By Frud Bezhan
A new Afghan youth group is making waves in Kabul with an unprecedented campaign against the country's former warlords.
Members of the Afghan Freedom-Loving Youth Group swept through the streets of Kabul this week, putting up hundreds of posters and spraying graffiti messages critical of the strongmen, many of whom still wield significant influence on the country's political affairs.
While Afghan security forces swiftly removed the derogatory placards and signs, the campaign adds fuel to rising public scrutiny of regional despots who once waged war against the ruling Taliban as leaders of the mujahedin.
Years later, they are viewed as enemies by some and even as war criminals by Human Rights Watch and Afghanistan's own Independent Human Rights Commission. But to their supporters, they have risen to hero status, with some carving out legitimate -- and often high-ranking -- roles within the government.
The new group chose this week to make its debut -- just ahead of a contentious national holiday honoring the mujahedin -- but its members appear to be taking pains to protect themselves and their identities. On its Facebook page, the group identifies itself only as an unspecified number of "young, independent journalists."
The group says its mission is to "enlighten, raise public awareness, and launch civil action" against the former warlords, whom they describe as "murderous and unjust national traitors and foreign puppets" who have only brought "darkness, bloodshed, and destruction" to the country.
The group does not single out specific warlords by name but does make general mention of prominent cabinet ministers and provincial chiefs under the current government of President Hamid Karzai.
The group says it will remain underground for the time being and begin mobilizing supporters through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In a statement sent to RFE/RL, which addresses the former leaders, the group declares: "Enough is enough! Stop playing with the destiny of the suffering Afghan people. We will no longer be a witness to your corrupt and predatory ways. We will no longer be served by people who -- in the name of religion, ethnicity, and language -- commit crimes against our people."
Reminder Of War
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, probably the most ruthless of the warlords in the 1992-1996 is famous for having killed young intellectuals in the 80s and then raining thousands of rockets on Kabul city that killed many and destroyed most of the city. (Photo: Afghan Freedom-Loving Youth Group)
The remarks come just days before Mujahedin Victory Day, which on April 28 will honor those very same warlords.
This year's event will mark 20 years since the leaders of Western-backed jihadist groups, collectively known as mujahedin, toppled the leftist Afghan government and declared an Islamic state.
Despite its status as a "national day" in Afghanistan, the event is a painful reminder to many of the brutal civil war that soon followed the Islamist takeover.
The 1992-96 conflict left tens of thousands of civilians in Kabul dead, resulted in the rape of thousands of women and children, and the destruction of most of the infrastructure in the capital.
It was only natural, then, that the group's antiwarlord campaign has struck a chord with those Afghans who resent the glorification of the controversial strongmen.
Among those with ties to the current government are ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Afghan National Army; former ethnic Tajik warlord and current first vice president, Field Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim; and Hazara warlord and current second vice president, Abdul Karim Khalili.
Following its debut campaign this week, the youth group has received a flurry of posts on its Facebook page offering support.
Aazaan Wyar, one of the 179 followers of the group on the social-networking site as of April 27, blasted the national holiday: "Why should we celebrate this day and squander millions of dollars! We don't spend that same amount on bridges, roads, and schools. How did the destruction and devastation they caused benefit us?"
Mohammad Kabir Ranjbar, a resident of Kabul, also expressed his anger at the former warlords, many of whom returned to prominence after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
"They brought about a huge tragedy, which we celebrate as our national day. I was witness to the tragedy for several years in Kabul. There has never been such an atrocity against the Afghan people as there was [during the mujahedin’s rule]," Ranjbar says. "That war didn't leave one home standing. More than 65,000 were martyred."
Many former mujahedin leaders have defended themselves as "freedom fighters" who liberated the country from the clutches of the "godless" Soviet Union.
Bashir, a resident of Kabul, backs the national holiday, describing the former strongmen as "liberators."
"This day should celebrate the victory of the mujahedin. It's is a positive thing," Bashir says. "They endeavored and succeeded in driving our enemies from our homeland."
This year's honoring of the mujahedin comes amid tight security around the country.
In Kabul, a military parade is expected, as well as speeches and a medal ceremony honoring the former warlords.
For the past few days, Kabul has been ringed by checkpoints, with security forces searching vehicles. The area near the Presidential Palace, where the official ceremony is expected to take place, has been blocked by troops, tanks, and armored personnel carriers.
In 2008, militants attacked the ceremony with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic gunfire. The assault, aimed at the president, cabinet members, and foreign diplomats, killed five civilians and injured 11 others, including two legislators, four soldiers, and several security guards.