Afghans uneasy as Russians show flag in Kabul


By Peter Popham in Kabul



28 November 2001



http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia_china/story.jsp?story=107159



I had never seen my manic, volcanic taxi driver Wazir so excited."The

Russians are back!" he bawled as I approached his cab yesterday 

morning.

"They arrived in the night. Everybody is talking about it.'' Twelve 

years

after the Soviet Union pulled out the last of the 100,000-odd troops 

with

which it had failed over 10 years to subdue Afghanistan, Russian 

soldiers

were on the streets of Kabul again.



At least, that was what it looked like. We belted down to Wazir Akhbar

Khan, the capital's embassy district, and in the corner of a couple of

acres of waste ground were parked six honking, green Russian army 

lorries.

Guarding them were young Russians in dark blue uniforms and automatic

rifles. A small crowd of Kabulis goggled from a respectful distance.



In a city which had seen its most recent batch of alien, authoritarian

overlords melt into the night two weeks before, there is a feeling

anything can happen; also perhaps an apprehension that freedom so 

cheaply

and quickly won could be snatched away with equal ease. So people stood

and stared. "It's the start of another invasion,'' said one young 

Afghan

darkly. "It gives me a bad feeling to see them back after all this 

time,''

said an older man.



The official explanation, given by President Vladimir Putin on Monday, 

was

that staff, construction crews and diplomats had been sent to Kabul for

aid work. Russia's Ministry of Emergency Assistance was formerly part 

of

the Defence Ministry. Now its identity is separate but the antecedents 

are

still apparent. The contrast with Britain's Department for 

International

Development (DfID) could not be starker. "They come in like that,'' 

said a

British diplomat in Kabul last night, "We send in three blokes with 

cheque

books.''



But a DfID official observing the Russians in the morning looked badly 

put

out. "It's a publicity stunt,'' he said. "If they really wanted to help

the sick people in Kabul there are plenty of existing hospitals where 

they

could work. They've stolen the limelight. We'll have to do something 

about

this.''



The sudden Russian presence in central Kabul consisted of the lorries,

half a dozen armed guards in flak jackets and 100 other staff, also in

uniform but unarmed. Their immediate task was said to be building a 

field

hospital on the site, though further enquiries revealed there were 

neither

doctors nor nurses among the Russians on the ground; they were coming

later.



The Northern Alliance, which recaptured Kabul from the Taliban two 

weeks

ago, gave their blessing to the Russians' arrival. "Of course, they 

didn't

parachute there," said the Alliance foreign minister, Abdullah 

Abdullah.



A British spokesman said the UK forces who took charge at Bagram 

military

airfield, north of Kabul, with their American colleagues had been 

notified

of the Russians' arrival and ensured it was smooth. "We knew they were

coming and the previous day we made the necessary arrangements,'' he 

said.

Twelve Ilyushin transport planes arrived on Monday and four yesterday 

by

lunchtime.



The other task for the Russians is the "rehabilitation'' of their 

embassy.

In contrast to the British Embassy, discreetly reoccupied soon after 

the

Taliban left, and requiring little more than a whisk with a duster 

before

it was up and running again, Russia's enormous premises, in a planned

government new town on the periphery called Darulaman, were badly 

damaged

in the civil war and have since been taken over by at least 25,000

internal refugees.



A show of military muscle like that put on by the Ministry of Emergency

Assistance yesterday might persuade some of them to leave, but would 

not

help to endear the new Russians to ordinary Kabulis, many of whom have

nightmarish memories of the brutal Soviet occupation. Yesterday's 

Russian

street theatre heavily underscored the Northern Alliance's biggest 

problem

in winning Afghan support beyond its northern heartland.



Just as the Taliban are seen as the foster children of Islamabad, the

Northern Alliance is seen as the creature of Moscow, which kept Ahmed 

Shah

Masood's resistance to the Taliban alive with money and supplies

throughout the bad years after the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996. 

Emerging

on the world's stage since 11 September, the Northern Alliance has 

tried

to rebrand itself as the "United Front'' but the yawning absence of 

their

forces in the fight for Kandahar and their inability to bring order to

major roads in Pashtun-dominated areas close to the capital exposes the

limits of their authority.



Abdullah Abdullah may be the smoothest voice Afghan politics has 

produced

in years, but the inability to drive the 100 miles between Kabul and

Jalalabad without the risk of being set upon and murdered shows the

reality on the ground.



Paranoid Afghans may worry about a rerun of the 1979 invasion, but the

rest of the world knows the Russian army is a shambles and any such

attempt is out of the question.



Russia is nearly showing the flag in Kabul again in its own style, as 

half

a dozen other missions have already shown theirs. But the Russian 

presence

highlights the key problem that delegates to the conference near Bonn 

must

wrestle with: how to achieve government by and for the Afghans when

interference in Afghanistan by outside powers has become such a habit.




Back

Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims






Contact IslamAwareness@gmail.com for further information