Afghanistan's past was also bleak
When you sit in the Afghan capital of Kabul and listen to the shortware radio transmissions from Washington, London, and other Western nations, you might be forgiven for thinking that Afghanistan is in Eastern Europe rather than Southwest Asia.
For the invective used to condemn the Soviet intervention there is almost identical to the language used by the British and American goverments when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.
But things are not that simple. There are a lot of illusions being nursed about Afghanistan.
Not the least of these involves the territorial integrity of the country itself. That is was once a semi-independent monarchy is a historical fact. But as a nation-state, it never really existed.
The King was never a popular man and his only serious political function was to act as a figurehead who would hold the warring tribes of Afghanistan together. Even under the monarchy, the main roads out of Kabul were seldom safe from bandits, and the last two centuries have witnessed as many factional wars as they have wars of liberation.
In the rural villages, with their 95 percent illiteracy rate and their traditional Sunni Muslim life, the 1978 revolution of Nur Muhammad Taraki was bitterly resented. It was, the Muslims felt, and atheist ideology that was dominating their country. And since their monarch had long been deposed, they had only their conservative -- some would say reactionary -- church to look to for nationalist inspiration.
The mullahs resented the new regime's attempt to impose land reforms and its efforts to educate women. The men opposed the communist government's insistence on equal rights for women. In some villages this led to tiny insurrections, the calling in of government troops, and bloodshed.
If the government had not been communist and backed by the Soviet Union, its modernizing aspirations would probably have been applauded by many liberals in the West.
Furthermore, many of the hill tribesmen, particularly the Pushtun and the Hazara, used newly captured weapons for robbing civilian travelers on the main roads of Afghanistan. They fought each other as well, mixing prosaic greed with a patriotism that Westerners, including Mr. Carter, now help to inspire.
When Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin assassinated President Taraki and took over the government -- he embarked on a bloody purge of all political opposition. Yet it is Mr. Amin whom Mr. Carter now refers to as "the legal ruler of Afghanistan" who was overthrown by the Soviets, even though they had initially backed him.
It may make sense to emphasize the politically legitimate nature of the Amin regime which the Russians so ruthlessly destroyed last December. Yet President Amin was a brutal despot. He was no Alexander Dubcek -- the reform-minded Czechoslovak leader thrown out by the Russians in 1968.
the Soviets themselves are now treating rebel villages in eastern Afghanistan with the same frightening brutality the colonial powers once used against obdurate subject nations.
At the same time the administration of Babrak Karmal has failed to win any form of popular support. Its ministers are not under direct orders from Soviet "advisers," as some reports would have it, but they are deeply divided over the future policy of the government, especially over the degree to which the Cabinet should enforce land reform and civil rights for women.
Several administrators -- the governor of the besieged city of Jalalabad, for example -- are not party members, and there is a growing belief among Afghan civil servants that if the revolution is to continue in any recognizable form, then it must be slowed down.
The divisions in the Cabinet are partly of President Karmal's own making. It was he who divided the People's Democratic Party in the 1960s, splitting the movement into the Parcham and Khalq cliques and effectively sapping President Taraki's political power.
When President Taraki took control of Afghanistan in 1978, his government published several booklets blaming Mr. Karmal for splits within the PDP. Today, the same Mr. Karmal represents his own Cabinet as the logical continuation of Mr. Taraki's revolution, and as a glorious period of social progress interrupted by the machinations of the "butcher" Amin.
President Karmal lauds Mr. Taraki's name, willfully ignoring the fact that his spiritual progenitor once accused him of maintaining links with the deposed monarchy.
The present Afghan ruler displayed a brisk contempt toward questions from Western journalists in january, claiming that his Soviet-supported coup was justified by the odious nature of the Amin dictatorship.
President Karmal is, in fact, a philosophical Marxist of considerable intelligence and even charm, but he is no less a puppet in Russian hands.
His survival is also a necessary factor in the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan.
Although President Carter has expressed his sympathy for the "freedom-loving people of Afghanistan," it is doubtful that the West would risk a confrontation with the Soviets over this country.