By Andre Vltchek
August 3, 2017
It often appears that “true Afghanistan” is
not here in Kabul and not in Jalalabad or Heart either; not in the ancient
villages, which anxiously cling to the steep mountainsides.
Many foreigners and even Afghans are now
convinced that the “true” Afghanistan is only what is being shown on the
television screens, depicted in magazines, or what is buried deep in the
archives and libraries somewhere in London, New York or Paris.
It is tempting to think that the country
could be only understood from a comfortable distance, from the safety of one’s
living room or from those books and publications decorating dusty bookshelves
and coffee tables all over the world.
“Afghanistan is dangerous,” they say. “It
is too risky to travel there. One needs to be protected, escorted, equipped and
insured in order to function in that wild and lawless country even for one
single day, or just a few hours.”
When it comes to Afghanistan, conditioned
Western ‘rational brains’ of tenure or emeritus professors (or call them the
‘regime’s intellectual gatekeepers’) often get engaged, even intertwined with
those pathologically imaginative minds of the upper class ‘refugees’, the
‘elites’, and of course their offspring. After all, crème de la crème
‘refugees’ speak perfect English; they know the rules and nuances of the game.
The results of such ‘productive interaction’ are then imprinted into countless
books and reports.
Books of that kind become, in turn, what
could be easily defined as the ‘official references’, a ‘certified way’ to how
our world perceives a country like Afghanistan. Their content is being quoted
How often I heard, from the old veteran
opinion makers (even those from the ‘left’) – people that I actually used to
respect in the past:
“The Soviet era in Afghanistan was of
course terrible, but at least many girls there had access to the education…”
It is no secret that ‘many girls had access
to education’ in those distant days, but was it really “terrible”, that era?
Was it “of course, terrible?” Baseless clichés like this are actually shaping
‘public opinion’, and can be much more destructive than the hardcore
Most of those old gurus never set foot in
Afghanistan, during the Soviet era or before, let alone after. All their
‘experience’ is second or third-hand, constructed mainly on sponging up
bitterness from those who betrayed their own country and have been
collaborating with the West, or at least on the confusion and mental breakdowns
of their children.
Based on such recycled unconfirmed ‘facts’,
bizarre theories are born. According to them, Afghanistan is ‘officially’
wrecked; it is hopelessly corrupt; it is beyond salvation and repair. It is ‘so
divided, ethnically and otherwise’, that it can never function again as one
Then come liberals, and the children of
corrupt Afghan diplomats and exiled ‘elites’, who commonly justify their
passivity by blaming the entire world for the destruction of their nation:
“every country in the world just wants to harm Afghanistan, take shamelessly
advantage of it.”
Naturally, if everybody is responsible,
than nobody truly is. Therefore, as expected, ‘the grand conclusion’ is –
“There is absolutely no hope.” Everyone who can is trying to leave; who in his
or her right mind would want to dwell in such mayhem?”
Let’s just write the entire place off!
Chapter closed. One of the greatest cultures on Earth is finished. Nothing can
be done about it. Goodbye, Afghanistan! Ciao, bella!
For some, especially for those who left the
country and slammed the door, it is a tempting and ‘reassuring’ way of looking
at the state of things. It justifies their earlier decision. If one accepts
such views, than nothing has to be done, because no matter what, things would
never improve, anyway. For many, especially for those who are benefiting (even
making careers) from doing absolutely nothing to save Afghanistan, such an
approach and such theories are actually perfect. Very little of it matters to them,
that almost all of this is total rubbish!
I never saw any of those professors from
the MIT or Cornell University anywhere near the dusty roads cutting through
Samar Khel or Charikar. I never saw any reporters from the Western mass media
outlets here, in the deepest villages that keep changing hands between Taliban
and the government forces, either. If they were here, I’d definitely spot them,
as they tend to travel ‘in style’, like some buffoons from bygone eras: wearing
ridiculous helmets, bulletproof vests, and PRESS insignias on all imaginable
and unimaginable parts of their bodies, while being driven around in armored
vehicles, often even with a full military escort.
It would be quite difficult to talk to
Afghan people looking like that. There is not much one could actually even see
from such an angle and perspective, but that’s the only one they are choosing
to have, that is if they come here at all.
Let me back-track a bit: in case my readers
in the West or elsewhere have never heard about Samar Khel. Well, it is a dusty
town not far from Jalalabad, a former ‘grave’ for the Soviet forces and the
National Afghan Army. During the “Soviet era”, the US and the Saudi-backed
Mujahedeen used to fire between 500 and 1,000 missiles from here, all directly
towards the city of Jalalabad, day after day.
It is very hard to imagine what went on and
what went wrong in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, without feeling that 430C
heat of the desert, without chewing dust, without facing those bare, hostile mountains,
and without speaking to people who used to live here during ‘those days’, as
well as people who have been existing, barely surviving here now.
It is also absolutely impossible to
understand the Soviet Union and its ‘involvement’ in Afghanistan, without
driving through the countryside and all of a sudden spotting in some ancient
and god-forsaken village, a mighty and durable water duct built by Soviet
engineers several decades ago, with electricity towers and high voltage wires
still proudly spanning above.
By now I know that I don’t want to write
another academic book. I wrote two of them, one about Indonesia and one about
that enormous sprawl of water dotted with fantastic but devastated islands and
atolls of the South Pacific – “Oceania”. To write academic books is time
consuming and it is, in many ways, ‘selfish’. The true story gets buried under
an avalanche of tedious facts and numbers, under footnotes and recycled quotes.
Once such a book is read and returned to its place on a shelf, no one is really
inspired or outraged, no one is terrified and no one is ready to build
barricades and fight.
But most academic books and are never even
read from cover to cover.
I see no point in writing books that
wouldn’t inspire people to raise flags, to fight for their country and
I don’t work in Afghanistan in order to
compile indexes and footnotes. I am there because the country itself is a
victim of the most brutal and ongoing imperialist destruction in modern
history. As an internationalist, I’m not here only to document; I’m here to
accuse and to confront the venomous Western colonialist narrative frontally.
Afghanistan is bleeding, assaulted and
terribly injured. Therefore it deserves to be fought for and not just to be
analyzed and described. No cold and detached historic accounts, no texts
written from a safe distance, can help this beautiful country to stand on its
own feet, to regain its pride and hope, and to fly as it used to in the not so
It doesn’t need more and more nihilism. On
the contrary, it is thirsting for optimism, for new friends, for hope.
Not all countries are the same. Even now,
Afghanistan has friends, true friends, no matter how much this fact is being
obscured by the Western propagandists, no matter how much pro-Western Afghan
elites are trying to prove otherwise.
This is not what you are supposed to be
reading. All remembrances of the “Soviet Era” in Afghanistan have been boxed
and then labelled as “negative”, even “toxic”. No discussion on the topic is
allowed in ‘polite circles’, at least in the West and in Afghanistan itself.
Afghanistan is where the Soviet Union was
tricked into, and Afghanistan is where the Communist superpower received its
final blow. ‘The victory of capitalism over communism’, the official Western
narrative shouted. A ‘temporary destruction of all progressive alternatives for
our humanity’, replied others, but mostly under their breath.
After the horrific, brutal and humiliating
period of Gorbachev/Yeltsin, Russia shrunk both geographically and
demographically, while going through indescribable agony. It haemorrhaged; it
was bathing in its own excrement, while the West celebrated its temporary
victory, dancing in front of the world map, envisioning the re-conquest of its
But in the end Russia survived, regained
its bearings and dignity, and once again became one of the most important
countries on Earth, directly antagonistic to the global Western imperialist
Afghanistan has never recovered. After the
last Soviet combat troops left the country in 1989, it bled terribly for years,
consumed by a brutal civil war. Its progressive government had to face the
monstrous terror of the Western and Saudi-backed Mujahedeen, with individuals
like Osama bin Laden in command of the Jihadi genocide.
Socialists, Communists, secularists as well
as almost all of those who were educated in the former Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc
countries, were killed, exiled, or muzzled for decades.
Most of those who settled in the West
simply betrayed; went along with the official Western narrative and dogma.
Even those individuals who still claimed to
be part of the left, repeated like parrots, their pre-approved fib:
“Perhaps the Soviet Union was not as bad as
the Mujahedeen, Taliban, or even the West, but it was really bad enough.”
I heard these lines in London and
elsewhere, coming from several mouths of the corrupt Afghan ‘elites’ and their
children. From the beginning I was doubtful. And then my work, my journeys to
and through Afghanistan began. I spoke to dozens of people all over the
country, doing exactly what I was discouraged to do: driving everywhere without
an escort or protection, stopping in the middle of god-forsaken villages,
entering fatal city slums infested with narcotics, approaching prominent
intellectuals in Kabul, Jalalabad and elsewhere.
“Where are you from?” I was asked on many
“Russia,” I’d reply. It was a gross
simplification. I was born in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, but an incredible
mixture of Chinese, Russian, Czech and Austrian blood circles through my veins.
Still, the name “Russia” came naturally to me, in the middle of Afghan deserts
and deep gorges, especially in those places where I knew that my life was
hanging on a thin thread. If I were to be allowed to utter one last word in
this life, “Russia” was what I wanted it to be.
But after my declaration, the faces of the
Afghan people would soften, unexpectedly and suddenly. “Welcome!” I’d hear
again and again. An invitation to enter humble homes would follow: an offer to
rest, to eat, or to just drink a glass of water.
‘Why?’ I often wondered. “Why?” I finally
asked my driver and interpreter, Mr. Arif, who became my dear friend.
“It’s because in this country, Afghans love
Russian people,” he replied simply and without any hesitation.
“Afghans love Russians?” I wondered. “Do
“Yes,” he replied, smiling. “I do. Most of
our people here do.”
Two days later I was sitting inside an
armoured UNESCO Land Cruiser, talking to a former Soviet-trained engineer, now
a simple driver, Mr. Wahed Tooryalai. He allowed me to use his name; he had no
fear, just accumulated anger, which he obviously wanted to get out of his
“When I sleep, I still sometimes see the
former Soviet Union in my dreams. After that, I wake up and feel happy for one
entire month. I remember everything I saw there, until now…”
I wanted to know what really made him so
Mr. Wahed did not hesitate:
“People! They are so kind. They are
welcoming… Russians, Ukrainians… I felt so much at home there. Their culture is
exactly like ours. Those who say that Russians ‘occupied’ Afghanistan have
simply sold out. The Russians did so much for Afghanistan: they built entire
housing communities like ‘Makroyan’, they built factories, even bakeries. In
places such as Kandahar, people are still eating Russian bread…”
I recalled the Soviet-era water pipes that
I photographed all over most of the humble Afghan countryside, as well as the
elaborate water canals in and around cities like Jalalabad.
“There is so much propaganda against the
Soviet Union,” I said.
“Only the Mujahedeen and the West hate
Russians,” Mr. Wahed explained. “And those who are serving them.”
Then he continued:
“Almost all poor Afghan people would never
say anything bad about Russians. But the government people are with the West,
as well as those Afghan elites who are now living abroad: those who are buying
real estate in London and Dubai, while selling their own country…those who are
paid to ‘create public opinion.’”
His words flowed effortlessly; he knew
precisely what he wanted to say, and they were bitter, but it was clearly what
“Before and during the Soviet era, there
were Soviet doctors here, and also Soviet teachers. Now show me one doctor or
teacher from the USA or UK based in the Afghan countryside! Russians were
everywhere, and I still even remember some names: Lyudmila Nikolayevna… Show me
one Western doctor or nurse based here now. Before, Russian doctors and nurses
were working all over the country, and their salaries were so low… They spent
half on their own living expenses, and the other half they distributed amongst
our poor… Now look what the Americans and Europeans are doing: they all came
here to make money!”
I recall my recent encounter with a
Georgian combatant, serving under the US command at the Bagram base. Desperate,
he recalled his experience to me:
“Before Bagram I served at the Leatherneck
US Base, in Helmand Province. When the Americans were leaving, they even used
to pull out concrete from the ground. They joked: “When we came here, there was
nothing, and there will be nothing after we leave…” They prohibited us from
giving food to local children. What we couldn’t consume, we had to destroy, but
never give to local people. I still don’t understand, why? Those who come from
the US or Western Europe are showing so much spite for the Afghan people!”
What a contrast!
Mr. Wahed recalled how the Soviet legacy
was abruptly uprooted:
“After the Taliban era, we were all poor.
There was hunger; we had nothing. Then the West came and began throwing money
all around the place. Karzai and the elites kept grabbing all that they could,
while repeating like parrots: “The US is good!” Diplomats serving Karzai’s
government, the elites, they were building their houses in the US and UK, while
people educated in the Soviet Union couldn’t get any decent jobs. We were all
blacklisted. All education had to be dictated by the West. If you were educated
in the USSR, Czechoslovakia, East Germany or Bulgaria, they’d just tell you
straight to your face: Out with you, Communist! At least now we are allowed to
at least get some jobs… We are still pure, clean, never corrupt!”
“Do people still remember?” I wonder.
“Of course they do! Go to the streets, or
to a village market. Just tell them: “How are you my dear?” in Russian. They’d
immediately invite you to their homes, feed you, embrace you…”
I tried a few days later, in the middle of
the market… and it worked. I tried in a provincial town, and it worked again. I
finally tried in a Taliban-infiltrated village some 60 kilometres from Kabul,
and there it didn’t. But I still managed to get away.
I met Mr. Shakar Karimi in Pole Charkhi
Village. A local patriarch, he used to be a district chief in Nangarhar
I asked him, what the best system ever
implemented in modern Afghanistan was?
First he spoke about the Khan dynasty, but
then referred to a left-wing Afghan leader, who was brutally tortured and
murdered by Taliban after they entered Kabul in 1996:
“If they’d let Dr. Najib govern in peace,
that would have been the best for Afghanistan!”
I asked him about the Soviet invasion in
“They came because they were given wrong
information. The first mistake was to enter Afghanistan. The second, fatal
mistake was to leave.”
“What was the main difference between the
Russians and Westerners during their engagement in Afghanistan?”
“The Russian people came predominately to
serve, to help Afghanistan. The relationship between Russians and Afghans was
always great. There was real friendship and people were interacting, even
having parties together, visiting each other.”
I didn’t push him further; didn’t ask what
was happening now. It was just too obvious. “Enormous walls and high voltage
wires,” would be the answer. Drone zeppelins, weapons everywhere and an
absolute lack of trust… and the shameless division between the few super rich
and the great majority of the desperately poor… the most depressed country on
the Asian continent.
Later I asked my comrade Arif, whether all
this was really true?
“Of course!” He shouted, passionately.
“100% true. The Russians built roads, they built homes for our people, and they
treated Afghans so well, like their brothers. The Americans never did anything
for Afghanistan, almost nothing. They only care about their own benefits.”
“If there would be a referendum right now,
on a simple question: ‘do you want Afghanistan to be with Russia or with the
United States, the great majority would vote for Russia, never for the US or
Europe. And you know why? I’m Afghan: when my country is good, then I’m happy.
If my country is doing bad, then I suffer! Most people here, unless they are
brainwashed or corrupted by the Westerners, know perfectly well what Russia did
for this country. And they know how the West injured our land.”
Of course this is not what every single
Afghan person thinks, but most of them definitely do. Just go and drive to each
and every corner of the country, and ask. You are not supposed to, of course.
You are told to be scared to come here, to roam through this “lawless” land.
And you are not supposed to go directly to the people. Instead you are expected
to recycle the writings of toothless, cowardly academics, as well as servile
mass media reports. If you are liberal, you are at least expected to say:
“there is no hope, no solution, no future.”
At Goga Manda village, the fighting between
the Taliban and government troops is still raging. All around the area, the
remnants of rusty Soviet military hardware can be found, as well as old
destroyed houses from the “Soviet era” battles.
The Taliban is positioned right behind the
hills. Its fighters attack the armed forces of Afghanistan at least once a
Almost 16 years after the NATO invasion and
consequent occupation of the country, this village, as thousands of other
villages in Afghanistan, has no access to electricity, and to drinking water.
There is no school within walking distance, and even a small and badly equipped
medical post is far from here, some 5 kilometers away. Here, an average family
of 6 has to survive on US$130 dollars per month, and that’s only if some
members are actually working in the city.
I ask Mr. Rahmat Gul, who used to be a
teacher in a nearby town, whether the “Russian times” were better.
He hesitated for almost one minute, and
then replied vaguely:
“When the Russians were here, there was
lots of shooting… It was real war… People used to die. During the jihad period,
the Mujahedeen were positioned over there… they were shooting from those hills,
while Soviet tanks were stationed near the river. Many civilians were caught in
As I got ready to ask him more questions,
my interpreter began to panic:
“Let’s go! Taliban is coming.”
He’s always calm. When he gets nervous, I
know it is really time to run. We ran; just stepping on the accelerator and
driving at breakneck speed towards the main road.
Before we parted, Mr. Wahed Tooryalai grabbed
my hand. I knew he wanted to say something essential. I waited for him to
formulate it. Then it came, in rusty but still excellent Russian:
“Sometimes I feel so hurt, so angry. Why
did Gorbachev abandon us? Why? We were doing just fine. Why did he leave us? If
he hadn’t betrayed us, life in Afghanistan would be great. I wouldn’t have to
be a UN driver… I used to be the deputy director of an enormous bread factory,
with 300 people working there: we were building our beloved country, feeding
it. I hope Putin will not leave us.”
Then he looked at me, straight into my
eyes, and suddenly I got goose bumps as he spoke, and my glasses got foggy:
“Please tell Mr. Putin: do hold our hand,
as I’m now holding yours. Tell him what you saw in my country; tell him that we
Afghans, or at least many of us, are still straight, strong and honest people.
All this will end, and we will send the Americans and Europeans packing. It
will happen very soon. Then please come and stand by us, by true Afghan
patriots! We are here, ready and waiting. Come back, please.”
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative
journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of
his latest books are revolutionary novel “Aurora” and two bestselling works of
political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against
Western Imperialism”. View his other books here. Andre is making films for
teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary
about Rwanda and DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and
Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and
continues to work around the world.
"It is no secret
that ‘many girls had access to education’ in those distant days, but was it
really “terrible”, that era?”
The above “hardcore
propaganda” could also be questioned about many countries in the Middle East...
Was it really “terrible?”!