(Spring 1994) The ten-year Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 devastated a proud people and their country. More than 1.5 million Afghans perished at the hands of the Red Army and their Afghan communist mentors. Some five million Afghan refugees languished in camps in Pakistan and Iran.
With the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 the war continued to rage until April 1992, when communist-controlled Kabul fell to the Afghan majahideen.
Today, factional fighting in and around Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, is killing and wounding thousands more Afghans. Thousands have fled the fighting while international aid agencies and foreign embassies have left Kabul. The war had upset Afghanistan's fragile and complicated balance.
Felix Ermacora, special rapporteur for Afghanistan for the U.N. Human Rights Commission, correctly calls the people of Afghanistan "a forgotten people," whose human rights situation is as desperate as it was when the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and perhaps even worse than that of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
While we are bombarded with horrible scenes from ex-Yugoslavia and peace negotiations there are of the highest priority, there is a strange void in relation to Afghanistan.
Mr. Ermacora is correct when he says of Afghanistan, "the international community, news media, and top U.N. officials are neglecting the situation even though the civil war poses danger for the whole region."
During the past months thousands of people have been killed in Kabul. "The right to life is not at all guaranteed due to constant conflict... There is no central government, no concentrated jurisdictions," Ermacora said.
Another catastrophic situation is the unexploded anti-personnel mines left by the Soviets in Afghanistan and which Russia shows no signs of wanting to take back. "We have millions of mines in the villages, at strategic points, and the detection of mines is so important," Ermacora said. "There are not enough personnel... not enough machines" to find them. The U.N. estimates that there are some 10 million mines in Afghanistan and continues to appeal for funds to continue its program to train some 2,000 Afghans in mine-clearance procedures. But even if sufficient funds is provided to undertake the mine-clearing program, the U.N. estimates that agricultural lands will not be cleared until the end of 1997. Hundreds die each month from mine explosions.
Mr. Ermacora described the mines as one of the major reasons that more than 1.2 million Afghan refugees returned to Pakistan after trying to re-establish themselves in their destroyed farms and villages in Afghanistan. Seeing that mines were throughout their fields, that the villages were destroyed and could not be rebuilt due to mines, the refugees left, he said.
Thus there are still some four million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran; thousands more are displaced throughout the Afghan countryside because of the fighting around Kabul.
In late January the U.N. Security Council joined the General Assembly in calling for an immediate end to the fighting in Afghanistanand asked Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to send a special U.N. mission to Afghanistan to try to help bring about a rapprochement between the warring factions. Boutros-Ghali agreed to send such a mission.
The Security Council deplored "the continuing large-scale fighting in Afghanistan, which is creating mass suffering among the civilian population and is jeopardizing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need."
"The Council notes with concern that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan disrupts efforts to establish a political process that would lead to a broad-based government, is producing another wave of refugees and displaced persons, and detracts from efforts to foster regional stability," the council added.
The untold tragedy still unfolding in forgotten Afghanistan demands the immediate attention of the world community. The first and foremost casualties in face of the political storms raging around them are the unfortunate Afghans. Unless the world community helps the Afghans to obtain an acceptable political solution, bloody armed confrontations will continue.
The strategic and geographical position of Afghanistan should also make its fate of interest to outsiders: China with its delicate balance of Muslims in western China; Russia's Islamic neighbors and the possibility of radical Islamic dictatorships; the Pakistan-India fighting over Kashmir could turn into a declared war - even nuclear; and, Iran's interest in exporting Ayatollah Khomeini's style of extremist revolution by means of violence and terrorism has its eye on Afghanistan. Further, Afghanistan is fast coming to rival Asia's golden triangle as a source of heroin, and only a central authority can tackle such a world menace.
Harry Hayes for International Review