WORLD

A savage farewell

ANDREW BILSKI May 23 1988
WORLD

A savage farewell

ANDREW BILSKI May 23 1988

A savage farewell

AFGHANISTAN

Even before the 115,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan were to begin their official phased withdrawal from the country last Sunday, Mojaheddin rebels were moving into abandoned towns and military bases, including Barikot, a bleak Afghan military outpost hugging the border with Pakistan. There they discovered crates of .303-calibre rifle ammunition, stamped with the Maple Leaf symbol surrounded by Russian Cyrillic lettering and one word in English—“Canada.” How Soviet and Afghan army troops could have acquired Canadian ammunition at first perplexed Canadian Embassy officials in Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan. Canadian export control laws forbid public or private sales of ammunition or weapons to Communist Bloc countries. In fact, during a debate on Afghanistan last year in the United Nations Ambassador Stephen Lewis praised the Mojaheddin rebels and criticized the Marxist Kabul government and its Soviet supporters.

Some of the mystery was removed late last week by External Affairs spokesman Paul Frazer. He said that markings stencilled on the crates indi-

cated that the .303 ammunition—used mainly in old British Lee-Enfield rifles and Vickers machine-guns—was manufactured in 1944 by a since-closed Quebec munitions firm. “The ammunition was sent to Russia during the Second World War, and that was the last stop as far as we were concerned,” he said. “Who got it into Afghanistan or whether it went in via the black market we have no way of knowing.”

The fall of Barikot was significant for other reasons as well. In the past rebel leaders based in Peshawar, Pakistan, were forced to supply their fighters in northern Afghanistan through a circuitous mountain route. Now, as rebel commander Lalgul told a Maclean ’s correspondent early this month, the departure of the Soviets and Afghan regulars “opens the transportation route to the provinces of Badakhshan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Laghman and Parwan.” As well, late last week Soviet troops began withdrawing from the strategic cities of Jalalabad in the east and Kandahar in the south, leaving only Afghan soldiers to guard the two main roads into Pakistan.

But Soviet and government troops en-

sured that the entry of the Mojaheddin into Barikot would be costly. Following their hasty departure Soviet and Afghan warplanes bombed the village, destroying 60 per cent of it. And concealed land mines made approaches to the area treacherous. Early this month journalists brought to the site by Mojaheddin rebels saw evidence of the destruction. At the edge of the village lay the remnants of an ammunition depot destroyed by departing troops. Mounds of Afghan Army uniforms and propaganda material were scattered about the site.

Since the abandonment of Barikot, some of the three million Afghans living in Pakistani refugee camps have ignored Mojaheddin warnings and have begun returning to their homes in Afghanistan. Many of them carried their belongings on their backs, walking across a wooden beam over the Kunar river, near the boundary between the two countries. It was a dangerous journey. As many as 10 refugees have died during the past three weeks from land mines. In Barikot, the departing government troops have left booby traps too. Several rebels were wounded when they opened bags of flour that had been rigged with explosives.

There are deep divisions among the Mojaheddin, and they are readily apparent in Barikot. From the top of a former Soviet command post, the flag

of one of the seven groups in the Mojaheddin alliance—Younis Khalis’s Hezbe-Islami (Islamic Party)—now flutters in the breeze. From a nearby pole hangs the flag of Gulbadin Heckmatyar’s rival party of the same name. Elsewhere in the village are members of two other factions, each with its own ideas about who should be included in a post-Soviet Afghan govern-

ment. But so far, the rivals have not begun fighting each other.

In Pakistan, despite the Soviet withdrawal, cross-border shelling and bombing by Soviet and Afghan forces have continued. Between May 7 and May 9, Afghan air force jets bombed the Pakistani border villages of Arandu and Darosh as well as an Afghan refugee camp located between

the two. As well, Pakistan army personnel in Arandu claimed that 20 of their border patrol guards had died in crossborder shelling since late April.

Afghan government leader Najibullah claims that his forces have deliberately retreated from some border garrisons to permit the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan. But some Western diplomats in the region say that a series of military setbacks has forced Najibullah to pull back. In fact, a U.S. Embassy official in Islamabad declared that the fall of Barikot may eventually enable the guerrillas to become strong enough to overthrow &lt Najibullah. A Soviet Army offici cer in Kabul was even more 3 blunt. When the Soviet troop withdrawal is completed by next February, he said, “my personal opinion is that there will be a bloodbath.” But with Mojaheddin rebels quickly advancing into territory abandoned by government forces, the indications were that a bloodbath might occur long before the last Soviet soldier left.

ANDREW BILSKI with KATHY GANNON in

KATHY GANNON

HILARY MACKENZIE