Russia seeks to vindicate Afghan war, 30 years after pullout

Soviet era tanks can still be found in some parts of Afghanistan, 30 years after Russia pulled out its troops from the war-torn country. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Russia seeks to vindicate Afghan war, 30 years after pullout

  • The USSR pulled out its last units from Kabul on Feb.15, 1989
  • The withdrawal, ordered by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was a humiliating defeat for the Union and helped lead to its collapse

MOSCOW: Soviet authorities themselves condemned the USSR’s bloody occupation of Afghanistan, but 30 years later some in Vladimir Putin’s Russia are coming to see the operation in a more positive light.
After a decade of military intervention to bolster Kabul’s embattled Communist government against militant fighters, the USSR finally pulled out its last units on February 15, 1989.
The withdrawal, ordered by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was a humiliating defeat for the Union and helped lead to its collapse.
Mikhail Kozhukhov, who covered the conflict as a correspondent for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, remembered how the final Russian troops left without joy or bitterness.
“The soldiers were dreaming only of one thing: getting home safe and sound,” Kozhukhov, now 62, told AFP.
The reporter remembered crossing the “Friendship Bridge” across the Amu Darya river separating Afghanistan from then-Soviet Uzbekistan in the second-last armored vehicle of the last Soviet convoy, flying red flags.
One of the armored vehicles carried the body of 20-year-old Igor Lyakhovich, who was killed a day earlier and is officially the last of more than 14,000 Soviet war dead in a conflict that killed more than one million Afghans.
“Along the route you could see the ‘ghosts’ who had come down from the mountains to watch our retreat from a distance,” said Kozhukhov, using a Russian term for elusive Afghan partisans.
“The eyes of the inhabitants of the snowy village were full of hate or spite because they were being left to the mercy of fate,” Kozhukhov said.
The journalist, who briefly served as Putin’s press secretary in 1999 and 2000, says that “the intervention in Afghanistan was always a tragic and senseless escapade.”
The intervention was extremely unpopular with the Soviet public and was officially condemned in 1989 at the height of Gorbachev’s policy of “glasnost,” or transparency.
But this judgment is now being reassessed, under pressure from veterans.
Putin in 2015 appeared to back the intervention, saying that the Soviet leadership was trying to confront “real threats” even though he acknowledged “there were many mistakes.”
In late January, Russia’s parliamentary defense committee backed a draft resolution saying that “the moral and political condemnation of the decision to send in Soviet troops” was “against the principles of historical justice.”
The Soviet troops helped the Afghan authorities fight “terrorist and extremist groups” and curbed the growing security threat facing the USSR, the draft resolution says.
The draft resolution, however, has yet to be voted on in full session, reflecting the authorities’ reluctance formally to revisit this traumatic episode.
Historian Irina Shcherbakova of Memorial rights group says that amid heightened tensions with Western powers in recent years, “Russia is reviving its Soviet past to justify its new opposition to the West.”
For political analyst Pyotr Akopov from pro-Kremlin site Vzglyad, “the ex-combatants and the whole of Russian society need vindication for this war.”
“We have nothing to apologize for, we didn’t use napalm... and we even managed to leave Afghanistan with our supporters replacing us, which the Americans have never managed to do.”
Alexander Kovalyov, president of the association of ex-combatants for the CIS region including most ex-Soviet countries, insists the invasion of Afghanistan was justified and says Gorbachev “betrayed all the dead” by condemning it.
“Without our troops, the Americans would have installed their missiles to target Moscow,” he said.
“Gorbachev was right to finish this war but we should have kept on supporting Kabul with the necessary arms for it to resist,” said Kovalyov, who served as a deputy commander in charge of political indoctrination of an army regiment sent in to secure the withdrawal.
Konstantin Volkov went to Afghanistan in late 1981 as a conscript at the age of 17, full of enthusiasm after following Soviet media reports.
He was responsible for radio communications, taking part in 70 missions and was decorated for intercepting correspondence between the Mujahideen.
Demobilized in 1983 in good physical health, he says the war haunted his dreams for 15 years.
He was ordained as a Russian Orthodox priest and is now Father Konstantin. At his church in a village outside Moscow, around 30 of his fellow “Afghans” (Soviet veterans) gather every February 15.
“I suggest to my former comrades that they express penitence and don’t think any more about what happened in that war,” he told AFP.


India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi (C) gestures after laying a wreath to pay tribute on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs memorial in Amritsar on April 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 min 11 sec ago
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India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

  • Rahul Gandhi is standing in Wayanad in Kerala state, taking a risk as south India is considered a stronghold of regional parties
  • This election is seen as a referendum on his five-year rule — which has seen impressive economic growth but not the jobs that the BJP promised

NEW DELHI: Indians are voting Tuesday in the third phase of the general elections with campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party and the opposition marred by bitter accusations and acrimony.
People lined up outside voting station at several places even before the polling started at 7 a.m.
The voting for 117 parliamentary seats in 13 states and two Union Territories on Tuesday means polls are half done for 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The voting over seven phases ends May 19, with counting scheduled for May 23.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He has adopted a nationalist pitch trying to win the majority Hindu votes by projecting a tough stance against Islamic neighbor Pakistan.
The opposition is challenging him for a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Modi is scheduled to vote on Tuesday in his western home state of Gujarat, though he is contesting for a parliamentary seat from Varanasi, a city in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The voting also is taking place in Wayanad constituency in southern Kerala state, one of the two seats from where opposition Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi, is contesting. His home bastion, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh state will have polling on May 6. He will give up one seat if he wins from both places.
The voting is staggered to facilitate movement of security forces to oversee an orderly election and avoid vote fraud.
India’s autonomous Election Commission intervened last week to block hate speeches by imposing a temporary ban on campaigning by some top politicians across political parties.
Uttar Pradesh state chief minister Yogi Adityanath of Modi’s BJP was barred from campaigning, in the form of public meetings, road shows or media interviews, for three days for making anti-Muslim speeches. He said a Hindu god will ensure the BJP victory in elections, while the opposition was betting on Muslim votes.
Mayawati, a leader of Bahujan Samaj Party, was punished for 48 hours for appealing to Muslims to vote only for her party. India’s top court ordered strict action against politicians for religion and caste-based remarks.
Hindus comprise 80% and Muslims 16% of India’s 1.3 billion people. The opposition accuses the BJP of trying to polarize the Hindu votes in its favor.
Meenakshi Lekhi, a BJP leader, filed a contempt of court petition against Rahul Gandhi in the Supreme Court for misrepresenting a court order while accusing Modi of corruption in a deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter aircraft. Modi denies the charge.
Modi has used Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record, playing up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers, in a bid to appear a strong, uncompromising leader on national security. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.
Opposition parties have consistently said that Modi and his party leaders are digressing from the main issues such as youth employment and farmers’ suicides.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.