From a report in Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party paper, on Jan. 20:

I visited Qandahar seven years ago. The situation then was difficult: Our vehicles were put out of action in the city in broad daylight; and now and then furious firing flared up unexpectedly. . . . Qandahar is, incidentally, the only province where they have simply been unable to create national reconciliation commissions. They say: "He who controls Qandahar, controls Afghanistan." Therefore the struggle for this region is fiercer and more uncompromising than any other province.

Nonetheless, today's Qandahar exceeded all of my expectations, which, to be honest, were not very optimistic. Seven years ago we drove into the city in armored cars singed by explosions after two weeks on the Pakistani border. That march was difficult: Vehicles were blown up by mines and land mines, we felt keenly the death of our boys, we fell into an ambush three times and spent the whole night beating off dushmans {resistance fighters} after organizing perimeter defenses. But cleanliness, throngs of people, the jingle of decorated horse cabs and the happy noise of children greeted us in Qandahar.

You begin to sense acutely the tension of the current situation while you are still a good way off. . . . Each vehicle had to enter separately at 500-meter intervals and at maximum speed. Individual vehicles tore along at a furious speed as if along a corridor of fire. . . .

The highway is badly damaged, the city is covered in dust, like a milky fog, many blocks have been destroyed, and there are very few people on the streets. As I later found out, the population of Qandahar has fallen in these years by almost 50 percent.