AFTER five years of direct military intervention and stepped-up attacks against unarmed civilians, the Soviet Union has not been able to quench the indomitable spark of independence and resistance of the Afghan freedom fighters.
That the war continues after all this time - since the Soviets first sent troops into neighboring Afghanistan back in the closing days of 1979 - is in itself remarkable. The Soviet-Afghan conflict has been likened to the United States involvement in South Vietnam. Yet, what the analogy overlooks is that - wholly apart from the question of motives - Afghanistan shares a thousand-mile-long border with the Soviet Union. Proximity clearly favors Soviet military planners, in sharp contrast to the Americans in Southeast Asia, who were faced with a long supply line across the Pacific Ocean.
Moreover, the Soviets have systematically blanked out critical reports of the Afghan war at home, in stark contrast to the situation faced by US officials, when the news media followed virtually every aspect of the Vietnam war, often being openly critical. Although there are indications that there has been an increasing restiveness on the part of some Soviet citizens as casualty tolls grow, still there have not been any of the mass demonstrations and antiwar sentiment that gripped the US during the late 1960s and early '70s.
What is happening in Afghanistan, however, deserves the attention of people of goodwill everywhere, not just because of the Soviet-American-Vietnam comparisons, but because of the nature of the Afghanistan war itself. The few Western reporters who have braved formidable difficulties to get into Afghanistan tell of a grim and relentless conflict that - while involving occasional acts of terror from both sides - is increasingly marked by pervasive and ruthless measures from the Soviets. Such measures include saturation bombing of civilian population areas, decimation of the countryside, and the destruction of entire villages. It's estimated that up to 5 million people, one-third of the nation's prewar population, have fled into Pakistan and Iran.
Many people in the Western world have seemed to ignore the continuing Afghan tragedy. But the resistance could not have gone on as long as it has without the substantial support of the people of Afghanistan.
American aid to resistance fighters is estimated to have doubled this year, to some $280 million. Such support is justified. At the same time, the Western nations should be doing more to provide assistance to the millions of Afghan refugees. That would help make it clear to the Soviets that it really is not in their best interest to continue this most unfortunate and nasty war.