A mirthless wind churned up the deep ridges from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass, a lonely point on the 1,400-mile border that has now been crossed by nearly 2 million Afghans in one of history's most heroic refugee tides.
This is part of the still-rising human cost of the vast extension of the Russian Empire that the czars could not achieve against the power of the British Empire. For the first time, Pakistan now looks across the Khyber Pass to a Soviet fiefdom, chillingly described to the Pakistani ambassador in Moscow in these words: "You are now our neighbor."
"But the feifdom seethes with hostility. Like the tide of refugees, the resistance shows no signs of weakening. One reason for that is the fiber of the Afghan tribesmen-tough, independent and not to be tamed even by MI24 helicopter gunships. But without the safe refugee haven in and near this border city in Pakistan, the resistance inside Afghanistan would be difficult if not impossible to sustain.
Peshawar is the capital of the North-West Frontier province. It is over-the-border headquarters for a dozen major resistance groups carrying the guerrilla war to the Russians and their Afghan fifth column. A leader of one of these groups, whose name is Najibullah, fingered a smudged Soviet soldier in Afghanistan who will never return to Mother Russia.
"Only 21," Najibullah said, studying the birth date on the passport. "Young to die."
A mative of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, Najibullah is 32 years old, also young to live so close to death. He learned English as a student at the University of Hawaii in the mid-'70s, returning the Kabul where he joined the resistance after the communist coup of 1978. That meant organizing small fighting units, rounding up arms and ammunition and developing guerrilla war tactics against the Soviets and what is left of the Afghan regular army.
All this, with only a semblance of outside help -- except for the blessing of hospitality offered by Pakistan.
To the freedom-fighters, called Mujaheddin, the United States is a non-player in the resistance drama now taking place beyond the fabled Khyber Pass. "I have not heard much on the BBC about demonstrations in your city streets against Soviet genocide," Najibullah told us. The British Broadcasting Overseas Service is the only source of news inside Afghanistan, broadcasting in the native Pashto tongue (the Voice of America has no such service). To the Mujaheddin, to be without transistor radio -- and rifle -- is to be not dressed.
Najibullah remembered what happened in the United States during the Vietnam War, when the Americans fought another communist invasion. He also remembered President Reagan's failure to follow his own suggestion during an ABC television interview last March. Reagan had spoken of the United States' sending small arms to the Afghan resistance.
But military help from outside is not so important as U.S. efforts to make the Russians suffer for their brutal invasion. "America should discharge its responsiblity as human beings. We are not asking for arms. If you treated Soviet aggression with the right punishment of economic boycott and political pressure, that is all we ask," Najibullah said. Termination of the grain embargo devastated the resistance movement.
This leader, who is one among many similar leaders in the fight for survival of Afghanistan, claimed that 500,000 members of his Islamic faction are now out of Afghanistan and living in the mud-hut and tent villages supplied by Pakistan. They stretch for miles around this capital of the North-West Frontier.
Outside his untidy ground-floor office, resistance fighters temporarily out of Afghanistan on rotation studied dozens of black-and-white photographs, tacked up on every wall of the small courtyard, that celebrated Mujaheddin victories and Soviet disasters.
These symbols spoke silently. Against that silence, Najibullah was pleading for a strong response from the West, especially from the United States, to the butchery of his homeland.