with farmers cultivating their fields and women performing traditional household chores.
Even in the towns the Soviet and Afghan government forces exercise only tenuous control. In contrast to the early stages of the Soviet occupation, for instance, when Russians could still openly amble through the streets of Kabul, life there also has become one of constant insecurity. While the city functions as a capital during the daytime, the resistance takes over at night.
Russian soldiers now patrol only in armored vehicles or in heavily armed groups. Both diplomats and afghan residents report sporadic shooting almost every night. And afghan communists live in well-justified fear of being assassinated or kidnapped by the mujahideen (Muslim fighters).
"The communists know we can get them if we really want to; the atmosphere in Kabul has become one of nervousness and fear among party members," says Haji Safert Mir, a former Tourist Office guide who recently left his job to join the resistance here in the Panjshir. "Government officials rarely travel by bus between towns -- if possible, only by plane."
Resistance sources also report a growing panic among communist officials that the Soviets might eventuallt pack up and leave. "There will then be nothing for them to do, but to go and live in the Soviet Union," remarks one mujahideen, Fiaz Muhammad Haqi Panjshiri. "There will be no room for people like that in a new Afghanistan."
The Afghan Army itself is largely ineffective and unreliable. Defections continue at an enormous rate. Efforts to recruit new conscripts as well as reenlist former soldiers (by lengthening military service and offering financial incentives) are producing few results. The Army's numbers have now dropped to roughly 20,000 compared with 100,000 before the Soviet invasion. Furthermore, numerous officers in the Afghan armed forces are actively cooperating with the resistance.
Russian convoys come under constant attack along the highways that link Afghanistan's major towns. In some areas, particularly in the northern provinces bordering the Soviet Union, supplies can be brought in only by air. The latest reports suggest that the partisans are beginning to redirect their strategy toward a more aggressive warfare against both towns and military bases.