26 April 2011

Holiday offers many Afghans little to celebrate

KABUL, Afghanistan— “There is nothing worth remembering. There is nothing worth commemorating,” said one student, explaining why he will not acknowledge Mujahideen Victory Day, the Afghan national holiday on Thursday.

The day recognizes the defeat of the Soviet-backed Afghan regime on 27 April 1992, three years after Soviet troops were driven out of the country by the mujahideen armies. The victory over the communist government did not produce peace but instead ushered in four years of sectarian wars among the same militia, which were organized along ethnic, regional and tribal lines. The mujahideen, who were valorized as “holy warriors” in ousting the Soviet occupation army over a blood-soaked decade, became the warlords who brutalized, raped, tortured and killed each other for another four years—so much so that many Afghans welcomed the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in 1996. Today many of the most influential government positions in Afghanistan are held by former mujahideen or warlords, a difference that is significant to some but meaningless to many of my students.

What might have been a significant national celebration will probably only be a sad military display attended by government functionaries but otherwise ignored by a war-weary public. I expect one or more the speakers festooned with medals or other symbolic displays of power to say the Afghan people must again unite to expel the new forces of occupation in language clear enough to eliminate ambiguity but vague enough to allow deniability.

If my students’ observations are true, then much of the public in the nation’s capital will attempt to enjoy the day off with friends and family, hoping that the quiet will not be ripped apart by the latest assemblage of men with guns and bombs intent on imposing their political will on others. Meanwhile, my colleagues and I will be confined to quarters today and tomorrow with our movement limited to the university and the handful of guesthouses.

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