October 26, 2012:
Russia is trying to get Afghanistan to help find the graves of missing Russian soldiers from the 1979-89 war. Russia would also like to track down Russian troops who deserted in Afghanistan during the war. Russia has a list of 265 soldiers considered missing in Afghanistan during the 1980s. About twenty percent of them are believed to be deserters who are still alive. About a third of these men are believed to have since left Afghanistan. For the sake of the families, Russia wants to determine if the missing troops are dead or alive and pass that information on to surviving kin.
While the Afghan government is inclined to help there is one major problem. Many of the missing Russian troops were last seen in areas that are still Taliban strongholds. The Taliban were recruited from a few Pushtun tribes in the south and the Taliban are still largely Pushtun. Since the Pushtuns are only 40 percent of the population, they were never able to control all of Afghanistan in the 1990s. The northern tribes formed the Northern Alliance and continued resisting the Taliban until reinforced by the Americans after September 11, 2001. That enabled the Northern Alliance to quickly defeat the Taliban.
Ever since then Russia has been trying to restore good relations with Afghanistan. Bitter memories of the war have made this difficult. The Russians lost 15,000 troops, while 1.5 million Afghans died during the 1979-89 Russian occupation. Russia and their pro-Russian Afghan government still controlled most of Afghanistan when Russian troops left in 1989. The Russians gave the pro-Russian government some $300 million a year until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. After that, the payments stopped, and the pro-Russian government fell in 1992. The subsequent civil war enabled the Taliban to take control by 1996. The Russians began supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban from the late 1990s to 2001. The new Afghan government was dominated by Northern Alliance leaders and Russia resumed diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 2002. Since then Russia has provided free or low cost military equipment, economic aid, and other assistance to Afghanistan. Now Russia wants some help in finding closure about their Afghan War.