Fears, cautious optimism grip Afghans on anniversary of Soviet withdrawal

– Anniversary of Red Army’s exit coincides with emerging signs of US withdrawal from Afghanistan through deal with Taliban

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – A cautious optimism for peace as well as fears of deadly chaos are gripping Afghanistan on the 31st anniversary of Soviet withdrawal from the country, with hints of U.S. withdrawal on the horizon.

The last convoy of the Red Army left Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989, to complete withdrawal of the Soviet forces that engaged in a deadly war with the Afghan Mujahideen for a decade, leaving the mountainous country in ruins.

The Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, thanks to the Jihad by the Afghans with generous support from the Muslim world and the west, but the killing spree continued in the country till date.

Well over 2 million Afghans have been killed since 1978, according to the Afghanistan Center for Dialogue and Memory.

As per the Human Rights Watch, by the year 2000, some 1.5 million Afghans had died as a direct result of the conflict and some 2 million more had become permanently disabled. Although the number of deaths dropped with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, it did not stop.

Death toll in wars was estimated to be 1.25 million, around 9% of the pre-war population, whereas the later estimates were much higher, Marek Sliwinski, a lecturer in political science at the University of Geneva, has written in his book Afghanistan: The Decimation of A People.

About 6.2 million Afghans, constituting 32% of the projected population, immigrated into refugee camps in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere, and more than 1.5 million were killed, bringing the total death toll to 7.7 million, well over 40% of the total projected population in 1990.

– Economic blow

The financial losses sustained by Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion are not well documented, but state institutions effectively collapsed.

Any private and government-owned industries Afghanistan had prior to and during the Soviet occupation were destroyed during the civil war, Khan Jan Alakozay, vice president of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, told Anadolu Agency.

In Kabul alone, there were up to 300 industrial units in the Pul-e-Charkhi area, all looted and destroyed and the machinery sold as scrap in Pakistan,” he said.

As per his estimates, Afghanistan sustained financial losses worth over $100 billion in Soviet era and during the civil war (1989-2001). He added: “Since the arrival of the U.S. and NATO forces, the economy is mostly driven by the private sector with an estimated investment of $15 billion, mainly in services, construction, and agriculture sectors.”

But the insecurity, lack of resources, as well as market and skilled labor continue to hinder growth.

After years of uncertainties, the country’s economy grew an estimated 2.9% in 2019, driven mainly by strong agricultural growth following recovery from drought, but lingering political uncertainty dampens private confidence and investment, the World Bank reported last month.

– End of one war, beginning of another

Amid evident signs of a peace deal between the U.S. and Taliban, many remain skeptical. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday welcomed the “notable progress” made in ongoing peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Ghani said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had informed him over the phone about the Taliban’s proposal “with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence.”

The country has never recovered from the tragedies since then, Kabul Khan, a defense analyst and former intelligence officer told Anadolu Agency.

Fearing a vicious cycle of violence, Khan said: “We are literally under an imposed war one after another in one shape or another for the past four decades. Whatever state structure, institutions, and resources we had were either destroyed during the Soviet invasion or during the civil war between different Mujahideen factions in the 1990s.”

In the presence of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in the past ten years alone, according to the UN, more than 100,000 civilians got killed and injured in Afghanistan, many more displaced and dejected.

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has been the main and credible source to document civilian casualties.

Last year, Ghani has publicly said that since the end of NATO-led combat mission in 2014 against the terrorists, more than 28,000 Afghan security forces have become martyrs in defending the country. A much higher number of Taliban insurgents are estimated to have been killed in the 19-year-long insurgency.

The reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan since 2002 are linked to the deaths or injuries of more than 5,100 people in addition to over $130 billion in financial costs, said a recent report by Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, a Pentagon watchdog.

Some 2,214 people were killed and another 2,921 wounded while taking part in reconstruction and stabilization missions across the war-ravaged nation in 2002-2018, according to the report published on Feb. 10. As per official estimates, Washington has spent an estimated $900 billion on its longest war in Afghanistan so far.