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Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed

BBC News, Monday 3 August 1998, published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK

Afghanistan marked the 20th anniversary of the Communist revolution in April this year. The revolution was the catalyst for the bloodshed in the country ever since. The BBC's correspondent in Kabul, William Reeve, looks back at the legacy of what is known as the Saur revolution, named after the Afghan month when the coup took place.

The Saur revolution of 20 years ago is perhaps the single event that most upset the political framework in Afghanistan leading to the chaos in the country ever since. But in the years before the Saur revolution there had also been major upheavals.

The monarch, King Sahir Shah, was overthrown in 1973 by his cousin Mohammad Daoud who proclaimed a republic with himself as resident. Today, Zahir Shah, who had reigned for 40 years, lives quietly in Rome. President Daoud however was killed during the Saur revolution when the Communists took power.

Led at first by Nur Mohammad Taraki, the Communists were far from united. It was as much clashes of personality as policy, as Taraki Khalq or People's faction initially won the day banishing members of the Parcham or Banna faction to ambassadorial posts abroad.

Within Taraki's wing of the party another leader, Hafizullah Amin, gained prominence. He became president in 1979 and Taraki was killed.

But it was during this time that the bloodshed began in earnest. Tens of thousands of Afghans disappeared never to be seen again.

Soviets step in

Concerned about the unsteady Communist rule in Afghanistan the Soviet Union stepped in with the full force of the Red Army in December 1979. Amin was killed and Babrak Karmal of the Parcham faction bought in to take over as president.

The Soviet occupation is one of the unhappiest periods of Afghanistan's turbulent history. About a million Afghans were killed.

Karmal was replaced as president by Dr Najibullah who managed to cling on to power until 1992 three years after the Red Army withdrew. It was then the turn of the Mujahideen groups who had fought against the Soviets to take over.

Communists and Mujahideen fight each other

But as with the Communists the Mujahideen could not agree with each other. Instead they embarked on sorting out their differences by fighting and have done sone ever since.

During the Soviet occupation it was the countryside that suffered the most. Since the Mujahideen took over it has been the cities that have suffered, especially the capital Kabul at least half of which has been flattened.

Tens of thousands of innocent civilians were killed and countless others injured as different groups fought their way around the city and other parts of the country too.

After 20 years of continuous strife ordinary Afghans want nothing but to get on with their lives in peace after their endless suffering but all attempts at peace have failed dismally.

Just about every Afghan wants the conflict to end today and they are hoping the warring groups talking now in Islamabad will put aside excuses for continuing a conflict that all of them know cannot be won by fighting.