Genocide may be the Soviet answer to continued Afghanistan resistance, according to CBS newsman Dan Rather, the man chosen to replace Walter Cronkite as anchorman of the "CBS Evening News." Just returned from a clandestine six-day , 200-mile walking invasion of the beleaguered nation, Mr. Rather will tell of the CBS incursion on "60 Minutes" this Sunday (CBS, 7-8 p.m., eastern standard time).
Mr. Rather and his group also found evidence of Soviet use of nerve gas and came back convinced that the Russians will withdraw around 30,000 unneeded troops after their April offensive and begin a worldwide peace offensive claiming to abide by their own promise to withdraw.
Afghanistan resistance leaders are not impressed by the threat of an Olympic boycott, although Mr. Rather himself believes it may have some effect on Russian plans in Afghanistan.
In an interview with the Monitor Mr. Rather indicated that the Kerala (or Kyrallah) massacre, which he first read about in The Christian Science Monitor dispatches (by Edward Girardet) may be a portent of Soviet Afghanistan policy.
"The war there will either last a very long time, or there will be genocide. The religious feeling on the part of the rural population is so deep, so opposed to what they see as infidel invaders that they will be subdued only by extreme measures like genocide. They told me that if it takes 100 years and the last man in Afghanistan, they will eventually expel the infidels. That's why I firmly believe the Kerala massacre may be an ominous portent of genocide to come.
"I think that future historians may mention Kerala in the same breath with My Lai," said Mr. Rather. "About 1,100 people were killed, and we [a group of five CBS crewmen, experts, and interpreter] tracked down people -- witnesses and relatives -- who convinced me that the massacre really occurred."
Mr. Rather reports that his guerrilla sources indicate that the Soviets have around 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and are trying to hold together a Soviet-led Afghan Army of 30,000. According to Mr. Rather the Soviets are having a hard job preventing defections.
"They're also trying to build up their own political infrastructure in the country. They've used the techniques of infiltration, destabilization, and invoked the doctrine of invited aggression, which they borrowed from early Hitler. Who knows what other methods they will borrow from him. In Kerala they were trying to establish what they called reforms. They wanted a new Soviet Afghan order and were trying to make that stick with a combination of Soviet political apparatus and the Soviet Afghan Army.
"The men of Kerala, like most Afghans, see the war as a holy war and the Soviet invaders as infidels. The minute the men of Kerala joined together to resist the Soviet plan, according to eyewitnesses we talked to, they were asked to pledge their allegiance to the new order. When they refused, they were massacred. In how many other places is this happening? Nobody knows yet."
Mr. Rather and the CBS crew traveled with Eden Frye, of the Harvard School of Middle Eastern Studies, who speaks both Farsi (Persian) and Pashto. Also in the party was a guide representing one of the top resistance fighters operating around the Kunar Valley. The male members of the CBS crew grew beards, and all wore Afghan dress.
Mr. Rather also confirmed reports of the Soviet use of nerve gas. "I went in doubting that the Soviets would do that, but I came out firmly convinced that they are using nerve gas. Nobody attacked us with the gas, but we talked to hundreds of people who gave firsthand accounts of attacks.The most convincing witness was a highly respected Kabul medical school physician who had been a victim."
Mr. Rather said he saw no evidence that the Russians are ready to pull out of Afghanistan. "But the resistance leaders expect a symbolic pullout of 20,000 or 30,000 unneeded troops as soon as the April spring offensive is over. That will be followed by a worldwide Soviet peace offensive in which the Soviets say to the world: See, we are now pulling out as we said we would."