Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Afghan Protest Against Soviet Occupation Looks Familiar In Scarce Posters

by Stephen J. Gertz

A set of nine dramatic anti-Soviet propaganda posters lithographed on thin paper and published in Pakistan c.1980-81 by the Internal Islamic Fronts/Afghanistan is being offered by Bonham's in its Fine Books and Manuscripts sale February 10, 2014.

Each poster (approximately 375 x 250 mm) is ink-stamped with the publisher's imprint in Arabic and English but without captions. They are somewhat crudely printed; on one poster the inky red fingerprints of the pressman are clearly visible. These were printed on the fly under difficult  circumstances and we should not be surprised that the result was less than perfect.

The initial Soviet deployment of its 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 24, 1979, under then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The final troop withdrawal began on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989, under the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviets had been caught in what has been called "the bear trap" and the Soviet war in Afghanistan would become its Vietnam: an intractable morass, a political and military quicksand that sucked Soviet troops deep in over their heads, as it had in the past for every other power that tried to bend Afghanistan to its will. The United States poured billions into the country in military support of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, the Moujahadin, playing out another Cold War conflict with the U.S.S.R.

In the poster above, Brezhnev is scolding his Afghan parrot, Babrak Karmal, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan and Chairman of the Revolutionary Council. Karmal's policy failures, iffy cooperation, and the stalemate against the Resistance led the Kremlin to become highly critical of its puppet's leadership. Brezhnev appears to be saying, "now, now, repeat after me, 'I will behave, I will behave, I will behave!'" Yet as every parrot caretaker understands but civilians don't, if you wag a finger close to a parrot's beak the bird will treat it as a chew toy on a serving tray and act accordingly. 

Substitute President G.W. Bush or President Obama for Brezhnev and insert current Afghan leader Hamid Karzai for Karmal and the situation has not changed.

Image courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

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