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Searching For Those Who Vanished During Communist Rule

June 19, 1992

PUL-I-CHARKI, Afghanistan (AP) _ Abdul Jan believes the souls of his three uncles haunt the windswept, barren valley that many say became the killing fields of the former Communist regimes.

Somewhere beneath the abandoned tank dugouts that stretch for miles along the Koh-e-Safi mountains east of the capital Kabul lie the remains of Mohammad Sadar Mohammed, Mohammed Gulzareem and Mohammed Amir Mohammed, Abdul said.

They were religious scholars. Like perhaps hundreds of thousands of other Afghans, they vanished without a trace following the 1978 revolution.

Their only crime, Abdul says, was opposing the oppression and terror of Moscow’s handpicked dictators. Theunist rule in Afghanistan.

From 20,000 to 35,000 people in Kabul alone were arrested by the feared KGB-style secret police and never seen again, said intelligence officials of the new Islamic government’s Defense Ministry. Human rights activists, however, consider that a conservative figure.

Afghans talked in whispers for years about the ″polygon,″ the rock-strewn plain at the foot of the jagged mountains 15 miles east of Kabul. Many of those who disappeared are believed to be buried in mass graves in the plan.

Almost every night for a decade, a convoy of trucks rolled passed the sun- baked mud village of Tangi and down the narrow, rutted road that wound through mine-covered fields.

″For many years, the trucks came. Ten, sometimes 20, in one night. For a while, there was firing, a lot. Then there was silence,″ said one Tangi resident, Mohammed Gul.

Although the number diminished greatly over the past two years, Gul and other residents say, the trucks never stopped coming.

There is no way to know how many people were killed. Villagers say that as many as 100 people were shot some nights.

Ishaq, a senior commander with Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Masood, recently led an expedition of mujahedeen to the area.

Armed with small shovels, the brigade picked a spot and started to dig beneath the U-shaped tank emplacements. About 2 feet below the surface they were seen to find a skeleton. They continued digging, unearthing a second, then a third and fourth.

The victims wore similar uniforms, had their hands tied behind their backs and apparently died from a single bullet wound to the head. The diggers picked another spot and within a short time found three more bodies.

The intelligence officials estimate as many as 250,000 Afghans disappeared nationwide during the 14-year war, which left 2 million dead. Human rights organizations say the figure could be higher.

Those who disappeared were anybody the Communist government deemed an enemy, including religious sholars, political opponents and mujahedeen sympathizers.

In the months preceding its collapse, the Najibullah regime burned records. Most were extensive files kept by Khad, the feared secret police that Najibullah headed from 1980-86.

Najibullah went into hiding at a U.N. office in Kabul since he was stripped of power. His secret police chief, Ghulam Yaqubi, and a deputy committed suicide the same day.

Many Khad agents have either quietly slipped out of Kabul or have moved to other departments and grown beards in the fashion of the Muslim guerrillas. The secret police has been disbanded.

Some of Khad’s secrets could not be burned before Najibullah’s fall. Most of the files now litter the ransacked and abandoned offices at Pul-i-Charki prison, a few miles down the road. Most are reports describing the beatings, electrical shocks, sexual violence and threats inflicted on the prisoners.

″Should they and the past be excavated or should both be left to rest undisturbed? It’s difficult to say what’s best. I guess that’s something the Muslim intellectuals and scholars will have to decide,″ Abdul said.

As he spoke, the mujahedeen placed the skeletons in their graves, turned the skulls to face the holy city of Mecca and covered them with dirt.

Later, a four Muslim clerics dressed in robes and black or white turbans arrived to bless the graves. They gazed over the desolate field for a moment, then bowed toward Mecca and prayed for the dead.