KABUL: Afghanistan on Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the last Soviet soldier leaving the country. This year’s anniversary came as the US negotiates its own exit after 18 years of war, America’s longest.
Some of the same Afghan insurgent leaders who drove out the former Soviet Union have been fighting the US, and have had prominent seats at the negotiating table during yearlong talks with Washington’s peace envoy.
Moscow pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, a decade after invading the country to support an allied communist government. Afghan mujahideen, or holy warriors, received weapons and training from the US throughout the 1980s to fight the Red Army. Some of those mujahideen went on to form the Taliban.
The US and the Taliban agreed on Friday to a temporary truce. If successful, it could open the way for another historic withdrawal that would see all American troops leave the country.
The chief negotiator for the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was once an American ally against the Soviets. So was another Taliban negotiator, Khairullah Khairkhwa. He spent 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay until his release in 2014 in exchange for US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The Taliban are now at their strongest since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted them from power.
Kabul’s streets were quiet on Saturday, normally the busy start of the Afghan workweek. There were no official public celebrations marking the anniversary, and most people took the holiday off.
Shakeb Rohin was only seven years old when the Soviets pulled out. Now a graduate of Kabul University’s economics department, he said he can’t remember the Soviet occupation. Since then, he said he’s witnessed only war.
“We are so tried of war, we want a peaceful solution for Afghanistan’s problems,” he said.
Abdul Shakor Ahmadi, 56, recalled how people were very happy on the day of the pullout. But he said the civil war that followed was worse.
With the Cold War over, the US lost interest in Afghanistan. The mujahideen government — which included many of the warlords in Kabul today — eventually turned their guns on each other in the early 1990s.
The fighting killed tens of thousands of civilians. It also led some former mujahideen to regroup into the Taliban, who rose to power in 1996.
“I hope peace comes this time,” Ahmadi said. “At least once in our lifetime we would be able to see peace in our country. We’re so worried about the future of our children.”