KABUL: Afghanistan on Wednesday commemorated the 1992 toppling of a Soviet-backed regime, which led to a bloody civil war and the rise of the Taliban, as rampant insurgency across the country reaped a high toll.
Helicopter gunships clattered over Kabul as the Afghan army staged a 21-gun salute at a sports stadium used as a public execution ground by the 1996-2001 Taliban regime that emerged from the devastating civil war. It was the first public commemoration of the 1992 overthrow since an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai by gunmen and suicide bombers, claimed by the Taliban, marred the 2008 event. The Taliban were blamed for violence across the country throughout the day, including the killing of an official in strife-torn southern Kandahar, the 13th assassination in the capital in recent months.
Haji Abdul Rahman, a tribal chieftain in Arghandab district, was walking home when gunmen shot him dead and fled, said district governor Abdul Jabar. The Taliban have recently added targeted killings to their arsenal of tactics, which already includes roadside mines and suicide bomb attacks, as their war against the Kabul government moves well into its ninth year. Thousands of people including dignitaries gathered at dawn at Kabul Ghazi stadium to celebrate the overthrow of the pro-Moscow regime 28 years ago – and the start of a civil war often seen as providing the Taliban’s path to power.
Defence Minister Abdul Raheem Wardak, in green uniform with gold epaulets, told the crowd, including Afghan soldiers and police charged with taking over the country’s security within five years: “On this day the mujahideen prevailed over the evil of communism.” He criticised the international community – which helps keep President Hamid Karzai’s government in power – for not taking seriously enough the Taliban threat after the 2001 US-led invasion overthrew their regime. Karzai did not attend Wednesday’s parade as he was in Bhutan for a South Asian security meeting joined by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan.
As his deputies and most of his ministers took their seats for a series of speeches and military marches, police and soldiers were deployed across Kabul, searching vehicles and setting up checkpoints to prevent attacks. Male drummers and dancers performed a traditional Pashtun warrior dance, watched by the failed candidate in last year’s presidential race, Abdullah Abdullah, a former mujahideen fighter and right hand of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Huge portraits of Massoud – the charismatic mujahideen leader who was killed by al Qaeda two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks – as well as Karzai, former kings and war heroes served as a backdrop to the parade.
The mujahideen victory in 1992 over the pro-Moscow regime –just months after the collapse of the Soviet Union – marked the start of a war that led ultimately to the rise of the Taliban, who filled a security vacuum. The Islamists took control from their base in the southern city of Kandahar, now one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan and heartland of the Taliban’s fight to overthrow the government. At least six civilians were killed driving home from the market when their vehicle struck an improvised bomb in eastern Afghanistan earlier on Wednesday, an official said.
They were heading home from a weekly shopping trip when the roadside bomb, widely seen in Taliban attacks on military targets, struck their vehicle, Mubarez Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial government said.