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Monday, February 15, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT

World: South Asia

Another decade of fighting

Weapons flooded into Afghanistan from both superpowers in the 1980s

By William Reeve in Kabul

The final withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army from Afghanistan was marked by the overall Commander, General Boris Gromov, walking across the so-called Friendship Bridge into what is now Uzbekistan.

Afghan representative in London Ahmed Wali Massoud: The West left Afghanistan alone after the Russians withdrew
Today, General Gromov says the Soviet mistake was not so much withdrawing from Afghanistan, but not pulling out much earlier. He says the occupation drained the Soviet economy and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When the Red Army departed, they left the Moscow-backed Afghan President, Dr Najibullah, in charge.

Many thought he would fall immediately, but he managed to cling to power for another three years.

The Afghan resistance fighters, the mujahedin, meanwhile stepped up their fight against Dr Najibullah, and finally took power in Kabul themselves.

Vying for power

No sooner had they done so, than the fighting broke out again, this time among the mujahedin, as they all vied for ultimate power.

One Afghan commander who has been fighting throughout all this conflict is Ahmad Shah Massoud who is now the unchallenged military leader of the anti-Taleban alliance.

[ image: Commander Massoud: Holding out against the Taleban]
Commander Massoud: Holding out against the Taleban
Speaking from the north east town of Taloqan he said that all Afghans involved in the holy war - the Jihad - were happy that they were able to liberate their country ten years ago.

"On top of that they were able to stand against and crush an ideology and an empire that was threatening the world and the region," he said

But then the Afghan factions started trying to crush each other. Today the fight is between Ahmad Massoud's forces and the Taleban, who now control most of the country.

Day of honour

From Kabul, the Taleban Information Minister, Mullah Amir Khan Mutaqi, said the Soviet withdrawal was a day of victory and honour for Afghans.

"Afghans never expected the leaders of the Jihad to cause such deep differences to emerge, and to shed so much blood and destroy Afghanistan," he said.

Soon after the mujahedin took power in Kabul, Professor Burhannudin Rabbani was chosen as president of the country.

He is still officially recognised by the outside world as such, although the Taleban ousted him from the capital when they seized Kabul more than two years ago.

As political head of the anti-Taleban alliance he said from Faizabad in north east Afghanistan that he just wanted peace.

Yearning for peace

"The only aspiration I and the whole nation have now is for peace and security to be restored to the whole country, and we are hopeful that it will be restored and the fighting ended."

Professor Rabbani echoes the strong desire of the vast majority of ordinary Afghans, who are well and truly fed up with a conflict that has destroyed their country.

The trouble is that while Professor Rabbani and the Taleban say they want peace, they both want it on their own terms.

Diplomatic initiatives - aiming for a broad-based government - have so far failed. The most likely scenario is that the fighting will continue until one side or the other is firmly in control.

Ten years after the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan is still at war. And there is no predicting how long the conflict will drag on.

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