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French journalist Chaliand, a practiced observer of leftist insurgence (Revolution in the Third World, etc.), here attempts to briefly explain the struggle in Afghanistan between a leftist regime and a rightist resistance. Much of the book is geographical and historical background. Chaliand describes the racial and linguistic divisions of the country, and other salient characteristics--like the paucity of arable land. Chieftains maintain control in the countryside, while the cities remain lightly populated--but it is in the cities, awkwardly, that recent political history has been made. In 1978, the mildly democratic Daud republic was overthrown by two factions of the leftist Democratic Party of the People of Afghanistan--and in the new government the extremist Khalq forces, led by Hafizullah Amin, dominated the (long-citified, more sophisticated) Parchem moderates, led by Babrak Kamal. Amin's followers moved quickly to extirpate ""feudalism,"" a Marxist catch-phrase with little meaning in Afghanistan--where most of the land is not owned by anyone, the cultivated land is mainly owned by small proprietors, and social relationships rest not on land ownership but on provisions for irrigation and seeds. Nonetheless the government moved to institute land reform through redistribution--a program that foundered on popular opposition and entrenched social patterns. A rural literacy program also collapsed for want of participation: women weren't supposed to appear in public. As resistance grew, the government became increasingly authoritarian, until an undeclared war existed between government and people. The Soviets--influential because of their aid money (while US aid had all gone to Iran)--mounted an invasion, to reestablish stability, that overthrew Amin and installed Kamal's more moderate Parchem faction. Chaliand is less illuminating on the resistance movements now operating against the Soviet army and its client-government. What we get are the basics: three of the six major resistance groups are Islamic fundamentalists who've been in opposition since the fall of Daud; the other three groups, formed to oppose the Khalq government in 1978-79, include two regional groups and one religious group. All are badly organized, badly equipped, and badly led--in addition to being unable to work together for very long. Chaliand reports that the resistance is not making any advances, but it is not losing either; meanwhile the Soviets are content to hold the cities and (as long as their tank convoys are unimpeded) to leave the countryside to the rebels. Chaliand pleads for the West to support them--but his account, weak on their ideology, tends to make everyone appear unappealing. A useful sketch--if only marginally superior (on the economic component) to Nancy and Richard Newell's brisk, pictorialized The Struggle for Afghanistan (1981). . . and less graphic re the rebels than Dan Rather on TV.

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 1982
Publisher: Viking