Former commanders boycott Afghan celebration

18th anniversary of mujahedin victory marked

Members of the Afghan National Army in Kabul helped commemorate the anniversary of the fall of a Soviet-installed regime. Members of the Afghan National Army in Kabul helped commemorate the anniversary of the fall of a Soviet-installed regime. (Majid Saeedi/ Getty Images)
By Deb Riechmann and Amir Shah
Associated Press / April 29, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Former Afghan commanders who toppled a Soviet-backed regime 18 years ago were no-shows at a national celebration yesterday marking their victory, a boycott that revealed fractures in the Afghan government as it tries to close ranks on Taliban insurgents.

The ceremony, at a heavily guarded sports stadium, was a display of the nation’s growing security force. Police and soldiers, clad in crisp uniforms and shiny helmets, marched in formation as more than a dozen attack helicopters and other aircraft flew low over the crowd. Men and women injured in the conflict, including amputees on crutches, joined the crowd in the reviewing stand.

But it was who didn’t come that was telling: The mujahedin commanders who forced the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime on April 28, 1992, but now feel sidelined by President Hamid Karzai’s government.

That message was clearly conveyed on a bright blue banner carried by relatives of the estimated 1.5 million Afghans who died in the conflict from late 1979 until 1992. “The participation of mujahedin in political, cultural and social affairs will strengthen the pillars of the government,’’ it said, referring to the anti-Soviet fighters.

Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who gave the keynote speech, appealed for national unity and expressed hope that a peace conference next month in Kabul would achieve a national consensus for reconciling with the Taliban.

“The only way to come out from the current situation is to believe and create a unity that cannot be infiltrated and a political situation where everybody speaks with the same voice,’’ said Fahim, who stood in for Karzai, who was at a regional conference in Bhutan.

“We are keeping open the doors of negotiations for those who ware interested in peace and participation for a normal life,’’ he said.

However, many former guerrilla leaders who battled the Soviets and their Afghan allies feel isolated from the Karzai government, which has been under Western pressure to distance itself from some of the former guerrilla chiefs who became warlords after the communist regime collapsed.

“The mujahedin leaders are disappointed,’’ said Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, former interior minister and deputy prime minister in the mujahedin government. “The holy war fighters freed Afghanistan from Russia, but in this government they have no space.

“This government has been made for Westerners and it is not representative of the Afghan nation,’’ said Ahmadzai, who did not attend the event. “Afghans should not be proud of this government.’’

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, killing the Moscow-backed leader and installing another to stop infighting within the government. After a decade of fighting against guerrillas, who were getting financial and military backing from the United States, the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

The government that the Soviets left behind collapsed in 1992 when the guerrillas seized Kabul. Rebel leaders then fell out among themselves, triggering a civil war that paved the way for the Taliban, which ruled from Kabul from 1996 until the US-led invasion five years later.

Ibrahim Malikzadai, former top jihad commander and now a member of parliament in Ghor province, said the commanders should have participated in the celebration of their victory if only to show that the role of the mujahedin isn’t forgotten.