KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanis marked the 25th anniversary Friday of their victory over Soviet Russian troops and the birth of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with parades and speeches.
The public holiday celebrates today’s date in 1992 when the Mujahedeen rebel forces overthrew Mohammad Najibullah’s pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
The occasion, referred to locally as “Hashte Saur,” is a day in which former Mujahedeen fighters and present-day soldiers and supporters march on bases or streets, history is recited, national songs traditionally sung by the “holy warriors” in the trenches are brought back, mosque prayers are directed to those who lost their lives and iconic green Mujahedeen flags are flown.
“Over 13 years, we lost two-and-a-half million of our people, 7 million refugees fled and many were maimed,” Commander Ahmad Muslem Hayat, a former Mujahedeen military chief proudly told Fox News in Kabul. “Today we are celebrating our struggle against and defeat of the communists and Russian occupation.”
Chaos was kindled in 1978 after Afghanistan’s self-proclaimed prime minister, Mohammed Daoud Khan, was assassinated during the Saur Revolution, which was led by the socialist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The PDPA then promptly seized power. But as more and more groups emerged in opposition to the communist leanings of the leadership, the PDPA government sought help from the U.S.S.R.
The following year, the brutal Soviet war started and soon thereafter, the seemingly intractable U.S. involvement in the country started, too, as American officials covertly armed and aided the Mujahedeen against the Cold War enemy.
For the soft-spoken and multilingual Hayat, the memories leading up the conflict’s outbreak remain vivid. He said growing up his father always feared communism as the “monster of the world,” one that would deprive them of their freedom and force them into atheism. At just 17 years old in 1979, Hayat was a student at the military academy in Kabul but a vocal opponent of that monster, the PDPA leadership. After his activism against the regime was discovered, he was expelled.
A few days later, forces surrounded Hayat’s family home and broke down the door in the dead of the night. He was arrested and taken into a torture cell at Sadarat by the secret spy police, the NDS, where his sternum was shattered by the knee of an interrogator and his body was endlessly barraged by electric shocks that “felt like a thousand bullets,” he said.
“All day you would hear constant screaming. Dead bodies were everywhere. The rooms were filled with prisoners — girls and boys — all educated, professional people,” Hayat recalled. “The communists told us that listening to the BBC was a crime. They told us they did not care how many people they had to kill because Afghanistan only needs 3 million, not 30 million, people to keep them in power.”
Hayat was “luckily” released weeks later when Afghan politician and founding PDPA member Nur Muhammed Taraki was killed. More determined than ever, the young Hayat finished his military training over the border in Peshawar, Pakistan, and joined his distant relative — the widely hailed hero and perhaps most powerful Mujahedeen leader Ahmad Shar Massoud — north of Kabul in the north-central Panjshir Valley, by the Hindu Kush mountain range.
“Massoud was the true leader of the freedom fighters. He trained fighters but also believed in justice and formed his own council to build schools and roads,” Hayat said.
But Hayat himself led groups of fighters against the Soviet and communist forces in the Panjshir Valley and other areas of Afghanistan. His efforts are credited with killing more enemy forces than most others rebel groups. He frequently ambushed the feared Spetznaz, Soviet special forces, and even he is still amazed that he survived the war.
Two days before Sept. 11, 2001, Massoud, who was deemed friendly to the West and a natural future leader of Afghanistan, was assassinated in a suicide bombing by Al Qaeda operatives. In the view of some regional experts, Massoud was anathema to Usama bin Laden’s xenophobic extremism and the then Al Qaeda leader was calculated in ridding Afghanistan of a U.S. ally less than 48 hours before directing planes into New York and Washington buildings.
Hayat insisted that such extremists have since corrupted the significance of what it truly means to fight in the name of jihad, which is what mujahedeen literally means. He said it is often the most stable and secure pockets of Afghanistan that are that way because they are protected by devoted, unpaid former Mujahedeen.
“Former Mujahedeen are very popular with the people, and the Taliban despises this,” Hayat noted. “The Taliban has two enemies: Mujahedeen and the Americans.”
Over the last decade, the Afghanistan government has been forced to cancel public celebrations of April 28 due to security concerns and Taliban threats. Hayat said this year was no different, but they refuse to be silenced. Even in Taliban strongholds like Helmand Province, smaller-scale celebrations and marching took place before Friday prayers.
“We will not let them stop us from celebrating this day,” Hayat added with a shrug and a smile. “On this day, we won.”
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay