Another War Lost
Jonathan Steele in Afghanistan
Russia’s man in Kabul, Andrey Avetisyan, has been travelling to Afghanistan since 1983, when he was a student of Pashto during the Soviet occupation. When Gorbachev took power and started negotiating the Soviet withdrawal Avetisyan was sent to Kabul for two years as a diplomat. He went back again in 1989, after the troops left, and watched Najibullah’s Soviet-backed regime survive for three more years. When mujahedin leaders finally entered the city only to fire rockets and artillery shells at each other in a lethal form of gang warfare that killed at least fifty thousand Kabulis, Avetisyan had the task of closing the badly damaged Russian embassy. Twenty years later he is back again, watching another superpower flounder. His embassy has been rebuilt almost as it used to be, with the addition of a bronze bell that hangs opposite the main building, a memorial to the fifteen thousand Soviet conscripts and officers who died in the 1980s. Like the other embassies in Kabul, Avetisyan’s is hidden behind high concrete walls. But since Russia isn’t part of the US-led coalition against the Taliban, Moscow feels security is good enough to permit its diplomats to bring their families. It even has a primary school.