July 25, 2012 / 1:54 PM / 7 years ago

Swords to ploughshares, abandoned Soviet tanks to steel bars

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - In an updated version of swords being beaten into ploughshares, caterpillar tracks belonging to abandoned Soviet-era tanks are being melted down into steel bars and used in west Afghanistan’s construction industry.

The tanks from Moscow’s decade-long war in Afghanistan wait under baking sunshine to be smelted at one of its few steel mills, a stark reminder of the humiliating end met by the Soviet forces more than 20 years ago.

Soviet-produced tracks make up about 2 percent of steel production at the Wardak Atawla factory in Herat in western Afghanistan, about 100 km (62 miles) east of the border with Iran.

“The Russians came here, ruined our country, and now their tanks sit in a scrap dump,” mill manager Azim Khan told Reuters as he stroked away sand with his sandal-clad feet from the tracks, which were stamped with Cyrillic letters.

“They are made of really good iron. It’s funny to see them sitting here now,”

The tracks were taken off the tanks scattered around the Herat landscape by locals looking for cash.

They belong to forces from the former Soviet Union, who pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 after defeat by mujahideen fighters, handing security over to a shaky government that was quickly beset by heavy fighting and civil war.

Comparisons are being frequently drawn to the current NATO-led war, and fears are surfacing amongst Afghans and analysts of a repeat.

When asked if he believed American armoured vehicles would end up in his scrapyard, Khan replied with a smirk: “Unfortunately we do not love peace in Afghanistan.”

The mill went on stream two months ago, producing rebar from scrap to feed Herat’s construction industry, which is enjoying a boom from better security and trade with neighboring Iran.

Beating swords to ploughshares refers to turning weapons of war to peaceful purposes.

(This story reinserted dropped word “by” in paragraph two)

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Nick Macfie

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