Mujahedin Victory Event Falls Flat

Few Kabulis were enthusiastic about a celebration to commemorate the achievements of the city's former rulers.

Mujahedin Victory Event Falls Flat

Few Kabulis were enthusiastic about a celebration to commemorate the achievements of the city's former rulers.

In common with most national holidays, Mujahedin Victory Day this week was rich in symbolism. But for many citizens, the imagery offered a bitter reminder of the course taken by the holy warriors since they ousted the communists.

The holiday is meant to commemorate April 28, 1992, the day when mujahedin forces wrested control of the capital from the Moscow-backed communist regime that ruled for more than 13 years.

The long and bitter fight drew Afghans of all regions and ethnicities together in a common cause. After victory however, the country immediately descended into a four-year civil war, as mujahedin faction leaders viciously fought each other for control.

Afghans have a saying, "The Russians didn't destroy Kabul - it took the mujahedin to do that." Under communist rule, the 2,500-year-old city was preserved and developed. But during the mujahedin war, some 60,000 residents died and most of the capital's historic buildings were wrecked by looting, shelling and fire.

And now that the former Northern Alliance soldiers and commanders - who fought the Taleban and still call themselves mujahedin - hold many of the posts in the defence and interior ministries, residents are complaining about corruption and abuses of power by some soldiers and police.

On April 28, more than 3,100 soldiers from the new national army paraded down Jada Istaqlal, or Freedom Avenue, past Eid Gah - the grand mosque used only for special occasions - to the square of Mahmood Khan, a general who fought the British.

The land around the mosque is littered with the ruins of houses destroyed during the civil war. And overlooking the city in the distance, stand the remains of the tomb of Nadir Shah, looted heavily by the mujahedin.

No ordinary citizens were allowed at the parade. Instead, they had to make do with broadcast coverage - and that too, only reached the minority with access to radio or television. The tight security at the event reflected the ongoing threat of attack from extremists.

Shopkeepers in central Kabul grumbled as police ordered them to clean up the front of their stores, hang a national flag, and then close down for the morning.

They were even unsure which way to display the flag. For instance, some hung it with the black, red and green stripes horizontally - as in Zahir Shah's time - instead of vertically.

The black in the flag represents Afghanistan's history of oppression.

The red symbolises the blood of those who fought for independence, and the green stands for freedom and Islam.

Most citizens seemed uninterested in the celebrations, and there was little of the partying and family picnics that usually form a part of major public holidays. People said they prefer celebrations to mark independence day.

During the performance of Afghanistan's national anthem, soldiers fired 21 artillery shots. But for some residents, the sound was a reminder of the daily bombardment during the civil war, when the city could not keep up with all the burials of the dead.

"This is the city which was destroyed in the name of mujahedin - and today they celebrate a festival here," said shopkeeper Qand Agha, who has lived in the capital all his life and looks older than his 45 years. "We cannot forget the exchange of rockets which caused the destruction of Kabul and the death of its citizens."

In the stands reviewing the parade were five mujahedin leaders who fought the Soviet invasion - including Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan's president during the civil wars, and the leader of one of the warring factions, Jamiat-e-Islami. After he was driven from Kabul when the Taleban took over, he became head of the Northern Alliance.

The pride of being a mujahedin has diminished in the past decade, and now some Kabulis use the word with disgust. They say "real mujahedin" when they refer to those who fought the Soviets.

Mia Gul, 40, was one of these fighters. He suffered a leg injury during his 14 years of combat, and rejoiced at the April 1992 victory. But when the civil war broke out, he stayed away because he considered the infighting "a sin", choosing instead to become a beekeeper.

Habibullah, 18, said he didn't bother to take part in the festivities because he was too busy running his food shop. "I feed eight orphans in my family, and if I earn 30 afghanis (around 60 US cents) I can buy 10 loaves of bread."

But 61st Brigade officer Major Rosadeen was proud and happy to celebrate the holiday. "After the Jihad against Russians, we strived to make a government, and still we are defending it," he told IWPR.

"The present forces from abroad came here for peace, but if they have come for something else we can prevent them from depriving us of our freedom."

Kabul police official Mohammad Musa, who has been working in the interior ministry since 1981, said he was glad the event passed off peacefully. But he waxed nostalgic about the communist era, saying, "The festivals before 1992 were better. Kabul's condition was not as it is today - people were not homeless, and the salaries were sufficient."

"Anyway," he concluded, "if there is no fighting, that is good."

President Hamed Karzai's speech made several vague references to the civil wars. "The hopes and desires of our martyrs were not fulfilled because of foreign and internal conspiracy," he said.

Karzai has had difficulty pulling together a nation which is divided by political and ethnic differences as much as by its rugged mountain ranges. This is mostly because his orders often aren't enforced, even inside Kabul.

But he called for national unity, saying, "Now the time has come to give a hand to each other and to take part in the Jihad of reconstruction."

Danish Karokhel is an IWPR editor/reporter in Kabul

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