When  the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they expected  to bring the country to its knees in a matter of weeks. But Leonid Brezhnev's  army was met by a hardy guerrilla  resistance that dogged it for nearly a decade until, on Feb. 15, 1989, the last  Soviet soldier withdrew through the Salang Tunnel. But if the story of the  Afghan resistance is well known, the literature it produced has for the most  part been overlooked. Cartoons, in particular, played an important role in  countering Soviet propaganda -- and boosting moral among the mujahideen, many of whom were  illiterate.      These  political cartoons, never before published in the Western press, tell the story  of the early days of the resistance against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They  are part of a collection at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul  University, which is  compiling a record of the country's modern history, with a focus on the last 30  years. The collection encompasses everything from 1950s USAID agricultural  studies to communist-era propaganda to Taliban-regime proclamations.      Above, an  Afghan woman in traditional dress holds a green flag bearing the word "jihad." Women played an integral role in  the conflict against the Soviets, often acting as messengers  and aides to men involved with the resistance.

The Not-So-Funny Papers

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When  the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they expected  to bring the country to its knees in a matter of weeks. But Leonid Brezhnev's  army was met by a hardy guerrilla  resistance that dogged it for nearly a decade until, on Feb. 15, 1989, the last  Soviet soldier withdrew through the Salang Tunnel. But if the story of the  Afghan resistance is well known, the literature it produced has for the most  part been overlooked. Cartoons, in particular, played an important role in  countering Soviet propaganda -- and boosting moral among the mujahideen, many of whom were  illiterate.      These  political cartoons, never before published in the Western press, tell the story  of the early days of the resistance against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They  are part of a collection at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul  University, which is  compiling a record of the country's modern history, with a focus on the last 30  years. The collection encompasses everything from 1950s USAID agricultural  studies to communist-era propaganda to Taliban-regime proclamations.      Above, an  Afghan woman in traditional dress holds a green flag bearing the word "jihad." Women played an integral role in  the conflict against the Soviets, often acting as messengers  and aides to men involved with the resistance.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they expected to bring the country to its knees in a matter of weeks. But Leonid Brezhnev's army was met by a hardy guerrilla resistance that dogged it for nearly a decade until, on Feb. 15, 1989, the last Soviet soldier withdrew through the Salang Tunnel. But if the story of the Afghan resistance is well known, the literature it produced has for the most part been overlooked. Cartoons, in particular, played an important role in countering Soviet propaganda -- and boosting moral among the mujahideen, many of whom were illiterate.

These political cartoons, never before published in the Western press, tell the story of the early days of the resistance against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They are part of a collection at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University, which is compiling a record of the country's modern history, with a focus on the last 30 years. The collection encompasses everything from 1950s USAID agricultural studies to communist-era propaganda to Taliban-regime proclamations.

Above, an Afghan woman in traditional dress holds a green flag bearing the word "jihad." Women played an integral role in the conflict against the Soviets, often acting as messengers and aides to men involved with the resistance.

A  group of Afghan men plant the green flag of jihad on top of a mountain. The  image is inspired by the famous photograph of American Marines raising Old Glory at  the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

A group of Afghan men plant the green flag of jihad on top of a mountain. The image is inspired by the famous photograph of American Marines raising Old Glory at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

Communists  first came to power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution in 1978, a little  more than a year and a half before the Soviet invasion. Under the leadership of  Nur Muhammad Taraki, they initiated a number of radical reforms, including  land-redistribution programs and a drive to educate women. So rapid were the  communist reforms that many Afghans concluded Islam itself was under attack.  Their fears would prove valid: Taraki, who complained privately about women  wearing the veil, told his Soviet advisors that Afghanistan's  mosques would be empty by the end of 1979.          Above,  an Afghan fighter defends a mosque -- and by extension Islam -- from advancing  Soviet tanks and helicopters with the shield bearing the word "jihad."

Communists first came to power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution in 1978, a little more than a year and a half before the Soviet invasion. Under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki, they initiated a number of radical reforms, including land-redistribution programs and a drive to educate women. So rapid were the communist reforms that many Afghans concluded Islam itself was under attack. Their fears would prove valid: Taraki, who complained privately about women wearing the veil, told his Soviet advisors that Afghanistan's mosques would be empty by the end of 1979.

Above, an Afghan fighter defends a mosque -- and by extension Islam -- from advancing Soviet tanks and helicopters with the shield bearing the word "jihad."

A  blunt anti-Soviet political cartoon.

A blunt anti-Soviet political cartoon.

One  of the most consistent critiques levied against the Soviet-backed government in  Kabul was that it was un-Islamic -- a criticism that was unsurprising given  communism's atheist ideology. To drive home the message, however, the  resistance often portrayed communist Afghan leaders as drunkards, since alcohol  is forbidden in Islam. Above, Babrak Karmal, the third president of communist  Afghanistan, hugs a bottle of Soviet vodka.

One of the most consistent critiques levied against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul was that it was un-Islamic -- a criticism that was unsurprising given communism's atheist ideology. To drive home the message, however, the resistance often portrayed communist Afghan leaders as drunkards, since alcohol is forbidden in Islam. Above, Babrak Karmal, the third president of communist Afghanistan, hugs a bottle of Soviet vodka.

The  Farsi script above this cartoon reads, "Unmanly Crimes of Russia," a reference  to the brutal and indiscriminate military campaign waged by the Soviet's in  Afghanistan. An astonishing 1.3 million Afghans were killed in the war -- most  of them civilians -- and millions more fled the country, mainly to Iran and  Pakistan. Two decades after the Soviets' departure, Afghans remain one of the largest  refugee populations in the world.

The Farsi script above this cartoon reads, "Unmanly Crimes of Russia," a reference to the brutal and indiscriminate military campaign waged by the Soviet's in Afghanistan. An astonishing 1.3 million Afghans were killed in the war -- most of them civilians -- and millions more fled the country, mainly to Iran and Pakistan. Two decades after the Soviets' departure, Afghans remain one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

Afghan  President Babrak Karmal portrayed as a stooge of the Soviets.

Afghan President Babrak Karmal portrayed as a stooge of the Soviets.

The  message of this anti-propaganda cartoon is clear: Don't listen to the Soviets  or their puppets in Kabul.

The message of this anti-propaganda cartoon is clear: Don't listen to the Soviets or their puppets in Kabul.

Above,  President Babrak Karmal is portrayed as a mouthpiece for Soviet leader Leonid  Brezhnev and his government in Moscow. The Farsi caption reads: "The Master  Behind the Scene."

Above, President Babrak Karmal is portrayed as a mouthpiece for Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and his government in Moscow. The Farsi caption reads: "The Master Behind the Scene."

Above,  Karmal is shown reciting the shahada, the Islamic declaration of belief in  God, while his heart beats to the atheist rhythm of Soviet communism. The text  atop the image, written in Arabic to play on the religious theme of the cartoon,  reads, "Saying one thing and believing another."

Above, Karmal is shown reciting the shahada, the Islamic declaration of belief in God, while his heart beats to the atheist rhythm of Soviet communism. The text atop the image, written in Arabic to play on the religious theme of the cartoon, reads, "Saying one thing and believing another."

During  the decade of Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan, 5.5 million people, a  third of the pre-war population, fled and another 2 million were internally  displaced. Here, a despondent woman and her child sit amidst the rubble of a  ruined village as a Soviet bomb closes in from above.

During the decade of Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan, 5.5 million people, a third of the pre-war population, fled and another 2 million were internally displaced. Here, a despondent woman and her child sit amidst the rubble of a ruined village as a Soviet bomb closes in from above.

As  the war continued into the mid 1980s, the Soviets shifted from conventional  warfare to a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency strategy that coupled the  destruction of any village suspected of supporting the rebels with more  frequent raids by special forces. Theirs was a literal interpretation of  "scorched-earth" policy, as the above cartoon implies. By 1985 and 1986, the  Soviets had gained control of most of the country, though at enormous expense.

As the war continued into the mid 1980s, the Soviets shifted from conventional warfare to a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency strategy that coupled the destruction of any village suspected of supporting the rebels with more frequent raids by special forces. Theirs was a literal interpretation of "scorched-earth" policy, as the above cartoon implies. By 1985 and 1986, the Soviets had gained control of most of the country, though at enormous expense.

The  above political cartoon shows the pestle of jihad crushing the Soviet Union in  the mortar of Afghanistan.

The above political cartoon shows the pestle of jihad crushing the Soviet Union in the mortar of Afghanistan.

Above,  an animated Soviet hammer and sickle is shown stabbing a dove that represents  peace.

Above, an animated Soviet hammer and sickle is shown stabbing a dove that represents peace.

This  cartoon of "Brezhnev's Clinic" shows the Soviet leader injecting a patient with  Soviet serum, while the patient's "kafir levels" spike in the opposite chart. Kafir,  an Arabic word that translates to "disbeliever," is a highly offensive term  used to describe non-Muslims.

This cartoon of "Brezhnev's Clinic" shows the Soviet leader injecting a patient with Soviet serum, while the patient's "kafir levels" spike in the opposite chart. Kafir, an Arabic word that translates to "disbeliever," is a highly offensive term used to describe non-Muslims.

Above,  President Karmal waves a Soviet flag as a flying shoe closes in on him from  behind. Shoe-throwing, as U.S. President George W. Bush learned in a 2008 press conference in Baghdad,  is an expression of disrespect in the Muslim world -- though it's not exactly  considered polite anywhere else, either.

Above, President Karmal waves a Soviet flag as a flying shoe closes in on him from behind. Shoe-throwing, as U.S. President George W. Bush learned in a 2008 press conference in Baghdad, is an expression of disrespect in the Muslim world -- though it's not exactly considered polite anywhere else, either.

While  performing the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is the religious duty  of Muslims, pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars representing the devil (in 2004,  the pillars were  replaced with walls).  The act is known as jamarat, or the stoning of the devil. Here, the  pillars have been replaced by Karmal sitting  on Brezhnev's  shoulders, reflecting  one of the main unintended consequences of the war in Afghanistan: the mixing  of conservative Sunni Islam with radical politics.

While performing the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is the religious duty of Muslims, pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars representing the devil (in 2004, the pillars were replaced with walls). The act is known as jamarat, or the stoning of the devil. Here, the pillars have been replaced by Karmal sitting on Brezhnev's shoulders, reflecting one of the main unintended consequences of the war in Afghanistan: the mixing of conservative Sunni Islam with radical politics.

Above,  Karmal is shown as a Soviet cheerleader.

Above, Karmal is shown as a Soviet cheerleader.

The  two-headed communist in this cartoon has been speared by a green flag of jihad.  The two heads, labeled "Khalq" (people) and "Parcham" (banner) represent the  two wings of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which came to power in 1978. Khalq,  comprised primarily of poor, rural Pashtuns, advocated for more radical and  immediate political change in Afghanistan while the more urban and educated  Parcham favored a gradual introduction of socialism. The country's first two  communist presidents, Nur Mohammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, were from Khalq, while the third  president, Babrak  Karmal, was from  Parcham.

The two-headed communist in this cartoon has been speared by a green flag of jihad. The two heads, labeled "Khalq" (people) and "Parcham" (banner) represent the two wings of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which came to power in 1978. Khalq, comprised primarily of poor, rural Pashtuns, advocated for more radical and immediate political change in Afghanistan while the more urban and educated Parcham favored a gradual introduction of socialism. The country's first two communist presidents, Nur Mohammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, were from Khalq, while the third president, Babrak Karmal, was from Parcham.


Above,  Brezhnev toasts Karmal -- shown standing in the Soviet leader's glass -- in a  cartoon that needles communists for their liberal attitude toward alcohol.

Above, Brezhnev toasts Karmal -- shown standing in the Soviet leader's glass -- in a cartoon that needles communists for their liberal attitude toward alcohol.

A  massive mujahid hand is shown trying  to hold back the Soviet tide. The Farsi text reads: "Nip it in the bud."

A massive mujahid hand is shown trying to hold back the Soviet tide. The Farsi text reads: "Nip it in the bud."

Above,  a grisly cartoon shows Soviet communism as a skull and the two wings of the  communist People's  Democratic Party of Afghanistan -- Khalq and Parcham -- as crossbones.

Above, a grisly cartoon shows Soviet communism as a skull and the two wings of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan -- Khalq and Parcham -- as crossbones.

Karmal,  whose prominent proboscis was often the subject of ridicule, is  shown with a chubby-looking Brezhnev peering out of his snout.

Karmal, whose prominent proboscis was often the subject of ridicule, is shown with a chubby-looking Brezhnev peering out of his snout.

The  Salang  Tunnel, which connects  northern and southern Afghanistan, was the lifeline of the Soviet effort in Afghanistan,  transporting the vast majority of military equipment and personnel used in the  war. Because of its importance, it was subject to frequent attacks by  mujahideen, many of whom were affiliated with Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was based out of the nearby  Panjshir Valley. The last Soviet soldier killed in Afghanistan, Igor  Liakhovich, was killed as his unit approached the entrance of the tunnel during  the withdrawal of Soviet forces.      The  above cartoon depicts the sword of jihad crushing a Soviet tank as it exits the  Salang Tunnel.

The Salang Tunnel, which connects northern and southern Afghanistan, was the lifeline of the Soviet effort in Afghanistan, transporting the vast majority of military equipment and personnel used in the war. Because of its importance, it was subject to frequent attacks by mujahideen, many of whom were affiliated with Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was based out of the nearby Panjshir Valley. The last Soviet soldier killed in Afghanistan, Igor Liakhovich, was killed as his unit approached the entrance of the tunnel during the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

The above cartoon depicts the sword of jihad crushing a Soviet tank as it exits the Salang Tunnel.

The  fist of a mujahid disrupts Soviet leader Yuri Andropov's game of chess, in which Karmal  is depicted as the  communist king directing pawns. Andropov, a long-time head of the KGB who  succeeded Brezhnev in 1982,  was a major advocate for intervention in Afghanistan.

The fist of a mujahid disrupts Soviet leader Yuri Andropov's game of chess, in which Karmal is depicted as the communist king directing pawns. Andropov, a long-time head of the KGB who succeeded Brezhnev in 1982, was a major advocate for intervention in Afghanistan.

Above,  a cartoon titled "Babrak's School" shows Karmal reading  communist literature to a classroom full of irritated students. On the  blackboard -- across from the portrait of Vladimir Lenin -- "Islam" and  "communism" have been written, with a check mark next to communism and an  incorrect mark next to Islam. During the occupation, the Soviets undertook  massive literacy campaigns across Afghanistan, and some of the largest protests  against their presence were precipitated by efforts to teach women how to read.

Above, a cartoon titled "Babrak's School" shows Karmal reading communist literature to a classroom full of irritated students. On the blackboard -- across from the portrait of Vladimir Lenin -- "Islam" and "communism" have been written, with a check mark next to communism and an incorrect mark next to Islam. During the occupation, the Soviets undertook massive literacy campaigns across Afghanistan, and some of the largest protests against their presence were precipitated by efforts to teach women how to read.

Above,  Karmal is portrayed drunk, holding a bottle of vodka, and shackled by Soviet  chains.

Above, Karmal is portrayed drunk, holding a bottle of vodka, and shackled by Soviet chains.

Cartoons  were no joke in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Given the largely illiterate  Afghan population, concise and colorful cartoons played an important role in  disseminating the main messages of the mujahideen. By relentlessly circulating  these images across the country and in major urban areas, the mujahideen were  able to continually emphasize (and capitalize on) the widespread belief that  the Soviets and their pawns -- primarily the Afghan leadership -- were  un-Islamic, savagely cruel, and determined to fundamentally change the country  for the worse.      Above,  a giant mujahid with "God is great" written on his jacket is shown defending  Islam and God from Soviet assault. The text in the top right says "Shield of  God's Religion," implying that the faith of the mujahideen will protect him  from bullets.

Cartoons were no joke in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Given the largely illiterate Afghan population, concise and colorful cartoons played an important role in disseminating the main messages of the mujahideen. By relentlessly circulating these images across the country and in major urban areas, the mujahideen were able to continually emphasize (and capitalize on) the widespread belief that the Soviets and their pawns -- primarily the Afghan leadership -- were un-Islamic, savagely cruel, and determined to fundamentally change the country for the worse.

Above, a giant mujahid with "God is great" written on his jacket is shown defending Islam and God from Soviet assault. The text in the top right says "Shield of God's Religion," implying that the faith of the mujahideen will protect him from bullets.

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