In campaign to `Sovietize' Afghanistan, USSR uses school, media, and ethnic ties
Peshawar, Pakistan — Although the Soviet Union's military offensives against Afghan guerrillas and civilians have attracted attention in the West, its campaign of political and cultural ``Sovietization'' has been much less noticed. Some analysts say that most of the Soviet effort in Afghanistan is directed at political indoctrination. The Soviets, they say, are trying to make the Afghan people adopt communist and pro-Soviet ideas and subvert the Afghan resistance to ensure the success of this policy.
Over the past seven years the Soviets have tried hard to convert Afghanistan from a neutral buffer state into a Soviet satellite. Educational and political programs are being used to achieve this.
The Soviets consider education to be of crucial importance in helping the people understand Marxist-Leninist concepts. (Afghanistan is 90 percent illiterate.)
``You never see an illiterate communist,'' one observer says.
Rasul Amin, a former Kabul University professor and a specialist on the Sovietization of Afghanistan, explains that the Soviets managed to build up the Afghan Communist Party in the 1960s and 1970s by attracting partially educated people.
``These people are the most fanatic believers, because they blindly follow the party line without the power of reasoned questioning brought by education,'' he says.
The educational campaign involves study in the Soviet Union for Afghan students and Soviet-sponsored training programs in Afghanistan. Since the communist coup in 1978, some 1,500 university scholarships have been given out each year, up from 50 to 100 in previous years. East-bloc countries allocate some 500 scholarships a year to Afghan university students.
Although exiled Afghans and Westerners often say that the students are forced to go to the Soviet Union, the Afghan government is in fact swamped with applicants. A former Foreign Ministry official estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 Afghans apply annually for the 1,500 places.
Education is free in Kabul, though many young Afghans prefer to go to Soviet universities for three main reasons: to avoid military service; to get higher quality technical and medical training; and to enjoy the higher standard of living in the USSR. A smaller number go because they are Afghan Communist Party members and can look forward to good jobs and high salaries upon return.
According to a former Kabul official who dealt with educational exchanges, there are between 15,000 and 20,000 Afghan students -- from grade-school to college age -- in diverse parts of the Soviet Union, including Siberia. The former official says there are assorted other groups studying there, from kindergartners to the most elite militiamen, who receive six months to one year of advanced military training in Central Asia. He estimates that 350 Afghan teachers are sent each year to the Soviet Union and East Germany to learn how to teach communist ideas more effectively.
The Soviets have made sure that Afghans at home don't miss out. Aside from increasing political indoctrination in schools and universities, a propaganda campaign is under way to reach the general population, according to Asmat Khan, a researcher at Peshawar University's Central Asian Studies Center.
East-bloc news media specialists are training Afghan journalists in how to present the Soviet system more attractively. And for two years the Soviets have been circulating magazines for party activists, farmers, and workers.
Much propaganda is aimed at building ties between the northern Afghan nationalities and their ethnic cousins in Soviet Central Asia. Uzbek and Tajik radio programs, newspapers, and literature published in the USSR (and broadcast or distributed in Afghanistan) try to convince northern Afghans that their historical links are across the Soviet border, rather than with neighboring Iran and Pakistan. The message is that Soviet Central Asians are better off under communism.
To convince Afghans that goods and services offered by the Soviet system are superior, Mr. Khan says, bartering across the border is encouraged -- an Afghan horse for a Soviet refrigerator, for example. Afghan Tajiks can now cross into Soviet Tajikistan for free medical care.
Many Soviet Central Asians advise Afghan government ministries. The Soviets have even sent Iranian communist party members (who had fled to the Soviet Union) into Afghanistan posing as Soviet Tajiks, according to Soviet Analyst, a scholarly bulletin published in London. These Iranians are said to be helping reorganize the Afghan Communist Party and build up its membership. The Soviet Analyst speculated that some are also infiltrating the Afghan Army.
According to Khan, the goal is to dissolve feelings of Afghan nationalism and encourage ancient animosities. The way will then be cleared for each ethnic group to be brought under control of the Kabul regime. This was essentially the same policy used to integrate the Soviet Central Asian republics in the 1920s and '30s.
Although the Afghan Communist Party claims 200,000 members, recent Afghan 'emigr'es agree that only about 1,000 of these truly believe in communism. The rest are ``radish communists'' -- red on the outside, white on the inside.
Soviet-inspired policy has greatly reduced the educational standards of Afghanistan, analysts say. According to Afghan sources, high school has been terminated at 10th grade. Eleventh and 12th grades are spent at the front, after which the boys are given high-school diplomas. If they stay in the Army for three years, they are admitted to university on a scholarship without an entrance exam.