As a journalist who has recently returned from covering Afghanistan for a major national magazine, and producer of a documentary about Afghan refugees, I must take issue with Robert Coughlin (Letters, Feb. 23), regarding the character of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invaders.
I can only conclude that Coughlin’s views are based on the scanty information available in the American media. Although there are fanatical elements in the resistance, there are also nationalist, secular, and democratic elements, and the great majority of Afghan freedom fighters are fighting for Islam in the same way that most Americans would fight for their Christianity or Judaism, and for their families.
Will Coughlin still think the Soviet Union “the lesser or two evils” if he knows that one-quarter of the Afghan people now live in exile (3 million in Pakistan, 1.3 million in Iran, and perhaps a million within Afghanistan forced from their home by bombing), and up to half a million have been killed?
In many areas of the country, such as the province I visited three months ago, only 10% of the population remains, and these face famine this spring. If only Coughlin could have been with me that November day on a stark, snowy mountainside, hiding under a blanket from Soviet MIGs, and listening to them bomb the same villages that had given me hospitality.
I would also invite your editorial writers to the same experience. As someone who vehemently opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and equally oppose possible involvement in Nicaragua, I am in an odd position advocating effective arms aid to Afghan freedom fighters. But Afghanistan is the only country in the world invaded by Soviet troops, and if America truly believes in self-determination, it is our moral and humanitarian duty to aid the Afghan people. It is an ethical crime to think in terms of a cynical policy of “spheres of influence,” as advocated by the Reagan Administration and your editorial (Feb. 4), “Getting Too Close.”