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Afghan Research Society

M. Siddieq Noorzoy

Professor of Economics, Emeritus
University of Alberta, Canada

February 15, 2005


The 1979 Invasion of Afghanistan Caused
the Deaths of 1.7 Million Afghans,
Destroyed 1.045 Million Homes, 11,400
Villages and 3,261 Schools and Made
Millions Homeless Among Other Losses
by 1987.More losses Followed Before
The Retreat in 1989 and Beyond. Will the Russian
Government be Held Responsible by Karzai
and His Cabinet on Behalf of the Afghan
People, or Will They Let an Elected
Parliament or a Special Loya Jerga Act!

Despite the catastrophic losses inflicted upon the Afghan people and Afghanistan by
the Russian invasion of December 27,1979, a bizarre demand has emerged from the
Russian government asking some $9.8 billion from Afghanistan in the post US led
coalition attack of October 7, 2001 and the toppling of the Taliban government. This is
followed by dead silence on the demands for war reparations expected by the Afghan
people. At the same time the Karzai government was carrying on secret negotiations
with the Russian government for debt reduction reported in the Country Report of the
International Monetary Fund in 2003.
Most people who have paid attention to the sufferings of the Afghan people are puzzled
by these developments and at the same time very angry. In 1989 Michael Gorbachev
offered a token assistance ( of $640 million ) for Afghanistan in the post troop
withdrawal period and mentioned no debt on the part of Afghanistan. Thus, the
Russian claim of a massive debt is of later origin, but, for what?
       This will require discussion and some speculation to come out with the reasons
that the Russian government has given to Kabul and yet they have kept these reasons
from the Afghan people. My initial inclination is to argue that the Russian government
has made this demand for the aid in fiat Afghan money, which harmed the Afghan
economy for years, and weapons and other support given to members of the so-called
northern alliance between 1992-2001. The Russians may possibly be going back to
the time of their invasion in 1979 and count all the “friendly” assistance they have given
to the communists and others who supported their policies. Such claims cannot be
upheld in any court of law or public opinion and Karzai and his cabinet should explain
to the Afghan people why they are carrying with secret negotiations and why they have
not openly rejected the Russian claims. Any claims of assistance by the Russians can
be readily rejected by the fact that such “assistance” was given to governments
between 1978-2001 which were illegal and rejected by the Afghan people and the vast
majority of the world. From the Afghan perspective that is what the continuous state of
war was all about.  
    In the mean time given the fact that the issue of compensations to the Afghan
people harmed by the Russian invasion is extremely important, it is to the best interest
of the Afghan people that authorities in Kabul should not make a horrendous decision
of accepting the Russian claims before permanent harm is done to Afghanistan.
The best method is for this government to call for a transparent and open international
mediation for the claims and counter claims between Afghanistan and Russia, at
which time the mediator(s) will look at the evidence of what has been done to the
Afghan people and Afghanistan by the invasion and its long aftermath.
At the same time this government should help in the election of a truly nationally
representative parliament. Either that parliament or a special Loya Jerga should
decide the issue of war reparations and the counter Russian claim to be followed with
appeal to the World Court by Afghanistan. One wanders why is there no role for the
United Nations in this matter so far given the fact that the UN has covered what
happened in Afghanistan for ten years?  
There is no apparent excuse for what is taking place in this important and urgent
matter. The Russians must not be allowed to shift their huge responsibilities to
Afghanistan through those whom they have supported. Their policy is similar to what
they tried to do during the war when communist governments were in power.  


Here we want to establish the ground work why the Russian government is
responsible for war reparations. Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, the arguments
below will clearly show that the Russian government ultimately is responsible for the
invasion of Afghanistan and what has transpired since the invasion in causing harm to
the Afghan people and to Afghanistan. Even though at the time of the invasion in
December 1979, the declaration of the introduction of the so-called “limited contingent”
of Soviet troops into Afghanistan was generally seen as an invasion by the former
Soviet Union, there are many profound reasons to point out the fundamental fact that it
was a Russian inspired and Russian dominated and supported event without which
the invasion would not have taken place.

1)The Soviet expansionist policies, despite its communist ideology or in part because
of it, grew out of the Russian dominated society, Russian military and civilian
institutions. Even geographically Moscow was the capital of the Russian empire before
it became the capital and center of the Soviet empire.

2)The Soviet empire’s expansions into Central Asia and its invasion of Afghanistan in
1979 were part of the long term Russian policies dating back to the 19th century. The
wars that the communists carried on against the so-called “Basmachis” during the
years 1919-1933 in Central Asia were not merely part of a new communist conquest of
largely Muslim territories. They were part of the consolidations of the previous Muslim
lands occupied by the Russians.  The presence of a communist regime in Kabul,
which the Russians helped put into power, was an added reason for the invasion of

For fuller discussions of these issues, see, “Long Term Economic Relations Between
Afghanistan and the Soviet Union: An Interpretive Study”, International Journal of Middle
East Studies,(IJMES) Vol. 17, 1985, pp. 151-173.For the above data on losses see,”
Economy in Modern Afghanistan”, Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol.8,Columbia University,
1997, pp.163-169.  Also, see Afghanistan the Great Game Revisited, ed. Rossane
Klass, Freedom House, New York, 1987, especially, pages 1-3 where a quotation from
Abdul Rahman Khan the Amir of Afghanistan is presented by the editor from his two
volume memoirs published in 1900 discussing Russian intentions toward
Afghanistan. See, also, this writer’s paper, pp.71-95 in this volume.

3)The argument that some Russians have made and some Afghans(members of
northern alliance) have adopted in continued dealings with the Russians after the
collapse of the Soviet Union that the Russians were not responsible for the actions of
the Soviet government is self serving and has no credibility. The irony was that this
argument originated from a statement by Alexander Rutskoy, Vice President of the
Russian Federation of the USSR, who had met with a delegation of Afghans from
Pakistan and Iran in Moscow in 1991.Rutskoy had flown dozens of bombing missions
over Afghanistan and was obviously deeply involved in the deaths and destructions.
Apparently he was also a p.o.w. He stated to Burhanideen Rabbani head of the Afghan
delegation, that “the current Russian leadership is not responsible for the Soviet
incursion into Afghanistan...”. See, Irina Lagunina, New Times 47, 1991 reprinted in
Afghanistan Forum, January 1992,pp12-13.Rutskoy was a dedicated communist who
attempted to overthrow the Yeltsin government in a communist coup which failed and
Yeltsin used Russian tanks against his own parliament.

The invitation to the Mujahideen was issued by Boris Pankin from the Soviet Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Andronov who was Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation
Supreme Soviet Committee for International Affairs and External Economic Ties on
behalf of Boris Yeltsin for a meeting with the Russians in Moscow in November, 1991.
Among the seven Mujahideen parties Burhanideen Rabani, head of Jamiati Islami
went from Pakistan and members of Wahdat party in Iran also went to Moscow. Hezbi
Islami (Hekmatyar),Harakat (Sayaf)and Hezbi Islami (Khalis)did not send any
delegates objecting to the location of the meetings, while the others did send

Prior to their decisions all of the Mujahideen parties were provided with the kinds of
detailed demands that should be made from the Russians. Afghanistan Assistance
Council (AAC) an organization dedicated to the welfare of the Afghan people
established in Berkeley, California, in 1986, had written a letter on September 3, 1991
to Boris Yeltsin with copies to all the Mujahideen parties showing the reasons for the
multi-billion dollar demands by Afghanistan from the Russians. Our letter also
demanded the return of the 50,000 Afghan children that the KGB had kidnapped from
Afghanistan for indoctrination during the early 1980’s,an issue that Walter Vernon, the
US Ambassador to the UN had also raised at the General Assembly in 1984. Earlier in
1988 we as part of the AAC’s function had written a letter to Maulawi Yonus Khalis who
chaired the seven party coalition, containing 21 point demands for any negotiations to
take place which were adopted by several shoras of the Mujahideen and published in
their newspapers.     

The reports about the discussions in Moscow were sketchy. But, some discussions  
relevant to the issue of reparations were given in the Christian Science Monitor
November 15, 1991. For other issues raised see, Monthly Bulletin, Afghan Information
Center,nos.127-129, Peshawar, Oct-Dec. 1991.   

The trends in market reform and democracy in Russia whatever their merits have
nothing to do with the central fact of Russian responsibility in the extreme harm done
to the Afghan people and Afghanistan by the invasion under Russian central control
and decision making.

The most clear cut reason to hold Russia responsible is the fact that the Russian
government has always considered itself the inheritor of the assets of the Soviet
government such as the nuclear and conventional weapons, the space station, the
seat at the UN including at the Security Council and any assets held by the former
Soviet Union in foreign countries and international institutions. Even debt obligations
by other countries to the former Soviet Union has been claimed by the Russian
government. A recent example is the claim the Russian government has made on the
debt that was apparently owed by Iraq to the former Soviet Union. Perhaps the Russian
government is claiming some thing similar in the case of Afghanistan in its bizarre
demand, viz., Afghanistan’s debt to the former Soviet Union. But, even that loan
commitment which amounted to $1.265 billion by 1979 had only partially been
dispersed to Afghanistan ( see, my IJMES article, pages 159-169 ).

The Russian government cannot claim the assets of the Soviet government, and all
foreign debt obligations to that now defunct government, and deny its liabilities
including the harm done to the Afghan people and to Afghanistan.

4) During the war in Afghanistan the strongest support for justification and continuation
of the war imposed on the Afghan people came from the Russian segment of the
Soviet society indicating consistent pattern of behavior by the Russians. Other
nationalities either rejected the war or provided minimal support. See, Soviet Area
Audience and Opinion Research: The Soviet Public and the War in Afghanistan,
Perceptions, Prognoses, Information Sources, REF-RL ( Radio Free Europe ) June

5) Most Russian leaders had stated that the invasion of Afghanistan “was a big
mistake”. A public survey conducted in 1991 showed that 71% of the public agreed that
the “introduction of Soviet forces in Afghanistan was a state crime”,89% felt that troops
should have not been introduced, while 20%  of the Russian public agreed to pay the
full or part of the cost of reconstruction in Afghanistan. See, “the Afghan Catharsis” in
the Man and the Legend: The Image of A.D.Sakharov in Public Opinion, published by
the All-Union Central Institute for Public Opinion, Moscow, 1991, reprinted in
Afghanistan Forum, July, 1993,p.23.

6) The Soviet government of Michael Gorbachev had promised rubles 400  ($640
million) for aid to Afghanistan declared to the Seminar on the Potential for Recovery in
Afghanistan and the Role of International Assistance, organized by the UN’s Operation
Salam, especially set up for post war reconstruction in Afghanistan in 1989 in Geneva,
Switzerland. Neither the government of Michael Gorbachev nor the Russian official
from the Foreign Ministry present at the seminar during May 5-7, 1989, made any
mention of any debt obligation on the part of Afghanistan to the former Soviet Union.
See, Operation Salam for 1991, pp.11-12.

7) This step by Gorbachev had already set a precedent in the issue of war damages
and compensations from the Russian-cum-Soviets to Afghanistan.  But, what is
astonishing is the fact that the Russian government has made a demand of some
$9.8 billion in debt payment from Afghanistan since 2001. If the Russian claim had any
merit they should have raised the issue during the Taliban period, when the Taliban
raised the issue of reparations in exchange for releasing the captured seven Russian
pilots and crew with 3.4 million rounds of ammunition heading for Kabul and forced
their plane down in Kandahar in August 1995.  

What is even more astonishing is the fact that according to the International Monetary
Fund Country Report on Afghanistan, 2003, and other sources, the Karzai government
is negotiating in secret with the Russians about a debt reduction from the Russian
government. A statement by Abbas Mirakhor, who is said to be, “Executive Director for
the Islamic State of Afghanistan”, to the IMF on November 21, 2003 page 5 is that “the
authorities in [Afghanistan] have achieved some success in negotiating cancellation of
bilateral debt. They hope to reach a resolution with the Russian Federation on claims
that constitute the bulk of the external debt”.

The Afghan people have no clue what Russian debt they are talking about. Here we
must ask why did not Karzai and members of his prior regime bring these claims to
the two Loya Jergas, as manipulated as they were, and let the representatives decide
what they thought of the Russian claims? Why is there international silence on this
matter, especially the UN? How about the opposition parties and the news medias’
role? Will the Afghan people be betrayed on such a scale with lasting effects for
generations to come?

Karzai swore to protect the interests of the Afghan people and Afghanistan. The Afghan
people trusted him, even in the absence of an elected parliament.  Any responsible
government must meet its obligations in demanding war damages on behalf of the
Afghan people with 2 million killed, 1.5 million disabled and some 50% of the 1979
population or seven and a half million made home less along with massive
destructions throughout the country during the invasion and war of liberation between
1979-1989, followed by continued interferences by the Russian governments beyond
1989 fueling the civil war.

These and other related issues and questions will not go away into the dust pan of
history. The Afghan people are waiting for answers. Their sufferings continue. Their
poverty has increased significantly and the UN puts Afghanistan as the 173rd ranking
country among 178 in 2004 using various indexes to measure over all well being. The
UN also reported that there had been a large increase in the number of those Afghans
facing the threat of famine like conditions between 2000 and 2004, from 4.5 million to
6.4 million a 42% rise in such poverty, most likely as a result of the inflow of refugees
that were not properly cared for. Yet, Afghanistan was becoming more prosperous and
its economy growing at 4.5% in real terms during the 1970’s before the Russian
invasion, the civil wars, and the latest attack on the country. Rapid private investments
and many structural changes were also taking place. For details see, my article in the
Encyclopedia Iranica cited above.

Finally, it should be added any growth in the Afghan economy should not mean that
part of the GDP of Afghanistan should be turned over to the Russian government as
implied in a statement from Kabul that “we don’t have any thing to give to the
Russians”. It should also be added that the 20% rate of growth of GDP for the Afghan
economy claimed by the government in Kabul and some institutions such as the World
Bank for 2003-2004 is unverifiable since there are no statistics on gross domestic
product, especially after 1992. It is, of course, reasonable to assume a certain income
level and project a growth on that basis, as it is done in this case. However, given the
lack of data, it is difficult to show that the Afghan economy as a whole grew and that
any growth is not highly skewed in its origin and effects for the economy when massive
distortions are present. The effects of any such growth on future developments of the
economy and income distribution in particular require a different discussion. Further,
when poverty has increased by 42% for a quarter of the population, what significance
can one attach to this kind of estimate for growth. Our purpose here is to point out what
was taking place in Afghanistan before the 1979 invasion and the continuous state of
war which followed.

Our purpose has also been to make those in charge of decision making in Kabul
aware of the issues if their purpose is to serve the interests of all the Afghan people
and the country and its future generations and not merely serve the interests of the
minority groups.

Note: The 1.5 million loss of lives is based on a survey done by Marek Sliwinski,
Afghanistan 1978-87: War, Demography and Society, University of Geneva, March,
1988, when adjusted for population growth in the absence of war results in 1.7 million
loss of lives. Sliwinski had assumed zero population growth. See, my note,
“Population Losses in Afghanistan Some Observations and Comments”, Writers
Union of Free Afghanistan, vol. 3, no.3, 1988, pp6-14.
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