HERAT -- The devastating effects of the Soviet-Afghan War are still felt four decades later, and the Afghan people are demanding compensation from the Russian regime -- which they blame for continuing the country's troubles and subsequent conflicts.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In the ensuing nine years, as Afghan mujahideen defended their country from Red Army soldiers, more than one million Afghans died and hundreds of thousands were disabled.
A further five million or more migrated to neighbouring countries, and most of Afghanistan's infrastructure was destroyed during the fighting.
At a gathering December 26 in Herat city, more than 300 people -- including religious scholars, former mujahideen and families of those killed in the war -- pointed to the Soviet invasion as the start of more than 40 years of crisis in Afghanistan.
They also expressed their continued rejection of Russia's interventionist politics.
Had the Soviet Union not invaded Afghanistan, the country would not have faced such a devastating conflict, said Herat city resident Maulawi Muhammad Ali Ghordarwazi, a religious scholar and former mujahideen fighter.
The Soviet Union and its successor, Russia, are the main cause of destruction and bloodshed in Afghanistan, he said.
"The effects of the Soviet invasion are still evident in Afghanistan," he said. "All the deaths, destruction and devastation in Afghanistan are due to the Soviet invasion and Russian interference."
After their invasion and defeat in Afghanistan, Russians fuelled the country's civil war by inciting conflicts along ethnic, linguistic and factional lines, Ghordarwazi said.
"Russia is the cause of all ongoing problems in the country," he added.
Fuelling proxy wars
The Soviet invasion kicked off a cycle of war and destruction in Afghanistan, said Herat city activist Omaid Naab.
"Forty-one years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which devastated Afghans, Russia still continues its interference and support of insurgents in the country and fuels proxy wars," he said.
Moscow has fuelled conflict in Afghanistan to its own political ends at the expense of innocent Afghan lives, he said.
"Most of the weapons used every day to kill Afghans are made in Russia, which are being provided to the terrorists through various means," he said.
All of the advanced weaponry in Taliban possession is made in Russia and openly provided to the group by the Kremlin, Naab said.
Russian allies Iran and China have played a role in extending the conflict, by supporting the delivery of weapons to the Taliban and other insurgent groups, said Herat resident Abdul Hadi Ghori.
"The Iranian government co-operates in delivering advanced Russian weapons to the Taliban and other terrorist groups so that these groups carry out proxy wars on behalf of these countries," Ghori said.
"Russia and its allies are trying to continue the war in Afghanistan, and they are afraid of the peace process in Afghanistan," he said.
Without the help of Russia and some neighbouring countries, the Taliban would not be able to fight the Afghan forces for even a few days, said Herat city activist Sayed Ashraf Sadaat.
"The war in Afghanistan is an intelligence war that the Taliban and other terrorist groups fight against the Afghan security forces and NATO on behalf of countries such as Russia, Iran, Pakistan and even China," he said.
'Make Russia pay war compensation'
The families of a number of victims of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan have demanded compensation from the Russian government.
Former mujahideen commander Qari Ghulam Haidar Masoon said he lost five members of his family in a Soviet air strike in Herat city.
"Russia is the successor to the Soviet Union; there is no difference between the two," he said. "This is a great injustice, to forget the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans who lost their lives during the Soviet invasion."
Most families have at least one member who was killed or wounded during the Soviet invasion, Masoon said, adding that the Russian regime must pay compensation for spilling the blood of each and every Afghan.
Herat city resident Faiz Mohammad Akhtarzada said his father and two brothers were killed during the Soviet-Afghan War.
"Our demand from the United Nations and the international community is to seriously investigate war crimes committed during the Soviet invasion and to make Russia pay war compensation to Afghanistan," he said.
"Red Army soldiers had mercy on no one and massacred Afghans."