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"War criminals" gather to gloat

Mujahideen Victory Day in Afghanistan is a source of great pride for some, painful memories for others.

Afghan planes fly over pictures of dead leaders of Afghanistan during a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the defeat of the communist regime in Afghanistan, in Kabul's sport stadium Apr. 28, 2010. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan capital was rocked with explosions and gunfire on Wednesday, but for once it wasn't the insurgency looking for attention.

This time, it was the military — celebrating Mujahideen Victory Day, the date in 1992 when the combined forces that, with the generous help of the United States, had earlier chased out the Soviets finally toppled the Communist-backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah.

Kabul was almost eerily empty during the day, save for the high police presence. Foreigners were locked down in their compounds; the U.S. Embassy sent out a warning to its citizens to stay away from public gatherings, due to fear of terrorist attacks.

The main activity in the city was centered on Ghazi stadium, where mujahideen, or "jihadi" leaders — some of whom figure prominently in lists of war criminals compiled by human rights groups —  reviewed parades of army and police, along with national music and dance. All the major television stations, the majority of which belong to jihadi leaders, carried the celebration live. Independent stations broadcast furious debates about the significance of the day.



Known in Afghanistan simply as “Asht-e- Saur” — the date and month of the Afghan calendar when Najibullah’s forces scattered and he took refuge in a U.N. compound — the holiday is one of the more divisive ones in a country full of historical controversies.

The fighters who in the late 1980s battled the Soviets and, later, the Afghan government forces loyal to Moscow, demand recognition of their contribution and sacrifice. They are proud of their achievement in defeating one of the world’s two superpowers, at tremendous cost to themselves and their compatriots.

“We are celebrating this day because of the blood of 1.5 million martyrs,” said Wahid Mojda, a political analyst who during the Soviet years belonged to the largest mujahideen faction, Hezb-e-Islami. “No one political group or jihadi faction can claim ownership of this day; rather it is the anniversary of the end of a 14-year struggle against Communist oppression.”

Mojda, like many Afghans, traces the beginning of Afghanistan’s agony to Apr. 27, 1978, when a Communist coup overthrew the government of Daud Khan, killing him and his family, and precipitating a series of bloody uprisings that ended in the Soviet invasion of December, 1979.

“The tragedy began in 1978,” said one young journalist and political analyst based in Kabul. “But there little that is good about Asht-e-Saur.”

Najibullah’s defeat ushered in four years of brutal civil war, as the major mujahideen groups who had combined forces against a common enemy suddenly turned on each other in a bitter battle for control of the country. Tens of thousands perished, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and the ethnic and regional differences that still plague the country today boiled over into violence that literally tore the country apart.

Kabul was nearly destroyed by the conflict; major factions divided neighborhoods up among themselves. One young Afghan, who now works for the U.N., recalled his tribulations during the civil war.