Soviet occupation troops are conducting a brutal search-and-destroy campaign against Afghanistan's civilian population, including the deliberate murder of women and children, in an attempt to obliterate all resistance to the communist regime in Kabul.
This is the conclusion of Michael Barry, an Islamic studies researcher from mcGill University in Canada who has just returned from a fact-finding mission to western Pakistan sponsored by the International Federation of Human Rights here in Paris.
According to Mr. Barry, Afghan refugees testify to further massacres in addition to the Kerala (or Kyrallah) affair in which 1,170 unarmed men were reported to have been machine-gunned to death last year by Afghan security forces at the order of Soviet advisers. The story was printed in The Christian Science Monitor Feb. 4, 1980.
Basing his evidence on the testimony of more than 100 Afghan refugees now living in camps in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, Mr. Barry asserted in an interview with the Monitor that live burials, the razing of villages, the use of incapacitating gas, and the drowning of prisoners in human excrement have become part of current Soviet-backed Afghan government policy in an effort to terrorize Afghans unwilling to submit to the regime.
In a telephone discussion with the Soviet Embassy here in Paris, a spokesman accused Mr. Barry of being an "anti-Soviet agitator."
He maintained that the international federation's sources were unreliable and that Soviet troops were not interfering in local affairs. "Our troops only perform garrison duties," the spokesman said.
Likewise, the French Communist Party's recently created human rights committee, which curiously neglects to include the Soviet Union or other East European countries in its list of states responsible for infringements, maintained that "there are no facts coming out of Afghanistan to merit an investigation into the situation."
Mr. Barry, who speaks three major Afghan languages and has lived and traveled widely throughout the country over the past decade, said that since the 1978 communist takeover by Muhammad Nur Taraki, executions at Pul-e Charki prison in Kabul have been "carried out in a manner reminiscent of Auschwitz."
"Unfortunately, we can be sure of this from numerous testimony of former inmates who left the prison after the general amnesty of Jan. 6, 1980," said the human rights investigator.
According to Mr. Barry, Afghanistan's full-fledged reign of terror began in earnest in March 1979 when the situation got out of control. The rebel mujahideen were scoring significant successes against convoys, bridges, and military establishments. The resistance was also assassinating numerous communist officials.
Concerned Soviet advisers then took over the Afghan Air Force and asserted greater control over the Afghan military as increasing numbers of Afghan soldiers defected to join the rebels. "This marked the beginning of a harsh Soviet-ordered repression intended to inspire terror among the population," said Mr. Barry.
While confirming the Kerala massacre, refugee testimony also refers to other wholesale murders during the same period. On April 22, 1979, Afghan security forces with 12 Soviet officials present were alleged to have forcibly drowned 1, 500 young Hazara tribesmen in wooden crates in a river in Saman Gan Province just north of the Salang Pass not far from the Soviet border.
According to a West German-educated Afghan pharmacist who had attended a pharmaceutical conference in Mazar-i-Sharif last May, the military commander of the town had warned his group: "You are going to behave yourselves. We have just executed 1,500 men by drowning."
Another refugee in Pakistan, Mullab Taleb Hussein, testified to the massacre after he himself had barely escaped death at the hands of Afghan and Soviet soldiers. Together with 300 village notables, he had been thrown off a cliff in the Darra Yusof Valley.
The soldiers then reportedly machinegunned the victims as they lay seriously injured or dead on the ground at the bottom of the ridge. Mr. Hussein was the only survivor. He was later picked up by nearby villagers, who told him that troops had also killed the 1,500 young men.
Further evidence was provided by a 31-year-old, emaciated, prematurely gray Afghan psychiatrist released in January from Pul-e Charki prison. the doctor, a member of the Afghan medical corps, was imprisoned when he refused to join the Communist Party. He told Mr. Barry that a cell mate from Mazar-i-Sharif had mentioned the massacre.
The human rights investigator also interviewed a number of Hazaras and Nuristanis with knowledge of the killings. Meeting a group of Nuristanis buying ammunition in Peshawar at the beginning of March, Mr. Barry learned that they had come across a weeping Afghan truck driver from Mazar-i-Sharif last year.
The man implored them to let him join the rebellion. "My brothers, my brothers," they quoted him as saying, "I have done something terrible. I had to drive many times to the river carrying boxloads of young men who cried out: Mercy, mercy. The soldiers then threw them into the river where they drowned."
Refugee testimony also referred to brutal interrogations of prisoners at Pul-e Charki, which included the torturing of wives. Reluctant prisoners were thrown into an enormous cesspool outside the building where they drowned in human excrement.
"After the prison amnesty," said Mr. Barry, "wives who came to the prison were told to look for their loved ones in the cesspool, which they did by searching for the bodies with long sticks while they wept."
Released prisoners recounted tales of live burials as another form of execution. "Prisoners were carted off every night by truck," the human rights investigator said. "The people were unloaded from the truck, their eyes bound, trenches were dug, the prisoners were cast in, and the trenches were filled in by bulldozers."
While recently traveling around refugee camps in North West Frontier, this reporter also came across similar testimony. At Kerala, for example, he was told Soviet advisers ordered a bulldozer to plow the victims, who had been shot and some of whom were still alive, into the earth.
In a war where neither side is taking any prisoners from the battlefield, refugee testimony described Soviet officers ordering the deliberate live burial of captured mujahideen, particularly in Paktia and Nagahar provinces.
One recently defected Afghan soldier told Mr. Barry that he himself had participated under Soviet orders in the live burial of four rebels last spring.
In the present Soviet offensive against the resistance, Soviet troops have embarked on a willful destruction of civilian habitations. "The Russians are out to destroy everything, village by village," said Mr. Barry. "Almost every refugee I have spoken to has seen at least one village being destroyed."
Afghan troops participate in the fighting, but there appears to be little enthusiastic cooperation.
According to testimony, tanks drive into villages and fire point-blank at houses regardless of whether women and children are inside. Armor-plated helicopters drop Soviet combat troops onto the flat roofs of Afghan homes. the soldiers then break into the houses and machine-gun anyone inside.
The offensive is also playing psychological havoc with the rebels. While visiting rebel bases in Afghanistan in February, this reporter was struck by their complete lack of caution and underestimation of the Soviet military machine. They almost demonstrated a sense of cockiness and over-confidence.
According to Mr. Barry, this has changed. "The mujahideen are perplexed. The brutal effectiveness of the Soviet offensive is making them realize that they are no longer fighting against Afghan soldiers just as disorganized as themselves," he said.
Regufee testimony indicated that Soviet troops are wearing bulletproof vests and trousers. When rebel bullets fail to have any impact, Mr. Barry said, the mujahideen run away shouting: "God is abandoning us."
The mujahideen, who lack missiles and antiaircraft guns, are also practically helpless against the armored plating of MI-24 helicopter gunships.
There is also definite evidence that the Soviets are using varied forms of chemical gas. "The Afghans do not know the names of these gases, but they can describe them," said the human rights investigator. Not only have the Soviets apparently applied napalm against villages, livestock, and cultivated fields, but they have also reportedly sprayed incapacitating gas from helicopters. "This induces headaches, asphyxiation, and fainting," he said. "Thirteen people died from asphyxiation in one attack alone."
A skin irritant is used, too. "the rebels are forced to drop their gunds and scratch," said Mr. Barry. Furthermore, laughing gas is implemented, causing hysterical laughing, panic, and fainting. "All this has proven to be most detrimental on their morale," he added.
The situation in the Hazara highlands is apparently desperate. Soviet troops have blocked off all the access points and refuse to allow any trucks carrying food supplies to enter.