With only a few Soviet troops left in their country and the last of the invaders scheduled to be gone in only five days, this should be a happy time for the people of Afghanistan.
But it is not.Instead, Afghanistan faces a grim future that holds the prospect of disunity and continued bloodshed.
Even after those particular wounds are healed, Afghanistan will still face a reconstruction effort so massive that it will need all the outside help it can get.
As the United Nations strives to help with the repair work, the international organization should have no qualms about billing the Soviets for the great bulk of the price tag.
Here are just a few indications of the devastation that the Soviets are leaving behind them in addition to the 15,000 Russian soldiers and one-million people of Afghanistan killed since the Kremlin's December 1979 incursion:
- Inside Afghanistan itself, more than one-million people are homeless and struggling to survive the country's coldest winter in 16 years.
- Though international relief agencies are willing to help Afghanistan, their work is bound to be severely restricted as long as there's the likelihood of fighting between the forces of the puppet government left behind by the Soviets and the resistance fighters.
- The resistance fighters are so divided among themselves that they cannot agree on a strategy for defeating the government troops and toppling the communist regime. Instead, about all the rebels can agree on is that they don't want outside relief shipments to get through for fear such supplies would prolong the embattled pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. The rebels have U.S.-supplied missiles that can shoot down U.N. relief planes just as easily as Soviet fighter jets.
- Meanwhile, more than a third of Afghanistan's 15 million Pathans, Tajiks and people of other tribes are still in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, where they fled to escape the fighting. Even if the prospect of peace lures the refugees home, millions of landmines and smaller booby traps left by the Soviets await them.
- On top of all these problems, the war has ravaged Afghanistan physically and economically. Much of the country's agriculture-based economy is in ruins. Its roads are lined with wrecked implements of war. Many of its once-thriving orchards have been destroyed by Soviet carpet bombing or have grown wild for lack of care. Its mineral mining industry is damaged or lies idle for lack of trained workers, most of whom are still fighting, living as refugees, or are dead.
The legacy of the Soviet depredation in Afghanistan is bound to persist not just for decades but for generations. The healing can't start until the rebels stop fighting among themselves. The next order of business will be the formation of a new government.
Only then can the effort at reconstruction make real headway. It ought to be an international effort and will have to span decades. And it ought to involve more planning and coordination than has been seen so far in efforts to help Afghanistan pick up the shattered pieces of its national life.