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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Kabul, Bloodshed Proves a Forgotten War Rages Again

KABUL, Afghanistan -- It is five years since the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan, but this wild and beautiful mountain land is at war again and the rival factions are accusing both Russia and Uzbekistan of interfering in the power struggle underway in Kabul.


Kabul has been shattered once more by fighting that broke out on New Year's Day between the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani and rebel forces of the former Communist militia leader General Abdul Rashid Dostam, supported by the renegade Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.


The fighting has centered on Microrayon, a Soviet-style housing estate, and the old city, a warren of mudbrick houses and bazaars under the frowning brow of the crumbling Bala Hissar fortress.


During heavy shelling in the old city recently, a stream of people ran out of the old bazaar and dashed across a bridge over the Kabul River.


One man clutched his bleeding face while another helped a friend with shrapnel wounds. Behind them mortar rounds crashed, sending up clouds of smoke while machine-gun fire rattled.


Few civilians support the five factions controlling parts of Kabul any more.


The war has been forgotten by most of the world, but not, protagonists say, by Moscow and Tashkent. The charges of Russian involvement are hard to prove, but they remind one that Russia, the guarantor of stability in the ex-U.S.S.R., cannot wash its hands of Afghanistan.


The 260 beds of the Karte-Se Hospital in Southern Kabul are always full. A tour of the wards brings home the full ghastliness of Kabul's war.


Mirza Hussain, a father of seven, has had both legs amputated above the knee. "I was out walking from the mosque to my house when there was a rocket attack," he says. "Some people picked me up and brought me here." .


Next to them, a young man, his right leg amputated at the groin, grits his teeth as a doctor cleans the wound. A cloth covers the man's eyes. Since fighting broke out on New Year's Day, 1000 people have been killed and more than 8000 wounded, according to the Red Cross


This battle for Kabul is the most recent chapter in the painful process of establishing a stable balance of power in Kabul after the collapse in 1992 of the Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah, three years after the last Soviet troops withdrew.


The city center is controlled by the state forces of President Rabbani and his military commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, a popular hero of the anti-Soviet struggle. The southeast corner of the city is under the control of General Dostam, from northern Afghanistan, and his ally Prime Minister Hekmatyar.


For Kabulis, the worst aspect of the fighting is its arbitrariness. Rockets can land anywhere and bombardment by Dostam's jets add a source of arbitrary death. No part of the city is safe.


More than 30,000 people have been driven from their houses. As many as 100,000 have left the city altogether, fleeing to the countryside or to the eastern city of Jalalabad, where some 40,000 are camped on a vast gravel plain.


In the last round of accusations against Russia and Uzbekistan, a Hekmatyar spokesman accused Russia of supporting President Rabbani and warned that the Russian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Dostam's stronghold on the border with Uzbekistan, would be closed if this did not stop.


The Russian embassy in Kabul was closed long ago, like most other embassies in the capital. The accusations against Russia stem from the fact that the Afghan currency, the afghani, is still printed in Moscow and has been supplied to the Kabul regime from there.


President Rabbani has accused Uzbekistan of helping Dostam by fueling and repairing his jets and providing other technical assistance. Dostam is a member of Afghanistan's Uzbek minority and, as a former Communist, he has close ties with the Uzbek government.


Moscow and Tashkent have denied involvement in the dispute and have offered to contribute to peace-making. But although Mujahedin commanders are trying to arrange a cease-fire, nothing has emerged. The shelling, after a lull, increased in intensity this week.