"Welcome to the land of the new revolution." The banner at Kabul airport, painted Soviet style on a fiery red background, seems to reflect the political change in this country. It suggests that Afghanistan is well on its way to becoming Moscow's latest satellite, if not a new Soviet republic.
Almost two years after the first pro-communist coup in this Central Asian country, Afghanistan still displays typical Muslim characteristics. Traditional clan and family relationships remain central to Afghan daily life, which, in turn, still revolves around the local mosque.
Afghanistan's new rulers have promised to inject more green (the color of Islam) into the country's predominantly red flag. Yet there is little doubt that the country is moving toward a society modeled more on the Soviet example.
The Afghan capital is full of those red-colored banners one almost automatically associates with Moscow's Red square. They proclaim progress toward peace, freedom, national independence, democracy, and social justice.
Kabul's English-language daily, the Kabul Times, looks like a bad imitation of the Soviet Communist Party daily, Pravda. Its columns are filled with bombastic language and congratulatory messages to the new Afghan leadership.
That leadership, as in most communist countries, seems to be deeply afraid of the import of Western "counterrevolutionary" ideas. Foreign publications are forbidden. Customs authorities at Kabul airport systematically confiscate all foreign literature from travelers entering the country.
Since former President Nur Muhammad Taraki's takeover in April, 1979, Afghanistan's economic policy is based on a Soviet- style five-year plan.
Yet most Afghans still find it very difficult to embrace communism and Soviet domination at the expense of their traditional values. The initial pro-communist coup in 1978, now succeeded by the Soviet-backed takeover last month, constitutes too abrupt a change in Afghan politics to be swallowed easily. For the first time, the People's palace in Kabul is inhabited by men who have no direct links to the Afghan Royal Family and who seem to be motivated by an alien ideology.
anti-Soviet sentiment has become a dominant feature among average Afghans. "Americans and Muslims are friends. Russians no good," a Kabul taxi driver says cheerfully in broken English.
Foreigners walking through the Afghan capital's bazaar feel distinctly the hostility in the eyes of the local people who assume they are Soviet citizens. Western embassies advise their nationals not to venture onto the streets after 8 p.m. although curfew does not begin until 11 p.m.
"The main difficulty for the Soviets is changing the attitudes of the people, " says a senior Western diplomat in Kabul.
In an attempt to make the Soviet influence more acceptable, Afghanistan's pro-communist leadership seems to be concentrating on youth. Political instruction, beginning at elementary-school level, was introduced last year. Some Afghan youths are being sent to Moscow for further education. "Even the smallest are learning about 'Father Lenin,'" a Western observer says sarcastically.
Diplomats in Kabul estimate that President Babrak Karmal enjoys the support of not more than 10 percent of the Afghan population. But there is certainly a feeling of relief in the country that the repressive regime of President Hafizullah Amin has been defeated.
"Anyone who replaced Amin would have been popular," says a senior diplomat. "Karmal's big drawback is that he has been put in by the Russians. His popularity depends on how far he is able to reduce the alienation resulting from this."
Western diplomats in Kabul have not yet arrived at a definite evaluation of what drives Mr. Karmal. "Either he is so desperate for power that he does not care now he obtains it or he is confident that he can ease himself out of the bearhug, given time and political skills," one Western official comments.