|About | Contact | Mongabay on Facebook | Mongabay on Twitter | Subscribe|
Afghanistan - GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
SINCE 1973 AFGHAN SOCIETY has experienced a series of shocks which has shattered its political institutions, devastated the physical infrastructure supporting its economy, decimated and scattered its population, and left open to question its prospects for government and even survival as a national community. There is no longer a monarchy presiding over a confederacy of Pushtun tribes and ruling over several culturally distinct minority communities. Political usurpation, foreign occupation, war and civil war have left Afghanistan in chaos, with a leadership incapable, so far, of initiating a process of recovery.
Intimately linked to Afghanistan's tragedy was the Soviet Union's collapse at the end of 1991. Its demise released the mostly Muslim peoples of Central Asia from the captivity of Cold War politics. Their governments have been freed from proxy service in superpower causes. European imperialist manipulation of the region which had shaped its politics since the early nineteenth century had suddenly come to an end.
Afghans now confront neighbors who are awakening to new opportunities. Afghans struggle with the irony that the anarchy which has followed their successful defiance of a superpower could lead to their dissolution as a nation. Interference by neighbors became a major factor in Afghan politics before the Soviet military withdrawal. It became profoundly destabilizing with the collapse of the Kabul Marxist regime in 1992.
Afghanistan's vulnerability to fragmentation has since become acute. Its internal rivalries have become increasingly identified with regional communities which it shares with neighboring nations. Every kilometer of its borders is a product of British or tsarist Russian imperial policy. The writ of those great powers having dissolved, such historical artifacts could also disappear in a new era of regional tumult and change. This chapter will focus on the forces and events which have led to Afghanistan's break with its past leaving it exposed to a profoundly uncertain future.
Many Afghans look back with nostalgia on the generation of modernization, democratization and diverse foreign assistance that began shortly after World War II. For the royal family and its retainers, the challenge was to expand government functions while retaining control after nearly a century of hard won political consolidation. By the early 1950s, the government presented an obvious paradox. Its authority was stronger than ever, but acquiescence was problematic among large sections of the population. Special immunities maintained the loyalty of the eastern Pushtun tribes. The Shia Hazaras of the central Hazarajat still resented the brutal suppression they had suffered at the end of the nineteenth century. A Tajik rebel had seized control of Kabul as recently as 1929. In 1947 a revolt of the Safi tribe of the Ghilzai confederation had to be suppressed.
These challenges to royal authority firmly fixed the attention of the government on internal security. Its primary objective was enforcement of credible coercion over all challengers. Army officers were frequently appointed governors of sensitive provinces. The Ministry of Interior, with its mostly Pushtun senior staff, maintained an authoritarian and arbitrary posture. Bureaucratic coercion was imposed in the autocratic manner adopted from Persian tradition. Government presence thus bordered on colonialism in the minority regions of the north, west and center.
Such a heavy emphasis on control seriously limited resources available for development. And, while it served to make official authority appear formidable, the segmented and inward looking features of Afghan society assured that the government's writ was actually shallow on matters of most concern to rural and nomadic Afghans. Traditional patriarchal, patrilinear organization of households, lineages and clans determined local arrangements for property control, division of labor, dispute settlement, and for physical security. Government authority was kept at arms length.
Despite its own tribal heritage, the royal leadership was a foreign entity to most of its fellow Pushtuns. Persianized in language and partially detribalized in marriage and social relations, the royal and administrative hierarchy was sensitive to its cultural isolation. Its strenuous effort to impose Pushtu as the working language of government on the Persian- (Dari-) speaking bureaucrats was an indication of the monarchy's anxiety to be identified with Pushtun roots and sentiment. Its dispute with Pakistan over Pushtunistan was another means of identifying with Pushtuns.
Within this condition of fierce appearance and shallow control ,Prime Minister Muhammad Daud and King Zahir Shah attempted to transform the structure and purpose of Afghan government. The most fateful innovation was Daud's decision to accept Soviet military assistance. This move would immensely increase the government's coercive powers, but at the risk of losing control of some military officers to Marxist indoctrination.
As prime minister, Daud maintained the royal style of ruling as an autocrat over a rigidly centralized bureaucracy, but he saw that significant economic and technological development required the broadening of educational, professional, and entrepreneurial opportunities previously monopolized by the royal family and court aristocracy. He also recognized the political implications of a rapidly growing professional and technocratic elite. He was the first royal leader to give major cabinet posts to commoners, for example.
His cousin, King Zahir Shah, then gambled that reforms offering a major political role to entrepreneurs, technocrats, professionals and managers could be devolved gradually without destroying the monarchy. This gamble turned out to be as portentous as Daud's acceptance of Soviet aid. In both cases the purpose was compelling, but implementation brought disaster. The consequences of both moves have demonstrated how fragile was the political fabric that held Afghanistan together.
Great physical developments were achieved under Daud. Dominated by the Soviet Union, the government began large scale constructions projects in the mid-1950s, building hydroelectric power plants, long-distance highways, and major civil installations. Shortly thereafter the United States, Western European nations, Japan, and United Nations (UN) agencies became heavily involved in the development of mining, agriculture, education, civil administration, and health.
Zahir Shah replaced his cousin in 1963 with a cabinet of commoners who had earned doctorates abroad. He appointed a committee of other foreign educated Afghans to draft a new constitution. Its primary goals were to prepare the government and the people for gradual movement toward democracy and socio-economic modernization. The central concern of government was to shift from controlling the population to preparing it for new opportunities.
After public review the constitution was put into effect in October, 1964. A Loya Jirgah (grand council of notables) had debated, modified and approved its innovations, which included a bill or rights for all Afghans, explicitly including women. A new parliament was created, dominated by its lower house (the Wolesi Jirgah), which was to be elected through universal suffrage. It had the power to reject royal appointments to the cabinet and to dismiss it by a vote of no confidence. Laws passed by parliament were to have constitutional precedence over traditional Islamic law (the Sharia). Parliament was to meet regularly, not at royal pleasure as before. It could refuse budget increases, but could not reduce appropriations below the level of the previous year. Its members had control over the organization of parliament and enjoyed legal immunity for what they said in debate. Members had the right to form political parties, but their formation required legislation acceptable to the cabinet and, hence, the king.
Bold as its innovations were compared with the functional autocracy it replaced, the constitution was filled with provisions intended to assure that the royal government would not lose control. A wide constitutional gulf separated the cabinet from the parliament. The cabinet was to exercise the monarch's powers, including the initiation of all government policy and the invocation of emergency decrees. Cooperation between officials and legislators, integral to classical parliamentary systems, was discouraged. Legislators were prohibited from holding ministerial or other executive positions. The cabinet was assured control over the composition of the Meshrano Jirgah, the parliament's upper house.
Judicial restructuring and elective provincial councils were endorsed, but the constitution did not prescribe their structure or working arrangements. The failure to spell out a complete structure for the government leant a provisional character to the constitution. At least seventy articles required parliamentary legislation in order for them to take effect.
The constitution's democratic features were especially provisional. Ample authority was retained for the executive branch to slow, halt or reverse legislation. Nor was caution only displayed toward would-be overweening legislators. The most notorious provision in the constitution was its prohibition of official or political activity by any member of the royal family other than the monarch. The implications of this clause would soon haunt the constitutionalists. No means was provided for an increasingly restless Muhammad Daud to return to power without nullifying the constitution.
Shortly after its enactment, the vulnerability of the constitution to political realities became dramatically clear. The adversary relationship it created between the cabinet and the parliament brought about tragedy and an serious loss of political momentum. In October 1965, following the election of the new legislature, an impasse over its approval of the new cabinet brought about rioting and intervention by the army leading to the death of at least three student demonstrators. All sides were appalled except the leftist agitators who were led by Marxist legislators. The proposed cabinet was withdrawn, a reshuffled one under the leadership of Muhammad Hashim Maiwandwal, a senior diplomat, was approved with little opposition. Officials and legislators were faced with running the new system with hopes considerably dampened.
The liberal or constitutional experiment, which lasted for the next eight years, has been generally seen as a political failure. The cabinet and legislature were constantly deadlocked, unable to enact laws vital to the constitution or seriously weakening it through long delays. Legislators proved to be effective critics of the bureaucracy, which responded by holding back legislation to avoid scrutiny or lengthy disputes.
There was a wide social and cultural gap between the legislators and senior ministry officials. Few of the former had had the exposure to the modern education and foreign experience enjoyed by senior ministry officials. More than 90 percent of the Wolesi Jirgah members represented rural constituencies. Legislators had the right to lobby ministers and senior bureaucrats directly. Doing so was more rewarding than dealing with middle rank provincial officials who had less authority and information. The constitution discouraged executive-legislative cooperation on policy, but it did not prevent the give and take of patronage.
Toward the end of the constitutional period, the Wolesi Jirgah became increasingly critical of the government. In May 1972 the incoming cabinet was subjected to nineteen days of denunciation of the previous cabinet before it was given grudging approval. Despite a heavy backlog of bills, foreign loan agreements, budgets and treaties, it found a quorum only once in two months in the autumn session of 1972. In its final session (Spring 1973), it reached a quorum once in eighty-two days.
Such legislative failures were crucial to the demise of the constitutional effort. The Jirgah's recalcitrance seriously affected the morale and discipline of the bureaucracy. In an atmosphere of contention both sides became increasingly frustrated and corrupt.
Government performance was unpromising in other areas. Economic development was moving from construction projects to more advanced operational phases. Afghan government departments and industrial units found the transition difficult. Productivity failed to keep up with the infusion of foreign money, bringing serious inflation to Kabul in the early 1970s.
As the rural population became increasingly aware of the concentration of modern facilities and industry in Kabul and a few other cities, signs of resentment assumed political importance. This mood changed to widespread anger when the government failed to respond promptly and adequately to a drought which ravaged the Hazarajat and much of northern Afghanistan in 1970-72. The experiment in democracy had brought few benefits to the most Afghans while economic opportunities and profits from corruption appeared to be monopolized by the elite.
Discontent was especially intense among the rapidly growing numbers of secondary and university students. Between 1967 and 1972 the number of secondary schools increased from forty to approximately 200. A much wider segment of rural and small town youth was graduating from the middle schools beneath them. By 1973 the number of secondary school graduates far exceeded the openings to higher education available at the university, the teacher training colleges, or the various technical institutions.
Previously, the rural population had been content with informal, largely religious, instruction offered by resident mullahs,which produced rudimentary literacy at best. By the late 1960s,villages throughout Afghanistan were volunteering materials and labor to construct school buildings and were clamoring for the government to send teachers. Education had become identified with upward social mobility.
In the early 1970s,the products of this burgeoning system were mostly converging on Kabul. The revolution in expectations had suddenly created a marginalized class which was unemployed or forced to accept work far beneath its expectations. Embitterment changed many students and graduates into recruits for radical and protest movements.
Marxist critiques of the constitutional experiment quickly appeared. In 1966 a newspaper published by the newly formed communist party branded the reforms an attempt to co-opt the expanding educated elite so that the monarchy could to retain power. Activist students on the Kabul University campus organized informal political and study groups that ran the spectrum from Maoism to the Islamist views of the Muslim Brotherhood. By 1970 the strongest of these had become well organized. The Marxists were foreign funded and advised. Led by a medical student, Najibullah (later to be president of the Marxist government), they took control of the student government. In the early 1970s, they lost it to their militant Muslim rivals.
Both sides opposed the government, and both movements flourished on the anxieties of students for whom jobs were suddenly scarce. Both also saw the political establishment as a corrupt impediment to their own opportunities, and both demanded radical changes in the structure of political power.
These problems and growing resentments gave Zahir Shah ample reason to doubt the viability of the constitutional experiment. His attempt to broaden and liberalize government had created growing opposition. It had not brought about a visible improvement in government performance, especially in planning and implementing development. Foreign assistance was declining--the Arab oil boom that brought new funding was still in the future. Sooner or later the survival of the government would again depend upon effective coercion. Zahir Shah had never directly associated himself with that side of statecraft.
At the end of 1972 Zahir Shah named a close protege, Muhammad Moussa Shafiq, to be his prime minister. Bright, ambitious and apparently given royal encouragement to energize the flagging constitutional system, Shafiq appeared to breathe new life in the government during the first months of his term. He courted the legislature, giving time to testify before its committees and lobby its senior officers. His cabinet was approved without opposition. The Jirgah passed his two major legislative priorities, the Helmand Waters Treaty with Iran and authorization of an industrial development bank, which had languished in parliament for years. Shafiq opened his government to the press, providing substantive information on a daily basis. He did not introduce policy innovations, concentrating on demonstrating that the political logjam that had accumulated during the constitutional period could be cleared, that open government could work.
Shafiq also emphatically associated himself with the king, mostly through a flurry of press releases on their meetings and social engagements. Yet, in May, 1973 a few days before the legislature approved the Helmand Treaty, in a public speech he expressed doubts about solving Afghanistan's problems. Indirect evidence suggests he was aware that he had lost Zahir Shah's support. The treaty had generated criticism that the government had made concessions to Iran that would adversely affect Afghan farmers. It was an insinuation that affected popular opinion of the king.
Several weeks earlier a schedule for the third parliamentary elections had been announced for late summer. It came with no reference to an approval by the king of the political parties bill which had long since passed the legislature. Shafiq had lobbied hard for approval of the bill. Through his highly public use of his office, he had positioned himself to campaign actively for legislators who had supported his programs. Availability of a party organization would have greatly strengthened such an effort. With the king's refusal to act on the bill, Shafiq had good reason to believe that Zahir Shah had turned to other political options.
In July, 1973 the king took a vacation, partially for medical treatment, in Italy. While there he was ousted by his cousin, Daud, who made comfortable arrangements for his exile. Government would once again shift its priorities toward coercion.
The July 1973 coup d'etat ended 226 years of royal rule controlled by the Durrani tribal confederacy. The coup was uncontested, apparently popular, and almost benignly bloodless. Popular acceptance was partially tied to the continuity which Daud's leadership appeared to offer even though he had become politically associated with Marxists. He was seen by many as a forceful leader and a known factor after a decade of dashed hopes for a viable constitutional monarchy.
Daud was compelled to concentrate much of his energy on getting rid of his Marxist allies who had made the coup possible by penetrating the military officer corps. These erstwhile allies were members of the Parcham faction of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). They had expected to share power and then get rid of Daud. They also had scores to settle with the Islamic militants they had fought against at the national university and the politicians who had served in Zahir Shah's constitutional government. Hundreds of members of the Ikwani Musalamin (Muslim Brotherhood, also known in Afghanistan as the Muslim Youth), were arrested--many were later executed. Former Prime Minister Muhammad Hashim Maiwandwal was murdered by Parchami henchmen while in police custody for alleged involvement in a coup attempt.
By 1975 Daud had moved carefully to purge the Marxists from his cabinet. In 1977 he attempted to consolidate his position by promulgating a new constitution which concentrated power in his presidency and channeled popular support through a single party system. Under some Soviet and Indian communist pressure, the Afghan Marxists interrupted their factional feuding long enough to unite in an attempt to overthrow Daud's government. Incensed by Daud's foreign policy shift away from them, the Soviets made clear to the Afghan Marxists their willingness to see Daud removed. He had moved close to Iran, Pakistan and Egypt (after Sadat had reconciled with Israel).
Having isolated himself from the liberals who had served the king and the Islamic militants he had persecuted, Daud had to rely heavily on his security and military forces to stay in power. The Marxists effectively penetrated them. As a result his efforts to prevent a coup were bungled. While most of the armed forces stood aside, Marxist collaborators in the army and the air force launched an assault on Daud's palace that overwhelmed his Republican Guards.
With Muhammad Daud's death, the government of Afghanistan was run by a divided, dilettante Marxist clique that launched a train of events eventually leading to the disintegration of the state. They named their regime the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA).
The "Saur Revolution," as the new government grandiloquently labeled its coup d'etat (after the month in the Islamic calendar in which it occurred), was almost entirely the achievement of the Khalq faction of the PDPA. This success gave it effective control over the armed forces, a great advantage over its Parchami rival. Khalq's victory was partially due to Daud's miscalculation that Parcham was the more serious threat. Parcham's leaders had enjoyed widespread connections within the senior bureaucracy and even the royal family and the most privileged elite. These linkages also tended to make their movements easy to trace.
Khalq, on the other hand ,had not been involved in Daud's government, had little connection with Kabul's Persian speaking elite, and a rustic reputation based on recruitment of students from the provinces. Most of them were Pushtuns, especially the Ghilzais. They had few apparent connections in the senior bureaucracy, many had taken jobs as school teachers. Khalq's influence at Kabul University was also limited.
These newcomers to Kabul had seemed poorly positioned to penetrate the government. Moreover, they were led by the erratic Muhammad Taraki, a poet, sometime minor official, and a publicly notorious radical. Confident that his military officers were reliable, Daud must have discounted the diligence of Taraki's lieutenant, Hafizullah Amin, who had sought out dissident Pushtun officers. The bungling of Amin's arrest, which enabled him to trigger the coup ahead of its planned date, also suggests Khalq's penetration of Daud's security police.
The plotters carried out a bold and sophisticated plan. It employed the shock effect of a combined armored and air assault on the Arg or palace, the seat of Daud's highly centralized government. Seizure of the initiative demoralized the larger loyal or uncommitted forces nearby. Quick capture of telecommunications, the defense ministry and other strategic centers of authority isolated Daud's stubbornly resisting palace guard.
The coup was by far Khalq's most successful achievement. So much so, that a considerable literature has accumulated arguing that it must have been planned and executed by the KGB, or some special branch of the Soviet military. Given the friction that soon developed between Khalq and Soviet officials, especially over the purging of Parcham, Soviet control of the coup seems unlikely. Prior knowledge of it does appear to have been highly likely. Claims that Soviet pilots bombed the palace overlook the availability of seasoned Afghan pilots.
Political leadership of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was asserted within three days of the military takeover. After thirteen years of conspiratorial activity, the two factions of the PDPA emerged in public, refusing at first, to admit their Marxist credentials. Khalq's dominance was quickly apparent. Taraki became president, prime minister and General Secretary of the PDPA. Parcham's leader, Babrak Karmal, and Amin were named deputy prime ministers. Cabinet membership was split eleven to ten , with Khalq in the majority. Khalq dominated the Revolutionary Council, which was to serve as the ruling body of the government. Within weeks purges of Parcham began, and by summer Khalq's somewhat bewildered Soviet patrons became aware of how difficult it would be temper its radicalism. The destruction of Afghanistan's former ruling elite had begun immediately after the seizure of power. Execution (Parcham leaders later claimed at least 11,000 during the Taraki/Amin period), flight into exile, and later the devastation of Kabul itself would literally remove the great majority of the some 100,000 who had come to form Afghanistan's elite and middle class. Their loss has almost completely broken the continuity of Afghanistan's leadership, political institutions and their social foundation.
The Khalq leadership proved incapable of filling this vacuum. Its brutal and clumsy attempts to introduce radical changes in control over agricultural land holding and credit, rural social relations, marriage and family arrangements, and education led to scattered protests and uprisings among all major communities in the Afghan countryside. Taraki and Amin left a legacy of turmoil and resentment which gravely compromised later Marxist attempts to win popular acceptance.
Despite its fatal weaknesses, the DRA generated a remarkable political process during its short history. When Babrak Karmal was installed as head of state by invading Soviet forces at the beginning of 1980, his government faced crippling disabilities. Installation by a foreign power prevented popular acceptance of the legitimacy of his government. Even though the Parchamis, themselves, had been among the groups most viciously persecuted by the Khalqis, their identification with Marxism and Soviet repression was not forgiven. Indeed, the decimation of their members forced the Soviets to insist on reconciliation between the two factions. The purging of Parchamis had left the military forces so dominated by Khalqis that the Soviets had no choice but to rely upon Khalqi officers to rebuild the army.
Soviet miscalculation of what was required to crush Afghan resistance further aggravated the government's situation. The Afghan army was expected to carry the burden of suppressing opposition, which was to be done quickly with Soviet support. As the war of pacification dragged on for years, the Babrak Karmal government was further weakened by the poor performance of its army.
Government was reconstructed in classical Leninist fashion. Until 1985 it was governed by a provisional constitution, "The Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan." Supreme sovereignty was vested in a Revolutionary Council, originally a body of fifty-eight members whose number later varied. Its executive committee, the Presidium, exercised power when the council was not in formal session.
The Revolutionary Council was presided over by the president of the Democratic Republic. Its powers included ratification of legislation and treaties; official appointments; declarations of war and military emergencies; the creation of new government agencies; and approval of social and economic policies.
Beneath the council the cabinet functioned under a Prime Minister, essentially in a format inherited from the pre-Marxist era. Two new ministries were added: Islamic Affairs and Tribes and Nationalities. Administrative arrangements for provincial and sub-provincial government were also retained.
In Leninist style, the PDPA was closely juxtaposed with the formal instruments of government. Its authority was generated by its Central Committee, whose executive stand-in was its Politburo. Presiding over both was the party's secretary general. Policy generation was the primary function of the executive level of the party, which was to be carried out by its members serving throughout the government.
In attempts to broaden support, the PDPA created organizations and launched political initiatives intended to induce popular participation. The most ambitious was the National Fatherland Front (NFF), founded in June 1981. This umbrella organization created local units in cities, towns and tribal areas which were to recruit supporters of the regime. Village and tribal notables were offered inducements to participate in well publicized rallies and programs. The party also gave affiliated organizations that enrolled women, youth and city workers high profile exposure in national radio, television, and government publications.
From its beginnings in the mid-1960s, the membership of the PDPA had taken keen interest in the impact of information and propaganda. Some years after their own publications had been terminated by government, they gained control of all official media. These were energetically harnessed to their propaganda goals. Anis, the mainline government newspaper (published in Pashtu and Dari), the Kabul New Times (previously the Kabul Times), published in English, and such new publications as Haqiqat-i-Inqelab-i-Saur exhibited the regime's flair for propaganda. With Kabul as its primary constituency, it also made innovative use of television.
The early efforts at mobilizing popular support were later followed up by national meetings and assemblies, eventually using a variation of the model of the traditional Loya Jirgah to entice the cooperation of rural secular leaders and religious authorities. A large scale Loya Jirgah was held in 1985 to ratify the DRA's new constitution.
These attempts to win collaboration were closely coordinated with efforts to manipulate Pushtun tribal politics. Such efforts included trying to split or disrupt tribes who affiliated with the resistance, or by compromising notables into commitments to raise militia forces in service to the government.
A concerted effort was made to win over the principal minorities: Uzbeq, Turkoman, and Tajik, in northern Afghanistan. For the first time their languages and literatures were prominently broadcast and published by government media. Minority writers and poets were championed ,and attention was given to their folk art, music, dance and lore.
As the Afghan-Soviet war became more destructive, internal refugees flocked to Kabul and the largest of the provincial cities. Varying estimates (no authentic census was taken) put Kabul's population at more than 2 million by the late 1980s. In many instances villagers fled to Kabul and other towns to join family or lineage groups already established there.
At least 3, perhaps 4, million Afghans were thus subject to government authority and hence exposed to PDPA recruitment or affiliation. Its largest membership claim was 160,000, starting from a base of between 5,000 and 10,000 immediately after the Soviet invasion. How many members were active and committed was unclear, but the lure of perquisites, for example, food and fuel at protected prices, compromised the meaning of membership. Claims of membership in the NFF ran into the millions, but its core activists were mostly party members. When it was terminated in 1987, the NFF disappeared without impact
The PDPA was also never able to rid itself of internal rivalries. Burdened by obvious evidence that the Soviets oversaw its policies, actively dominated the crucial sectors of its government, and literally ran the war, the PDPA could not assert itself as a political force until after the Soviets left. In the civil war period that followed, it gained significant respect, but its internal disputes worsened.
Born divided, the PDPA suffered virtually continuous conflict between its two major factions. The Soviets imposed a public truce upon Parcham and Khalq, but the rivalry continued with hostility and disagreement frequently rising to the surface. Generally, Parcham enjoyed political dominance, while Khalq could not be denied the leverage over the army held by its senior officers. It was a marriage necessary for survival.
Social, linguistic, and regional origins and differing degrees of Marxist radicalism had spurred factionalism from the beginning. When Soviet forces invaded, there was a fifteen-year history of disagreement, dislike, rivalry, violence and murder. Each new episode added further alienation. Events also tended to sub-divide the protagonists. Amin's murder of Taraki divided the Khalqis. Rival military cliques divided the Khalqis further.
Parchamis suffered a series of splits when the Soviets insisted on replacing Karmal with Najibullah as head of the PDPA in 1986. The PDPA was riven by divisions which prevented implementation of policies and compromised its internal security. These fundamental weaknesses were partially masked by the urgency of rallying for common survival in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal. Yet, after military successes rifts again began to surface.
Factionalism had a critical impact on the leadership of the PDPA. Najibullah's achievements as a mediator between factions, an effective diplomat, a clever foe, a resourceful administrator and a brilliant spokesman who coped with constant and changing turmoil throughout his six years as head of government, qualified him as a leader among Afghans. His leadership qualities might be summarized as conciliatory authoritarianism: a sure sense of power, how to get it, how to use it, but mediated by willingness to give options to rivals. This combination was glaringly lacking in most of his colleagues and rivals.
Najibullah suffered, to a lesser degree, the same disadvantage that Karmal had when he was installed as General Secretary of the PDPA by the Soviets. Despite Soviet interference and his own frustration and discouragement over the failure to generate substantial popular support, Karmal still had retained enough loyalty within the party to remain in office. This fact was shown by the fierceness of the resistance to Najibullah's appointment within the Parcham faction. This split persisted, forcing Najibullah to straddle his politics between whatever Parchami support he could maintain and alliances he could win from the Khalqis.
Najibullah's reputation was that of a secret police apparatchik with especially effective skills in disengaging Ghilzai and eastern Pushtuns from the resistance. Najibullah was himself a Ghilzai from the large Ahmedzai tribe. His selection by the Soviets was clearly related to his success in running KHAD, the secret police, more effectively than the rest of the DRA had been governed. His appointment thus, was not principally the result of intra-party politics. It was related to crucial changes in the Soviet-Afghan war that would lead to the Soviet military withdrawal.
These changes in the war came at the peak of the fighting. In 1985-86 Soviet forces launched their largest and most effective assaults on the mujahidin supply lines adjacent to Pakistan. Major campaigns had also forced the mujahidin into the defensive near Herat and Qandahar.
At the same time a sharp increase in military support for the mujahidin from the United States and Saudi Arabia allowed it to regain the guerilla war initiative. By late August 1986, the first Stinger ground-to-air missiles were used successfully. For nearly a year they would deny the Soviets and the Kabul government effective use of air power.
These shifts in momentum reinforced the inclination of the new Gorbachev government to view further escalation of the war as a misuse of Soviet political and military capital. Such doubts had developed prior to the decision to install Najibullah. In April 1985, one month after Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the Soviet leadership, its May Day greeting to the Kabul government failed to refer to its "revolutionary solidarity" with the PDPA, a signal in Marxist-Leninist rhetoric that their relationship had been downgraded. Several months later, Karmal suggested the inclusion of non-party members in the Revolutionary Council and the promotion of a "mixed economy." These tentative concessions toward non-Marxists won Soviet praise, but divergence in policy became obvious at the Twenty-Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1986. Gorbachev's "bleeding wound" speech hinted at a decision to withdraw "in the nearest future." In his own speech Karmal made no reference to withdrawal. In early May he was replaced by Najibullah.
Najibullah was obliged to move toward the evolving Soviet position with great caution. Karmal's followers could use any concessions to non-Marxists or acceptance of a Soviet withdrawal against him. Accordingly, he moved in conflicting directions, insisting there was no room for non-Marxists in government, only offering the possibility of clemency to "bandits" who had been duped by Mujahidin leaders into resisting the government. In addition to air strikes and shelling across the border, KHAD terrorist activity in Pakistan reached its peak under Najibullah.
Late in 1986 Najibullah had stabilized his political position enough to begin matching Moscow's moves toward withdrawal. In September he set up the National Compromise Commission to contact counterrevolutionaries "in order to complete the Saur Revolution in its new phase." Allegedly some 40,000 rebels were contacted. In November Karmal was replaced as now-ceremonial president by a non-party member, Haji Muhammad Samkanai, signaling the PDPA's willingness to open government to non-Marxists.
At the end of 1986 Najibullah unveiled a program of "National Reconciliation." It offered a six-month cease-fire and discussions leading to a possible coalition government in which the PDPA would give up its government monopoly. Contact was to be made with "anti-state armed groups." Affiliation was suggested, allowing resistance forces to retain areas under their control.
In fact much of the substance of the program was happening on the ground in the form of negotiations with disillusioned mujahidin commanders who agreed to cooperate as government militia. The mujahidin leadership rhetorically claimed that the program had no chance for success. For his part Najibullah assured his followers that there would be no compromise over "the accomplishments" of the Saur Revolution. It remained a standoff. While a strenuous propaganda effort was directed at the both the Afghan refugees and Pakistanis in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, the program was essentially a sop to Moscow's hope to tie a favorable political settlement to its desire to pull its forces out.
Najibullah's concrete achievements were the consolidation of his armed forces, the expansion of co-opted militia forces and the acceptance of his government by an increasing proportion of urban population under his control. As a propaganda ploy "National Reconciliation" was a means of gaining time to prepare for civil war after the Soviet departure.
By the beginning of 1987, the controlling fact in the Afghan war was the Soviet Union's determination to withdraw. It would not renege on its commitment to the Kabul government's survival--Gorbachev's options were restricted by Soviet military insistence that Kabul not be abandoned. Nevertheless, the Soviet leadership was convinced that resolution of cold war issues with the West and internal reform were far more urgent than the fate of the Kabul government.
Conveniently, a formula was readily available for minimizing the humiliation of reversing a policy in which enormous political, material, and human capital had been invested. In 1982 under the auspices of the office of its secretary general, the UN had initiated negotiations facilitating a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Its format had essentially been agreed upon by 1985. Ostensibly it was the product of indirect negotiations between the DRA and Pakistan (Pakistan did not recognize the DRA) with the mediation of the secretary general's special representative, Diego Cordovez. The United States and the Soviet Union had committed themselves to guaranteeing the implementation of an agreement leading to a withdrawal.
Both the format and the substance of the agreement were designed to be acceptable to the Soviet Union and the DRA. Its clauses included affirmation of the sovereignty of Afghanistan and its right to self-determination, its right to be free from foreign intervention or interference, and the right of its refugees to a secure and honorable return. But at its core was an agreement reached in May 1988 that authorized the withdrawal of "foreign troops" according to a timetable that would remove all Soviet forces by February 15, 1989.
The accords emerged from initiatives by Moscow and Kabul in 1981. They had claimed that Soviet forces had entered Afghanistan in order to protect it from foreign forces intervening on the side of rebels attempting to overthrow the DRA. The logic of the Geneva Accords was based on this accusation, that is, that once the foreign threat to Afghanistan was removed, the forces of its friend, the Soviet Union, would leave. For that reason a bilateral agreement between Pakistan, which was actively supporting the resistance, and the DRA prohibiting intervention and interference between them was essential. In meticulous detail each party agreed to terminate any act that could remotely effect the sovereignty or security of the other. This agreement included preventing an expatriate or a refugee from publishing a statement which his/her government could construe as a contribution to unrest within its territory. The bilateral agreement between the Afghanistan and Pakistan on the principles of non-interference and non-intervention was signed on April 14, 1988.
The accords thus facilitated a withdrawal by an erstwhile superpower, in a manner which justified an invasion. They exemplify the delicacy of UN diplomacy when the interests of a great power are engaged. In essence, the accords were a political bailout for a government struggling with the consequences of a costly error. The UN could not insist that accusations of national culpability were relevant to the negotiations. In the case of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union insisted on its own diplomatic terms as did the United States in a different manner concerning Vietnam.
The accords did not bring peace to Afghanistan. There was little expectation among its enemies or the Soviet Union that the Kabul government would survive. Its refusal to collapse introduced a three-year period of civil war.
The Geneva process failed to prevent the further carnage which a political solution among Afghans might have prevented or lessened. It failed partially because the Geneva process prevented participation by the Afghan resistance. The DRA occupied Afghanistan's seat at the UN General Assembly. Denied recognition, the resistance leadership resented the central role that DRA was permitted to play at Geneva. When Cordovez approached the Mujahidin parties to discuss a possible political settlement in February 1988--more than five years after negotiations began--they were not interested. Their bitterness would hover over subsequent efforts to find a political solution.
Considerable diplomatic energy was expended throughout 1987 to find a political compromise that would end the fighting before the Soviets left. While Pakistan, the Soviet Union and the DRA haggled over a timetable for the Soviet withdrawal, Cordovez worked on a formula for an Afghan government that would reconcile the combatants. The formula involved Zahir Shah, and by extension, the leading members of his former government, most of whom had gone into exile. This approach also called for a meeting in the Loya Jirgah tradition representing all Afghan protagonists and communities. It was to reach a consensus on the features of a future government. The Jirgah also was to select a small group of respected leaders to act as a transitional government in place of the Kabul government and the mujahidin. During the transition a new constitution was to be promulgated and elections conducted leading to the installation of a popularly accepted government. This package kept reemerging in modified forms throughout the civil war that followed. Suggested roles for the king and his followers slipped into and out of these formulas, despite the implacable opposition of most of the mujahidin leaders.
The peace prospect faltered because no credible consensus was attainable. By mid-1987 the resistance forces sensed a military victory. They had stymied what proved to be the last set of major Soviet offensives, the Stinger missiles were still having a devastating effect, and they were receiving an unprecedented surge of outside assistance. Defeat of the Kabul government was their solution for peace. This confidence, sharpened by their distrust of the UN virtually guaranteed their refusal of a political compromise.
Pakistan was the only protagonist in a position to convince the mujahidin otherwise. Its intimate relationship with the parties it hosted had shaped their war and their politics. Their dependence on Pakistan for armaments, training, funding and sanctuary had been nearly total. But by 1987, the politics of Pakistan's foreign policy had fragmented. The Foreign Ministry was working with Diego Cordovez to devise a formula for a "neutral" government. President Zia ul Haq was adamantly convinced that a political solution favoring the mujahidin was essential and worked strenuously to convince the United States and the Soviet Union. Riaz Muhammad Khan argues that disagreement within the military and with Zia's increasingly independent prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, deflected Zia's efforts. When Gorbachev announced a Soviet withdrawal without a peace settlement at his Washington meeting with President Reagan on December 10, 1987, the chance for a political agreement was lost. All the protagonists were then caught up in the rush to complete the Geneva process.
In the end the Soviets were content to leave the possibilities of reconciliation to Najibullah and to shore him up with massive material support. He had made an expanded reconciliation offer to the resistance in July, 1987 including twenty seats in State (formerly Revolutionary) Council, twelve ministries and a possible prime ministership and Afghanistan's status as a Muslim, nonaligned state. Military, police, and security powers were not mentioned. The offer still fell far short of what even the moderate mujahidin parties would accept.
Najibullah then reorganized his government to face the mujahidin alone. A new constitution took effect in November, 1987. Afghanistan was renamed a republic, the State Council was replaced by a National Assembly for which "progressive parties" could freely compete. Mir Hussein Sharq, a non-party politician, was named prime minister. Najibullah's presidency was given Gaulist powers and longevity. He was promptly elected to a seven-year term. On paper, Afghan government appeared far more democratic than Daud had left it, but its popular support remained questionable.
The Soviets left Afghanistan deep in winter with intimations of panic among Kabul officials. Hard experience had convinced Soviet officials that the government was too faction riven to survive. Pakistani and American officials expected a quick mujahidin victory. The resistance was poised to attack provincial towns and cities and eventually Kabul, if necessary. The first one to fall might produce a ripple effect that would unravel the government.
Within three months, these expectations were dashed at Jalalabad. An initial assault penetrated the city's defenses and reached its airport. A counterattack, supported by effective artillery and air power, drove the mujahidin back. Uncoordinated attacks on the city from other directions failed. The crucial supply road to the garrison from Kabul was reopened. By May 1989 it was clear that the Kabul forces in Jalalabad had held.
The Mujahidin were traumatized by this failure. It exposed their inability to coordinate tactical movements or logistics or to maintain political cohesion. During the next three years, they were unable to overcome these limitations. Only one significant provincial capital (Taloqan) was captured and held. Mujahidin positions were expanded in the northeast and around Herat, but their inability to mass forces capable of overcoming a modern army with the will to fight from entrenched positions was clear. A deadly exchange of medium-range rockets became the principal form of combat, embittering the urban population, and adding to the obstacles that prevented millions of refugees from returning.
Victory at Jalalabad dramatically revived the morale of the Kabul government. Its army proved able to fight effectively alongside the already the hardened troops of the Soviet-trained special security forces. Defections decreased dramatically when it became apparent that the resistance was in disarray, with no capability for a quick victory. The change in atmosphere made
recruitment of militia forces much easier. As many as 30,000 troops were assigned to the defense of Herat alone.
Immediately after the Soviet departure, Najibullah pulled down the fašade of shared government. He declared an emergency, removed Sharq and the other non-party ministers from the cabinet. The Soviet Union responded with a flood of military and economic supplies. Sufficient food and fuel were made available for the next two difficult winters. Much of the military equipment belonging to Soviet units evacuating Eastern Europe was shipped to Afghanistan. Assured adequate supplies, Kabul's air force, which had developed tactics minimizing the threat from Stinger missiles, now deterred mass attacks against the cities. Medium-range missiles, particularly the SCUD, were successfully launched from Kabul in the defense of Jalalabad, 145 kilometers miles away. One reached the suburbs of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, more than 400 kilometers away. Soviet support reached a value of $3 billion per year in 1990. Kabul had achieved a stalemate which exposed the mujahidin's weaknesses, political and military.
Resistance to the Kabul Marxists and Soviet occupation forces came from the virtually all sectors of the Afghan population, but overwhelmingly from the rural communities. Cultural, historical and religious factors combined to make the reaction chaotic, but persistent and effective.
Centralized government and foreign authority has been consistently and often successfully resisted by Afghanistan's physically and demographically segmented society. For the vast majority of the population, all communities are alien except those directly known. The narrow confines of mountainous valleys, isolated oases, and tribal lineages kept them separated from each other. Social institutions generally reinforced the niche pattern of the forbidding landscape. Distinct religious and social codes, authority structures, and economic arrangements fostered inward looking mentalities which favored survival in a harsh physical environment.
Political changes over the past century have lessened Afghanistan's fragmentation. Noncoercive interactions from travel, trade, resettlement, educational opportunity, and economic diversification had begun to open social networks beyond the family, lineage, village and valley. Suspicion of government was softening as services began to complement coercion, but the institutions and beliefs sustaining resistance remained firmly in place. Political autonomy from central government buffered by the mediating functions of local notables remained the norm of experience for most Afghans. Consequently, when abrupt political change at the center brought sudden, unwelcome interference, the reaction was widespread and varied, but often violent. When the Soviets invaded, there were no large formations of rebels converging on the capital. Reactions against the Marxists had been local. Connections with the police and civil authorities which linked them to the capital had been severed. Repression of such an atomized rebellion required crushing resistance everywhere. Ultimately, that is why Soviet repression failed, but the process that enabled chaotic, isolated resistance to prevail also destroyed the delicate fabric of Afghanistan as a national community that had been tentatively woven in the previous two generations.
Among the most serious of the casualties has been the loss of a large segment of the elite and middle class which had begun to think and act nationally. Many were lost in the orgy of political murder at the outset of the Saur Revolution. More escaped to permanent exile. Their loss was catastrophic. Perhaps worse was the alienation which accompanied it. Afghanistan's rural society saw betrayal in the behavior of school teachers, civil officials and exiled professionals. Afghanistan's experiment in modernization had brought disastrous politics and a foreign invasion of the countryside. The beneficiaries of modern opportunities had either perpetrated these evils or had fled seeking such opportunities elsewhere. Rage and resentment became serious barriers to reconciliation between the rural majority and what was left of the urban elite.
Islam was the most powerful common denominator shared by Afghanistan's isolated communities throughout the violation and betrayal. The line seemed clearly drawn between the traitors with their atheist patrons and those whose lives and way of life were threatened. In a struggle where martyrdom became a central theme, transcendental faith offered meaning and the hope of survival and vindication. The demands of inspiration called for a religious leadership. So long as the struggle remained intense those demands were met, certainly in symbol, and for many, in substance. But, when a remarkable victory was achieved, the demands changed. Failure, loss and disillusionment had to be coped with and the apparently inspired leaders proved all too human. Given Afghanistan's experience and segmented society, the mujahidin leadership was asked and apparently expected itself to fulfill the incredible task of governing a society which had lost whatever faith it had in government. Its performance must be measured against the task it has faced. When the government led by Najibullah collapsed in 1992, Afghanistan would be left with a political vacuum.
Afghanistan's resistance movement, the Mujahidin (holy warriors), was born in chaos, spread and triumphed chaotically, and has not found a way to govern differently. Virtually all of its war was waged locally. As warfare became more sophisticated, outside support and regional coordination grew. Even so, the basic units of mujahidin organization and action continued to reflect the highly segmented nature of Afghan society.
In the course of the guerilla war, leadership came to be distinctively associated with the title, "commander." It applied to independent leaders, eschewing identification with elaborate military bureaucracy associated with such ranks as general. As the war produced leaders of reputation, "commander" was conferred on leaders of fighting units of all sizes, signifying pride in independence, self-sufficiency, and distinct ties to local community. The title epitomized Afghan pride in their struggle against an overwhelmingly powerful foe. Segmentation of power and religious leadership were the two values evoked by nomenclature generated in the war. Neither had been favored in ideology of the former Afghan state.
Olivier Roy estimates that after four years of war there were at least 4,000 bases from which mujahidin units operated. Most of these were affiliated with the seven expatriate parties headquartered in Pakistan which served as sources of supply and varying degrees of supervision. Significant commanders typically led 300 or more men, controlled several bases and dominated a district or a sub-division of a province. Hierarchies of organization above the bases were attempted. Their operations varied greatly in scope, the most ambitious being achieved by Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Panjshir valley north of Kabul. He led at least 10,000 trained troops at the end of the Soviet war and had expanded his political control of Tajik dominated areas to Afghanistan's northeastern provinces under the Supervisory Council of the North.
Roy also describes regional, ethnic and sectarian variations in mujahidin organization. In the Pushtun areas of the east, south and southwest, tribal structure, with its many rival sub-divisions, provided the basis for military organization and leadership. Mobilization could be readily linked to traditional fighting allegiances of the tribal lashkar (fighting force). In favorable circumstances such formations could quickly reach more than 10,000, as happened when large Soviet assaults were launched in the eastern provinces, or when the mujahidin besieged towns, such as Khost in Paktia Province. But in campaigns of the latter type the traditional explosions of manpower--customarily common immediately after the completion of harvest--proved obsolete when confronted by well dug-in defenders with modern weapons. Lashkar durability was notoriously short; few sieges succeeded.
Mujihidin mobilization in non-Pushtun regions faced very different obstacles. Prior to the invasion few non-Pushtuns possessed firearms. Early in the war they were most readily available from army troops or gendarmerie who defected or were ambushed. The international arms market and foreign military support tended to reach the minority areas last.
In the northern regions little military tradition had survived upon which to build an armed resistance. Mobilization mostly came from political leadership closely tied to Islam.
Roy convincingly contrasts the social leadership of religious figures in the Persian and Turkish speaking regions of Afghanistan with that of the Pushtuns. Lacking a strong political representation in a state dominated by Pushtuns, minority communities commonly looked to pious learned or charismatically revered pirs (saints) for leadership. Extensive Sufi and maraboutic networks were spread through the minority communities, readily available as foundations for leadership, organization, communication and indoctrination. These networks also provided for political mobilization, which led to some of the most effective of the resistance operations during the war.
Political ingenuity and combat sophistication were largely attributable to the Islamists, often referred to as fundamentalists. By the end of the 1970s, some thousands of Afghan male students had graduated from government run madrasas, that is, higher level schools for Islamic study, roughly equivalent to secondary education. Other thousands had studied at Kabul University and the technical institutions that were clustered at there. Many retained or strengthened their faith in Islam during their studies (many of the others joined Khalq and Parcham). Most also had rural roots and had returned home in the aftermath of the Marxist takeover of Kabul. Their combination of religious belief and exposure to modern ideas and knowledge provided the basis for their unique contribution to the mujahidin cause.
Thus, not all Afghans with modern educations fled or served the Marxist government. Many in the rural sector of the emerging middle class contributed Islamist views of Afghanistan's predicament. Accepting the value of such features of modern civilization as natural science, technological innovation, economic progress and popular government, Islamists claimed that these achievements were compatible with Islam. They argued that Muslim morality was consistent with different human conditions and achievements and that there could be an Islamist way of applying modern forms of government and economic progress to Afghan society. Their vision, skills, and commitment were vital to the mujahidin cause. Many were among the most effective commanders. Others participated in the military and political arrangements linking fighting units to the expatriate parties. They also staffed the bureaucracies of those parties.
True to the nature of their society, Afghan Islamists did not reach a consensus on solving the riddle of Afghanistan's future. They also clashed with their more orthodox colleagues in the resistance. They offered informed leadership after usurpation, war and flight left the rural population without urban leadership.
Political parties did not exist in Afghanistan before the 1960s. Their organization and methods of operation were alien to Afghan political experience. Traditionally, power had been generated by primordial affiliations: dynastic patronage and spiritual charisma or social interactions within tribes, clans, lineages or villages. Implementation of power was hierarchical and authoritarian. Ascribed roles and customary practice determined how discussion was conducted and information evaluated and who made decisions and carried them out. Tribal jirgahs permitted vigorous arguments, but consensus was reached through inherited procedures.
Royal authority was remote from most Afghans. The qawm, their most cohesive and intimate group, exercised much more immediate authority over each member. It was the primary source of identity and affiliation. Roy has argued that the authority of the qawm renders interactions outside of it secondary and hence without validity should a conflict with qawm interests arise. Outside interactions are seen as opportunities for aggrandizing the qawm such as winning favors from a government official or robbing a passing traveler. In such a cultural environment, the players lack the autonomy to play by rules that enable parties to function, such as openness to persuasion, tolerance of overlapping loyalties, discipline based on acquired convictions, freedom to join and to leave groups that exercise power, etc.
It has been widely noted that members of Khalq differed from Parchamis more on account of their Ghilzai or Eastern Pushtun cultural identity than because of their greater ideological radicalism. Recruitment of party activists based on traditionally ascribed affiliations tended to make the parties, themselves, creatures of the pre-existing communities from which they were drawn. The agendas of these prior groups could strongly influence the actions and purposes of such culturally marginal entities as political parties. Individuals had, also, a hierarchy of qawm affiliations radiating from primary ones. The behavioral and intellectual demands stemming from the values motivating party politics might require a radical shifting of such hierarchies. Afghans have had slightly more than a generation to make such an adjustment.
The parties that waged war against the Soviet forces and the Kabul regime reflected the difficulties of making such a cultural transition. For the most part they have been extensions of political actors. They have operated as an authoritarian command structure.
Circumstances also obliged them to function as expatriates. This fact had a major impact on their politics. They became dependent for funds on foreign governments or private interests. This situation inevitably exposed the politics and conduct of the war to foreign interference. Expatriate circumstances also meant that the parties fought the war virtually on a proxy basis. They were unable to direct or control the fighting. They served instead as conduits of supplies from foreign donors which Pakistan's intelligence service controlled. With one exception (Khalis), their senior leadership had no direct involvement in the war. Together, this isolation from the resistance fighting inside Afghanistan and their vulnerability to foreign pressures threatened to marginalize the parties. It left them without preparation for the political challenge of the Soviet withdrawal.
Other principal functions of the parties included articulating the resistance cause and representing the three million refugees stranded in Pakistan. They were well equipped to express the power of jihad. They used the refugee camps as laboratories for enforcing their political and religious doctrines. The practical needs of the refugees were attended by the Pakistan government and a large community of international humanitarian agencies.
Scores of fledgling political groups sprang to uncertain life in the aftermath of the Marxist coup and the Soviet invasion. Nationalist and ultra-Marxist networks briefly flourished in Kabul before being crushed by security police in 1980. Shia parties took autonomous control of the Hazarajat.
Many more aspiring political groups gathered in Pakistan, mostly in or near the frontier city of Peshawar. Among the millions of rural refugees were tens of thousands of educated, urban expatriates, many of whom eventually found opportunities to emigrate to Europe or North America. Many of rest joined the seven expatriate parties that were officially recognized by Pakistan. Groups who failed to get recognition lost the chance for significant funding. Most wasted away--some nationalist and socialist splinter-groups managed to maintain a lively criticism of their foreign supplied rivals.
War against forces identified with atheism inevitably aroused a passionate commitment to jihad, the Islamic obligation to overcome evil. The need for unity in this most segmented society moved the political climate toward religious leadership. Jihads waged against the British in the nineteenth century and King Amanullah in the twentieth had had the same effect. Moreover, Afghanistan's secular leadership was gone or compromised. When the Marxists seized power, the social and political basis for opposition fell almost exclusively on religious critics of modern, secular government.
Post-traditional Islamic politics in Afghanistan began in the late 1950s among Islamic theologians teaching at Kabul University. A small coterie of scholars, led by Ghulam Muhammad Niazi, who had taken advanced studies at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, gradually attracted students interested in Islam as a modern ideology. Ever sensitive to religious involvement in politics, then Prime Minister Muhammad Daud arrested leaders in the group and forced it underground. During the next decade, the university expanded rapidly. Students from outside Kabul came into increasing contact with the theologians who had been released from prison during the constitutional reforms.
Spreading interest in modern applications of Islam coincided with the emergence of Marxism on the campus. The Islamic faculty organized study groups which evolved into political organizations. The crisis over the cabinet in October 1965 incited Islamist students as well as Marxists. Out of this ferment grew the radical movement generally known as the Ikwan-i-Musalamin (Islamic Youth). Competition at Kabul University between the Islamists and the Marxists came to involve debate, intimidation, and violence. The rivalry produced a generation whose later careers were marked by their personal involvement as allies and opponents on campus.
Daud's coming to power in 1973 gave the Parcham faction the opportunity to persecute their Islamist rivals. In 1975 an abortive uprising planned by young Islamists from several provinces brought a vicious response. Hundreds were executed or imprisoned to face death later at the hands of the Khalqis. The survivors went underground or fled to Pakistan.
Afghanistan's political relationship with Pakistan had been aggravated by Daud's revival of the Pushtunistan issue in 1973. Islamist fugitives were greeted as an opportunity by the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They might counter Daud's anticipated meddling with Pakistan's Pushtuns.
Among the leaders of the Islamist escapees were Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Rabbani had been among the founders of the Islamic ideology movement at Kabul University. Hekmatyar was a former engineering student who had become a full-time political activist and charismatic student leader. The Pakistan government provided them facilities and training at Peshawar. The Saudi Arabian government also found them interesting enough to provide funding. Would-be mujahidin leaders were groomed to make trouble for the Afghan government three years before the Saur coup.
Much happened in between. While he was purging the Parchamis, Daud was looking for allies among Afghanistan's neighbors. His overtures led to reconciliation with Bhutto in 1976-77. Meanwhile, Hekmatyar and Rabbani split over strategy for overthrowing the Afghan government. This led to a deep divide within the mujahidin movement.
At the root of their dispute were sharp differences in social origins and in political strategies. Neither man was born to social prominence. Rabbani was a Tajik from the northeastern province of Badakshan who became a member of the religious elite through his achievements as a scholar. He saw the transformation of Afghan government as a long-term project. Only after mobilizing the peasants and winning over key elements in the armed forces could Islamic leaders take over the government. He therefore argued for the building of a widely based movement that would create popular support.
Hekmatyar came from Baghlan Province, also in northeast Afghanistan, but was a Pushtun Kharruti, a Ghilzai tribe uprooted from the Ghazni region early in the century. Hekmatyar's Islamism was outspokenly radical; his ability as a leader offset his lack of formal Islamic education. He disagreed with Rabbani on the need for a mass movement to bring an Islamic government to power. He argued for a sudden seizure of government by a highly disciplined elitist party. In order to hone and preserve such a vanguard, he took care to shield it from risks. Their differences are indicated in the names of their parties. Hekmatyar's is the Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam), Rabbani's is Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society). Their rivalry would become the pivot on which the politics of the resistance would turn.
In sociological terms the contest between Hekmatyar and Rabbani has been a near mirror image of that between Khalq and Parcham. This rivalry pitted Dari speakers against Pushtuns, especially the Ghilzais. It juxtaposed an educated elite against newly educated arrivals to Kabul. In both rivalries gradualist militants confronted radicals who insisted on abrupt, immediate change. Society and ideology mixed to produce an ominous political confrontation.
Pakistan was to play a crucial role in the expatriate politics that followed. Zia ul Haq, who had assumed the presidency after removing Bhutto, was still consolidating his military government when the Marxists seized power in Kabul. He continued Bhutto's support of the Afghan emigres. Hekmatyar and Rabbani received funding, training, and equipment from Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate (ISI).
Both leaders were also on good terms with their Pakistani counterpart, the Ja'amat-i-Islami. The Ja'amat connection was especially valuable to the more militant mujahidin. Its organization and ideology closely resembled Hekmatyar's Hezb. In the 1980s it was to develop strong political ties with Zia and his military establishment.
Four more mujahidin leaders were recognized by the Pakistan government in 1979: Yunis Khalis, another militant Islamist, and three religious leaders with monarchist affiliations, Sighatullah Mujaddidi, Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, and Muhammadi Muhammad Nabi. Khalis split a section of the Hezb-i-Islami away from Hekmatyar. The oldest of the party leaders, Mawlawi Yunis Khalis, was an accomplished scholar, with strong roots in his eastern Pushtun tribe, the Khugianis of Nangrahar. A former colleague of Rabbani's in the Islamist circle at the university, he agreed with his political gradualism. Roy claims he left because Hekmatyar had avoided combat to conserve his forces. His party retains its name as identical to Hekmatyar's, Hezb-i-Islami.
The three so-called moderate party leaders arrived in Pakistan during the Taraki-Amin period. Their moderation related to their willingness to see Afghan government restored to secular leadership--Gailani and Mujaddidi had close ties to the royal family. Yet each was a prominent religious leader who exemplified dedication to the jihad and a strong infusion of traditional Islamic values, for example, enforcement of the Sharia, in a post-Marxist government.
Mujaddidi was the leading survivor of an extraordinarily influential Naqshbandi (Sufi) family which had emigrated from India at the beginning of the century. It had played a major role in the revolt against King Amanullah in 1929 and later became affiliated with the more conservative dynasty of Nadir and Zahir Shah. More than 100 of Sibghatullah Mujaddidi's relatives were massacred at Amin's command early in 1979. His family holds the rank of pir (saint) in the Sufi order which is the basis for its large religious following throughout Afghanistan. Sibghatullah is not a pir, but a conservative Mawlawi. His party, the Jubha-i-Melli-i-Najat Afghanistan (Afghanistan National Front) essentially consists of Naqshbandi followers.
Gailani is a pir of the Qadiriyya Sufi order. His followers are largely Ghilzais, especially the Suleimankhel and Khugiani tribes centered in Nangrahar Province. Sayyid Ahmad Gailani adopted a secular life, married into the royal family and owned a car dealership prior to the Marxist coup. His party, based largely on a Durrani network of khans and his Ghilzai disciples with a scattering of Sufi followers elsewhere, is the Mahaz-i-Melli Islami Afghanistan (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan). Gailani has represented the royal family in resistance politics.
Muhammad Nabi is a mawlawi (Islamic scholar) who taught at madrasas in Ghazni and Logar. Much of his large following in Afghanistan was generated by the spread of his graduates throughout the country. His was the largest network of commanders--mostly ulamas--in the early years of the war. His forces were represented in every region. Nabi was also politically active before the war. He served in the 1965 parliament where he was celebrated for giving Babrak Karmal a physical beating. He has led the Harakat-i-Inquilab-i-Islami (Revolutionary Islamic Movement).
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf was the last party leader to be recognized by Pakistan. His arrival in Peshawar was delayed until 1980 by imprisonment since the mid-1970s under the Daud and Taraki-Amin regimes. He was born at Paghman, a town immediately west of Kabul. A member of the Kharruti tribe, as were Hafizullah Amin and Hekmatyar, he was released in 1979. He studied in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and was an active member of the Ikwan-i-Musalamin.
Sayyaf arrived in Pakistan when foreign supporters were pressuring the parties to unite. He was elected to head a front of all the parties, the Ittehad-i-Islami B'rai Azadi-i-Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). The front quickly broke up and Sayyaf retained the name for his own party. With excellent Arab connections, Sayyaf has been generously funded, but has had no substantial base of support inside Afghanistan. His avowal of Wahhabism limited recruitment. Wahhabism clashes with the law and practice of the Hanafi system accepted by most Afghan Sunnis. More than any of the other party leaders, Sayyaf recruited mujahidin through weapons and funds.
These parties and their leaders persevered throughout the Soviet and civil wars into the post-Marxist period as political rivals. In 1985 after abortive attempts to form a coalition, the parties finally agreed upon a format for formal sharing of leadership with the creation of the Islamic Union of Afghan Mujahidin (Ittehad-i-Islami-Mujahidin-i-Afghanistan). This agreement set up a rotational position which allowed each party leader to act officially as spokesman for the others on a six-month basis.
Very little changed otherwise. The parties maintained separate networks of commanders, staffs, publications, foreign political contacts, and affiliations with the refugees in the camps. Distinctions and rivalries became so ingrained that jurisdictional issues on the ground in Afghanistan seriously impeded cooperation. Road tolls, seizures of supplies and frequent combat between mujahidin units were partially the result of the failure to coalesce from above.
Party switches happened with some frequency among commanders, often to get better access to weapons, to gain advantage in political rivalries between groups, and also because of breakdowns in organization. Such shifts especially hurt Muhammad Nabi's weakly organized Harakat.
By far the most controversial issue between the parties was the formula for weapons and supplies distribution. Muhammad Yusuf, the Pakistani officer in charge of distribution during the period of rapid supply increases from 1984, claims that decisions on supply were strictly made on the basis of efficiency and combat use and that adjustments were frequent. The ISI also applied mujahidin participation in training as a criterion for supplying the parties. How these criteria were factored in with the great variables of distance, communications and level of conflict obviously remains unclear. Parties exercising close control over personnel readily available for training, as was the case with Hekmatyar's Hezb, were favored. Another advantage came from intimate staff connections with the Pakistan army, which, again favored Hekmatyar. Logistics gave the Pushtun regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan an advantage. As the war intensified and the scale of assistance multiplied, resentments over perceived favoritism grew.
Such issues were also related to the demographics of Peshawar politics. A case can be made that the politics of the Afghan war was a virtual Ghilzai affair. Khalq's Ghilzai leaders, Hafizullah Amin and Muhammad Taraki, began the process with the 1978 coup. The Afghan military forces were dominated by Khalqi officers, many of whom were Ghilzai. Babrak Karmal (with Durrani connections) was replaced by Najibullah, one of the few Parchamis with Ghilzai roots. On the opposing side Hekmatyar, Sayyaf, and Nabi are Ghilzais; Khalis is from a neighboring eastern Pushtun tribe (the Khugiani); Gailani and Mujaddidi are from immigrant Sufi families whose religious and political links are largely with Ghilzais. Only Rabbani has no intimate connection with Ghilzais.
Except for Babrak Karmal, the great Durrani Pushtun confederation had little representation on either side in the conflict. Gailani's party has stood in for the royal family, partially because of the anomalous position of Zahir Shah.
The Ghilzai factor had major implications for the Kabul and the Peshawar sides. Both--for very different reasons--were committed to a break with an established tradition of Durrani rule. Some spoke of the Marxist usurpation and the war as Ghilzai revenge against Durrani dominance. Ethnic rivalry, perhaps more than Islamic ideology, was responsible for the refusal of the Peshawar parties to accept Zahir Shah into mujahidin politics.
Another factor which affected the mujahidin cause was the insistence that mujahidin victory was to be synonymous with the transfer of power to the Peshawar parties. The expatriate political process created a distorted perception of the social and political realities created by fourteen years of war. Contention for power at the national level could not be contained within the parameters of a struggle essentially among Pushtuns based in Peshawar. Challenges had emerged from the minorities, especially the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Moreover, the political arena was greatly complicated by the intimate ties that neighboring governments and political agencies had fashioned with the parties and the major communities inside Afghanistan. For all the emphasis the Peshawar leadership placed upon installing an Islamic order, implicit in their expectations was the assumption that social basis of government was continuity of Pushtun dominance.
Such expectations were as much a product of the immediate concerns they faced in Pakistan as they were linked to a tradition of Pushtun rule. The refugees, their captive constituency, were overwhelmingly Pushtun and overwhelmingly from the Ghilzai and eastern tribal areas. Almost all were villagers living in massive, quasi-urban camps, subject to degrees of regimentation and control which sharply contrasted with their accustomed autonomy. In Pakistan they served as a political sounding board for the parties, thereby magnifying the party leaders' perception of popular acceptance of their ideology and themselves. It was convenient to overlook the fact that large as it was, the refugee population did not genuinely represent the demographic and social realities inside Afghanistan itself. As a result of their absence, the refugees in Pakistan sharply reduced the proportion of Pushtuns actually living inside Afghanistan. From a putative majority, they had clearly become a distinct minority. While refugee return after the war was expected, it was uncertain when they could return and how many eventually would.
Such distortions in perception were shared by Pakistani officials. Their policies were based on an assumption of Pushtun dominance in postwar Afghanistan. The Pushtunistan issue had dominated relations between the two countries since Pakistan had become a nation. Harboring Afghanistan's potential future leadership offered insurance that once a Pushtun dominated mujahidin government was installed it would drop the issue. This goal was linked to Pakistan's heavy military investment in the Ghilzai region adjacent to its border. Pakistan's involvement in liberating the region was intended to improve future relations.
In addition to ingrained cultural traits, resistance politics were shaped by situational factors. The institutional and operational development of the Peshawar parties was stunted by circumstances they could not control. Pakistan's fear of Soviet reprisal induced it to oppose the establishment of an Afghan government in exile. It also discouraged the emergence of one party or a union of parties which could have made the resistance less dependent. Pakistan's influence over the parties was enhanced by compelling them to compete for support. In walking a tightrope between partiality and caution, Pakistan's policies stunted the growth of the parties.
The weakness of the parties was acutely evident in their failure to create a credible shadow government in anticipation of Kabul's fall. Anticipating the capture of a major city (Jalalabad or, perhaps, Khost) in the wake of the Soviet pullback from the eastern border provinces in the summer of 1988, the parties created a "provisional government" based on a constitution that would establish an Islamic Republic. The government was stillborn. No suitable seat to place it was captured, no prominent leader was placed in charge of it, it was not funded, and the parties, themselves, ignored it.
Once it became certain that the Soviets were leaving, the creation of an authority capable of taking control of Afghanistan was more urgent. This situation led to initiatives by Pakistan and the United States, with Saudi support, to create an interim government which could politically offset its rival in Kabul, coordinate the final military effort and prepare for the establishment of a postwar government. A shura (council) of resistance leaders met on February 10, 1989. Token participation was permitted from expatriates abroad, but Shia representatives were not seated due to a dispute over representation. The prospect of transferring power to a separate authority paralyzed the leadership. It feared political eclipse. An interim government might connect with the commanders who already exercised control over much of Afghanistan. Only Gailani made an effort to have major commanders participate in the shura.
After considerable pressure from the ISI--and allegedly some bribing with Saudi money--the Afghanistan Interim Government (AIG) was created. In essence, it was a cabinet consisting of the seven party leaders and their senior deputies and a few technocrats. The voting was arranged in a manner which assured that the weakest parties would get the highest posts. Mujaddidi was named Prime Minister and Sayyaf, his deputy. The AIG was given the task of creating a permanent government acceptable to popular will. Whether that process would be based on a jirgah or elections was left open. An effort was made also to centralize budgeting, but the parties continued to operate as they had before, with little attention being paid the AIG by early 1990.
Confronted in mid-1989 by evidence that the Kabul government was capable of defending itself and showed no sign of immediate internal collapse, the Peshawar parties turned on each other. The most serious dispute brought the enmity between Hekmatyar and Rabbani to the surface. Throughout the war their commanders had jockeyed for turf and supply routes, especially in the strategic Shomali region with its control over the northern highway between Kabul and the Soviet Union. Hekmatyar, with some Pakistani connivance, had also waged a minor reign of terror among the refugee community. It included intimidation, kidnaping, disappearances, imprisonment and execution of critics and rivals among educated Afghans and of rival mujahidin commanders and their followers. He was widely feared and disliked.
Most of Hekmatyar's ire was focused on the Jamiat, which had developed the most extensive network of commanders and was especially identified with the minority communities. He did not avoid clashes with rival Pushtuns, having attempted to dominate the tribal fronts around Qandahar, without success.
In late July, 1989, Hekmatyar's forces in Takhar Province ambushed and slaughtered more than thirty members of the army of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Rabbani's most celebrated and successful commander. Seven senior commanders were among those slain. Assaults and killings had become common between commanders of these two parties, but this instance was the most blatant. It also disrupted Massoud's plans for an assault on Kabul. Massoud retaliated, over-running several Hezb positions in the northeast. The perpetrators of the massacre were captured and later executed by an Islamic court at Taloqan, Massoud's regional headquarters.
Hekmatyar was condemned for his complicity in the massacre by leaders other than Rabbani. For a while he withdrew from the AIG claiming that his party would stake its fate on a popular elections inside Afghanistan--a bemusing statement from a leader who prided himself on his party's closed vanguard style.
Hekmatyar further alienated his colleagues by his involvement in an attempt at a coup against Najibullah's government in March of 1990. It was led by Defense Minister Shah Nawaz Tanai, a Khalqi. Hekmatyar's forces were to attack Kabul simultaneously. The plot misfired because of faulty communications. Najibullah quickly rounded up the Khalqi conspirators. Tanai escaped by helicopter to Pakistan where he was greeted and publicly accepted as an ally by Hekmatyar.
The Pakistan government's involvement in this abortive affair was transparently obvious. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's plea to the other six party leaders to aid Tanai and Hekmatyar was rebuked as a disgrace to the jihad. The episode was a crucial turning point in the struggle against Kabul. It demonstrated that clandestine connections between mujahidin and elements in the Kabul government could determine the outcome of the civil war. It also further demonstrated the ISI's partiality toward Hekmatyar: it had been involved in planning the military follow-up to the coup attempt.
In 1990 the political disarray at Peshawar spawned an attempt by commanders inside Afghanistan to develop a coordinated command structure among themselves. Led by Abdul Haq, an outspoken commander affiliated with Yunis Khalis, a series of increasingly larger meetings was held, climaxing with one in Massoud's Panjshir valley in September. It was widely representative of the major commanders and drew up a set of understandings on mutual support and cooperation. But it was not able to create a comprehensive command structure that could solve logistical difficulties or coordinate a nationwide strategy. The commanders did not build a workable political system.
Dependence on the parties and Pakistan for supplies was too pervasive. Their jealousy regarding their own hard-won autonomy was also a factor. They shared the same territorial mentality that had kept the party leaders from uniting.
Divisions within the resistance were exacerbated by foreign interference. As American support declined after the Soviet withdrawal, the mujahidin found themselves increasingly dependent on assistance from their neighbors, especially Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. With this dependence came interference which distracted from the effort to defeat the Kabul regime.
Pakistan's interference principally took the form of favoritism between the Peshawar parties. It was especially evident in its clandestine attempt to back the Hekmatyar-Tanai coup. It was more obvious in the ISI's support of mujahidin attacks on towns in the eastern region after the failure at Jalalabad. "packaging," or the combination of training, supply, and mutual tactical planning, had become the ISI's approach to assisting the mujahidin. It was especially evident in the siege and final capture of Khost in early 1991. Again, Hekmatyar's forces were favored in the packaging arrangements. This situation contrasted sharply with the fall off in supplies to Rabbani's major commanders, Massoud in the northeast and Ismail Khan near Herat. Attempts by the ISI to introduce the packaging approach to the loose coalition of commanders around Qandahar were rebuked due to the ISI's insistence on control.
Arab interference was in some ways more aggravating . Saudi aid to the mujahidin, which roughly matched that of the United States, had been crucial in accelerating the guerilla war against the Soviet forces. Also, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states (except Iraq) had severely criticized Soviet behavior in Afghanistan. Their involvement continued after the Soviet departure. Alongside of this generous, long-term government assistance, unofficial parallel involvement became increasingly disruptive and disliked. During the Soviet-Afghan war a costly effort was made by private, often religious, Arab agencies to provide educational opportunities for Afghan refugees encamped in Pakistan. Obvious attempts were also made to introduce doctrinal interpretations of Islam espousing teachings of the Wahhabi sect dominant in Saudi Arabia. Such indoctrination was accompanied by a growing stream of free-lance individuals and groups of Arabs seeking to participate in the jihad. As the mujahidin expanded their areas of control after the Soviet forces withdrew, Arabs took part in the capture of villages and towns, especially in Kunar and Nangrahar provinces. Incidents including massacres of men, abductions of women and various atrocities were attributed to them in 1988 and 1989.
Many Afghans resented Wahhabi proselytizing. It was carried out with particular aggressiveness in Kunar. For two years a community of Arabs and Afghan converts dominated the province under the leadership of Jamil-ur-Rahman, a Pushtun native. Other Wahhabi cells were established, including a community at Paghman, which served as the base for Rasul Sayyaf, the mujahidin party leader most closely identified with Saudi Arabia.
Arab policy and behavior appeared intimately mixed. The spreading of a doctrine, recognized as the official Saudi version of Islam, made it difficult to separate religion from politics. From the official perspective Saudi diplomacy toward Afghanistan was aimed at limiting Iranian influence. This objective was given higher priority when it became possible to extend it to the recently sovereign nations of Central Asia. Afghanistan forms the collegial and logistical link through which Arab influence can compete with Iran's in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Such Arab ambitions coupled with apparent attempts to create an Afghan Wahhabi state within a state have deepened Saudi penetration of Afghan politics.
Afghan resentment toward Iran has also grown. The canker is older and deeper than with Pakistanis and Arabs. Sharing the same plateau, language and a long overlapping history in which Persians/Iranians have had the greater portion of cultural grandeur, the modern relationship has been awkward. Part of this derives directly from Iranian perception of the Shias of Afghanistan, especially the Hazaras, as oppressed sectarian brethren. This has been a sensitive matter for the Pushtun leadership which inherited Abdur Rahman's conquest of the Hazaras. Pushtuns also resent having to accept the Persian language and traditions in order to achieve elite cultural status. For their part Iranians are frustrated by their loss of Herat in the mid-nineteenth century.
In diplomacy and especially in its involvements in the Hazarajat, Iran has made clear its conviction that it has a significant stake in the outcome of Afghanistan's tragedy. During the Soviet war Iran made a concerted effort to train and support Hazara groups for the purpose of introducing extensions of its own revolution into Afghanistan. Several parties were organized and infiltrated into the Hazarajat. The most effective were Pasdaran and Nasr. They confronted the Shura led by Sayyid Beheshti, a coalition of traditional Hazara notables which had taken control of the region in 1979. During the middle 1980s, the Iran-supported groups seriously weakened the Shura, but their imposition of revolutionary doctrine backfired, forcing them to make concessions and to accept joint rule with the Shura.
At the time of the Soviet withdrawal, Iran made a strenuous effort to convince the mujahidin leadership to concede as much as 25 percent of the representation in the proposed Afghan Interim Government to the Shias. This proposal was vehemently rejected.
Relations became further complicated by Iran's overtures to the Najibullah government and Moscow after the Soviet withdrawal. Teheran intimated endorsement of Soviet and Najibullah's proposals for a possible political settlement of the war. In return, the Kabul government gave assurances it would not interfere with the defacto autonomy of the Hazarajat, a region over which it had lost virtually all control.
Such outside involvement complicated and distorted the mujahidin effort to defeat the Kabul forces. Especially disabling was their dependence on neighbors for much of the financial and material support for continuing the war. As had happened in the past, all the Afghan protagonists in the struggle to control their country were beholden to outside forces whose agendas had major implications for the political outcome. With the withdrawal of Soviet and United States support at the end of 1991, the impact of regional meddling increased.
With the failure of the communist hardliners to take over the Soviet government in August 1991, Najibullah's supporters in the Soviet Army lost their power to dictate Afghan policy. The effect was immediate. On September 13, the Soviet government, now dominated by Boris Yeltsin, agreed with the United States on a mutual cutoff of military aid to both sides in the Afghan civil war. It was to begin January 1, 1992.
The post-coup Soviet government then attempted to develop political relations with the Afghan resistance. In mid-November it invited a delegation of the resistance's AIG to Moscow where the Soviets agreed that a transitional government should prepare Afghanistan for national elections. The Soviets did not insist that Najibullah or his colleagues participate in the transitional process. Having been cut adrift both materially and politically, Najibullah's faction torn government began to fall apart.
During the nearly three years that the Kabul government had successfully defended itself against mujahidin attacks, factions within the government had also developed quasi-conspiratorial connections with its opponents. Even during the Soviet war Kabul's officials had arranged case-fires, neutral zones, highway passage and even passes allowing unarmed mujahidin to enter towns and cities. As the civil war developed into a stalemate in 1989, such arrangements proliferated into political understandings. Combat generally ceased around Qandahar because most of the mujahidin commanders had an understanding with its provincial governor. Ahmad Shah Massoud developed an agreement with Kabul to keep the vital north-south highway open after the Soviet withdrawal. The greatest mujahidin victory during the civil war, the capture of Khost, was achieved through the collaboration of its garrison. Hekmatyar's cooperation with Tanai, the Khalqi Defense Minister is discussed above.
Interaction with opponents became a major facet of Najibullah's defensive strategy, Many mujahidin groups were literally bought off with arms, supplies and money to become militias defending towns, roads and installations. Such arrangements carried the danger of backfiring. When Najibullah's political support ended and the money dried up, such allegiances crumbled.
Kabul ultimately fell to the mujahidin because the factions in its government had finally pulled it apart. Until demoralized by the defections of its senior officers, the army had achieved a level of performance it had never reached under direct Soviet tutelage. It was a classic case of loss of morale. The regime collapsed while it still possessed material superiority. Its stockpiles of munitions and planes would provide the victorious mujahidin with the means of waging years of highly destructive war. Kabul was short of fuel and food at the end of winter in 1992, but its military units were supplied well enough to fight indefinitely. They did not fight because their leaders were reduced to scrambling for survival. Their aid had not only been cut off, the Marxist-Leninist ideology that had provided the government its rationale for existence been repudiated at its source.
A few days after it was clear that Najibullah had lost control, his army commanders and governors arranged to turn over authority to resistance commanders and local notables throughout the country. Joint councils or shuras were immediately established for local government in which civil and military officials of the former government were usually included. Reports indicate the process was generally amicable. In many cases prior arrangements for transferring regional and local authority had been made between foes.
Through mid-1995 these local arrangements have generally remained in place in most of Afghanistan. Disruptions have occurred where local political arrangements have been linked to been linked to the struggle that has developed between the mujahidin parties. At the national level a political vacuum was created and into it fell the expatriate parties in their rush to take control. The enmities, ambitions, conceits and dogmas which had paralyzed their shadow government proved to be even more disastrous in their struggle for power. The traits they brought with them had been accentuated in the struggle for preferment in Peshawar.
Collusions between military leaders quickly brought down the Kabul government. In mid-January 1992, within three weeks of demise of the Soviet Union, Ahmad Shah Massoud was aware of conflict within the government's northern command. General Abdul Momim, in charge of the Hairatan border crossing at the northern end of Kabul's supply highway, and other non-Pushtun generals based in Mazari-i-Sharif feared removal by Najibullah and replacement by Pushtun officers. The generals rebelled and the situation was taken over by Abdul Rashid Dostam, who held general rank as head of the Jozjani militia, also based in Mazar-i-Sharif. He and Massoud reached a political agreement, together with another major militia leader, Sayyid Mansor, of the Ismaili community based in Baghlan Province. These northern allies consolidated their position in Mazar-i-Sharif on March 21. Their coalition covered nine provinces in the north and northeast. As turmoil developed within the government in Kabul, there was no government force standing between the northern allies and the major air force base at Begram, some seventy kilometers north of Kabul. By mid-April the air force command at Begram had capitulated to Massoud. Kabul was defenseless, its army was no longer reliable.
Najibullah had lost internal control immediately after he announced his willingness on March 18 to resign in order to make way for a neutral interim government. As the government broke into several factions the issue had become how to carry out a transfer of power. Najibullah attempted to fly out of Kabul on April 17, but was stopped by Dostam's troops who controlled Kabul Airport under the command of Karmal's brother, Mahmud Baryalai. Vengeance between Parchami factions was reaped. Najibullah took sanctuary at the UN mission where he remained in 1995. A group of Parchami generals and officials declared themselves an interim government for the purpose of handing over power to the mujahidin.
For more than a week Massoud remained poised to move his forces into the capital. He was awaiting the arrival of political leadership from Peshawar. The parties suddenly had sovereign power in their grasp, but no plan for executing it. With his principal commander prepared to occupy Kabul, Rabbani was positioned to prevail by default. Meanwhile UN mediators tried to find a political solution that would assure a transfer of power acceptable to all sides.
Benan Sevan, Diego Cordovez' successor as special representative of the UN secretary general, attempted to apply a political formula that had been announced by UN Secretary General Javier Perez De Cuellar on May 21, 1991. Referred to as a five-point plan, it included: recognition of Afghanistan's sovereign status as a politically non-aligned Islamic state; acceptance of the right of Afghans to self-determination in choosing their form of government and social and economic systems; need for a transitional period permitting a dialogue between Afghans leading to establishment of a government with widely based support; the termination of all foreign arms deliveries into Afghanistan; funding from the international community adequate to support the return of Afghanistan's refugees and its reconstruction from the devastation of war.
These principles were endorsed by the Soviet Union and the United States and Afghanistan's neighboring governments, but there was no military means of enforcing it. The three moderate Peshawar parties accepted it, but it was opposed by Hekmatyar, Rabbani, Sayyaf and Khalis who held out for a total victory over the Kabul government.
Nevertheless, these four "fundamentalists" found it politic to participate in the effort to implement the UN initiative. Pressure from their foreign supporters and the opportunities that participation offered to modify or obstruct the plan encouraged them to be reluctant players. Pakistan and Iran worked jointly to win mujahidin acceptance at a conference in July, 1991. Indicating its formal acceptance of the plan, Pakistan officially announced the termination of its own military assistance to the resistance in late January 1992. Najibullah also declared his acceptance, but until March 18, 1992, he hedged the question of whether or when he would resign in the course of negotiations.
Sevan made a strenuous effort to create the mechanism for the dialogue that would lead to installation of the transitional process envisaged in point three of the plan. The contemplated arrangement was a refinement and a simplification of earlier plans which had been built around the possible participation of Zahir Shah and the convoking of a meeting in the Loya Jirgah tradition. By March 1992 the plan had evolved to the holding of a meeting in Europe of some 150 respected Afghans representing all communities in the late spring. Most of Sevan's effort was directed at winning the cooperation of all the Afghan protagonists, including the Shia parties in control of the Hazarajat. In early February, he appeared to have won the active support of commanders among the Pushtuns in eastern Afghanistan and acquiescence from Rabbani and Hekmatyar to the extent of submitting lists of participants acceptable to them in the proposed meeting. Simultaneously, Sevan labored to persuade Najibullah to step down on the presumption that his removal would bring about full mujahidin participation. Instead, Najibullah's March 18 announcement accelerated the collapse of his government. This collapse in turn triggered events that moved faster than Sevan's plan could be put into effect.
In the midst of hectic maneuvering to put the European meeting together, Sevan declared on April 4 that most of the parties (including Hekmatyar's) and the Kabul government had agreed to transfer power to a proposed transitional authority. He also announced the creation of a "pre-transition council" to take control of government "perhaps within the next two weeks." He was struggling to keep up with events which threatened to dissolve the government before he had a replacement for it.
In the end, some of the Shia parties and the Islamists in Peshawar blocked his scheme. They withheld their choices or submitted candidates for the European meeting whom they knew would be unacceptable to others. The hope for a neutral, comprehensive approach to a political settlement among Afghans was dashed. Sevan then worked to ensure a peaceful turnover of power from the interim Kabul government which replaced Najibullah on April 18 to the forces of Massoud and Dostam. In effect, the turnover was peaceful, but without an overall political settlement in place. Within a week a new civil war would begin among the victors.
Mujahidin victory was the result of the vacuum created by the implosion of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow and Kabul. The victors have perpetuated that vacuum by failing to find a common approach to government or a formula for sharing power among themselves. Their jihad experience committed them to attempt to create a political innovation for Afghanistan--an Islamic Republic, inspired by the revolution in Iran, but clearly to be different in structure and doctrine. Tragically, on the day the Peshawar parties reached a tentative agreement on how they would establish their Islamic republic, a new war for Kabul began.
By April 25, Massoud could no longer wait for an agreement by the Peshawar parties on arrangements for a new government. With the cooperation of Pushtun officials in the army and the interior ministry, Hekmatyar's troops were infiltrating Kabul. The situation appeared to offer the opportunity for him to take power in a sudden stroke, but his move was too late and too weak. Dostam's and Massoud's forces were better positioned and stronger. After two days of hard fighting Hekmatyar and his Khalqi allies were forced out of the city. A new struggle for power had begun.
For the moment Massoud had handed the Peshawar parties a virtual fait accompli, Kabul was theirs. He awaited their takeover of government. Although real power was being handed to them, the parties had reached no understanding on how they wished to govern. Under Pakistani guidance and some pressure they hastily agreed to rule through a leadership council and an interim presidency. This was to assure residual powers for themselves as party leaders. They gave no consideration to dissolving their parties now that their function of leading a war against communists was fulfilled.
The council--whose role paralleled that of the PDPA's Revolutionary Council--was to be made up of party staffers who in many instances were relatives of the leaders. A succession of interim presidents was named. Mujaddidi was to serve from April 28 to June 28, 1992. Rabbani then was to succeed him and serve until October 28. Between them they were to prepare a provisional constitution for the Islamic republic, which was to be ratified by a national shura later in the year. Meanwhile, the parties would share among themselves appointments to the cabinet, with Hekmatyar given the choice of becoming Prime Minister. Arrangements for actual government mirrored the distribution of power they had created for their shadow government in Peshawar. Its functions were paralyzed from the beginning while the contenders for total power maneuvered for advantage.
Continual fighting over Kabul began, punctuated by assaults made by relatively small forces employing firepower never dreamed possible by the mujahidin in their guerilla phase. Short-range missiles with heavy explosives did most of the damage. They wreaked devastation, killing far more civilians than combatants. By early 1994 the city had been reduced to a shambles. Neighborhoods, mosques, and government buildings had been destroyed. A vagabond government shifted between surviving buildings. During the heaviest fighting it operated from Charikar, sixty kilometers to the north.
Despite the devastation Hekmatyar and the allies he gained in 1993 and 1994 were not able to defeat the government defenders. In January 1993 he was joined by the Shia Hezb-i-Wahdat faction led by Abdul Ali Mazari, who had Iranian backing and the support of many Shia residents living in the western sector of Kabul. On several occasions Mazari's forces and Rasul Sayyaf's Wahhabi followers engaged in vicious battles in Kabul's western outskirts. Dostam also came to Mazari's assistance. In turn Sayyaf sided with Rabbaani's forces led by Ahmad Shah Massoud.
A year later Hekmatyar overcame his loudly expressed contempt for Dostam as an ally of the communists and formed a tripartite alliance with him and Mazari. They organized the Shura-i-ala Humaagi inquilab-i-Islami Afghanistan (Supreme Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution in Afghanistan).
On January 1, 1994, they launched the most devastating assault so far mounted against Kabul. It took several thousand lives and reduced Kabul's population below 500,000 (it had reached more than 2 million late in the Soviet war). During the first week government units lost ground in both Southwestern and Southeastern Kabul, but soon regained most of their positions. Massoud led an offensive in June which drove Hekmatyar's rocket units off two strategic hills. Sporadic fighting punctuated by rocket attacks on the city continued until early 1995.
As the fighting settled into a stalemate, several peace initiatives were attempted. The UN renewed its peace making role in April 1994. Leaders of the less powerful Mujahidin parties offered peace proposals. Ismael Khan, the government's powerful ally in Herat, hosted a large conference in July 1994 that agreed on a process for a transition to a new government. It was blocked by opposition from the Supreme Coordination Council and other commanders. Iran and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hosted a poorly attended peace conference in Teheran in November. On December 28, 1994 the presidential term that Rabbani, himself, recognized lapsed. With no resolution of conflict and no consensus reached on a mechanism for transferring authority, he kept the office by default, pending a new political settlement to be engineered by the UN.
Sudden, unexpected developments in early 1995 profoundly changed the situation. A new political/military force, the Taliban, sprang into existence. This movement, identified with religious students was centered among the Durrani Pushtuns who had been politically passive during the previous fifteen years of war and tumult. The movement took control of Kandahar in November, 1994. By February it was challenging the Rabbani government from Kabul to Herat. The Taliban were students or recent graduates of a network of traditional madrasas in southern Afghanistan and adjacent areas of Pakistan. The origin of the movement itself remains obscure, but once again a religious cause that offered political purification and an end to Afghanistan's suffering won widespread support.
The most significant and immediate result of the Taliban rise to power, was the ignominious collapse of Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami as a fighting force. In early February his headquarters at Charasyab, twenty-five kilometers south of Kabul, became trapped between the government army and the Taliban. On February 15, Hekmatyar and his disintegrating army fled eastward toward Jalalabad leaving a large arsenal of weapons behind. Hezb was no longer a deadly threat to Kabul; the struggle for power had been profoundly changed.
Mujaddidi had little chance to organize a government during his two months as interim president. Hekmatyar was an immediate threat: Mujaddidi was nearly killed when his plane was hit by a Hezb rocket. The cumbersome Leadership Council assured meddling by the parties, and the government's very uncertain security depended on a motley mix of army units taken over from Najib's government, Mausood's forces, and elements of Dostam's militia. Attempting to find maneuvering room, Mujaddidi favored Dostam as a regional power whom he might balance against Massoud, who had taken charge of the defense ministry. The President raised Dostam's rank from militia chief to senior army general.
Mujaddidi attempted to extend his short term, but lacked the political leverage to offset the military weakness of his party. His resentment toward Rabbani, his successor, would later add to the rivalries between mujahidin politics.
Rabbani and Massoud attempted to create a national army by recruitment of mujahidin rank and file primarily to gain government control over Kabul itself. It had been divided into separate armed camps of mujahidin who settled among their own ethnic groups clustered in separate neighborhoods. These efforts were interrupted by Hekmatyar's first major rocket attack on the city in August, 1992. His forces were pushed back jointly by Massoud and Dostam. Under Pakistani pressure Rabbani agreed to a cease-fire which brought general peace to the city for more than three months. Massoud attempted to recruit leaders from other parties, including the Shias, for senior military positions. Mazari's Hezb-i-Wahdat party was assigned two cabinet positions.
With Hekmatyar apparently deflated, Rabbani's government concentrated on preparing for a national shura which was to draft a constitution and choose an interim government for the next eighteen months. The accord reached in Peshawar in April called for elections at the end of the second interim period. The Leadership council gave Rabbani an extension until December to complete the drafting. His proposal for the next interim period was ambitious. He called for a Shura-yi-Ahl-i Hal-u-'Aqd (Council of Resolution and Settlement). A comprehensive effort was made to convene a large assembly representing sentiment in every district in the country. Some 1,400 representatives were brought to Kabul in mid-December where they overwhelmingly (916 to 59 with 366 abstentions) voted to elect Rabbani to a full two-year term, not the eighteen months mandated by the Peshawar accords.
The backlash from this decision reshuffled alignments and took the Islamic Republic's politics in an uncharted direction. Among the major parties only Jamiat (from which Rabbani formally resigned to assume the new presidency), Muhammad Nabi's Harakat, and Sayyaf's Ittehad accepted the election. Gailani and Mujaddidi (vexed already by the extension of Rabbani's term) joined Khalis, Hekmatyar, Mazari, and Dostam to oppose it on grounds that the election had been rigged and was not representative of the country. Rabbani had attempted to garner a popular mandate and instead had united his rivals, greatly strengthening Hekmatyar's position.
Rabbani was immediately thrown on the defensive, politically and militarily. Alienated by government attempts to get control of the city, the Shia Wahdat had attacked the government in western Kabul before the council met and was temporarily supported by Dostam's units on the other side of the city. These assaults were quickly repulsed, but immediately after Rabbani's election Hekmatyar attacked with Wahdat support. The city was again massively rocketed until mid-February. Only three foreign embassies remained open in the capital: Italy's, India's, and China's. For the government there was one compensation: Sayyaf, the most consistent ideologue of the party leaders, maintained his alliance with the government in order to pursue his sectarian struggle with the Shias
Worried over the prospect that the continuing turmoil might embroil themselves in the Afghan conflict, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran put pressure on the mujahidin leaders to find a political solution. In Islamabad on March 7, 1993 they reached yet another agreement. Rabbani was to continue as president until June, 1994; Hekmatyar was to resume the prime ministership, the Leadership council was to be terminated--as Rabbani had attempted to do in December--and all parties were again to be represented in the cabinet. All three neighbors endorsed the agreement as did the Organization of the Islamic Conference. To reinforce their new commitment the Afghan leaders visited Mecca and the three neighboring capitals.
Two days afterwards the Wahdat recommenced rocketing government areas. Disputes over selection of the cabinet and an attack on Rabbani when he attempted to meet Hekmatyar in a Kabul suburb negated the agreement.
Hekmatyar now demanded the removal of Massoud from the government and the setting up of commissions representing all parties in the ministries of Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs. Rabbani insisted on having the right to veto Hekmatyar's choices for the cabinet. Hekmatyar launched a major attack on April 24, which continued until mid-May. The mujahidin council governing Jalalabad then hosted a three-week conference in which leaders of all parties were confined within the conference building with much public pressure to reach an agreement.
On May 18, 1993, the previous agreement was essentially re-instated. Additional refinements authorized Hekmatyar to chair a commission governing the Interior ministry, with two commissioners appointed from every province. Rabbani was to chair Defense with a similarly unwieldy commission. This charade was to ensure that Massoud's authority would be swamped and he formally resigned, apparently leaving government for a short period. A new high council of party members and notables also was reinstated, presumably to oversee Rabbani.
Rabbani had been politically outflanked. For the first time his forces suffered significant setbacks in the Darulaman and adjacent southeastern sections of Kabul. Wahdat induced defections from the pro-government Shias led by Sheikh Asif Muhseni and there were further defections from former DRA units. Rabbani appeared cornered. At this point, the momentum appeared to shift again. In April, Massoud's forces had consolidated control of the highly strategic Shomali region north of Kabul. Rabbani's powerful regional commander, Ismail Khan, extended his authority from Herat to include much of Helmand Province in the south by reaching alliances with Durrani affiliated commanders. This strategy enabled him to drive out forces allied with Hekmatyar.
Meanwhile Hekmatyar demonstrated his well-known caution by refusing to enter Kabul. He preferred the command center he had created at Charasyab. Arrangements , but many were missing and refused to go to Charasyab to conduct government business.
Throughout the rest of 1993 fighting near Kabul was reduced to occasional rocketing, except for heavy fighting between Sayyaf and Mazari's Wahdat over the proposals for applying the Sharia in the proposed constitution. Sayyaf was chair of the drafting commission. Meanwhile there was much political maneuvering. Dostam visited Kabul in July, allegedly impressed by the defense the government had mounted. There were rumors his impressive military establishment at Mazar-i-Sharif was running out of funds and he had fallen out with his major ally, Sayyid Mansor of the Kayan (Ismaili) militia, who controlled much of strategic Baghlan Province. Dostam saw Massoud and he also met Hekmatyar. In August Massoud, himself, extended a wary hand to Hekmatyar.
These intrigues ended abruptly with 1993. In the new year, Hekmatyar and Dostam mounted their joint assault on Kabul and also on Massoud's position in the northeast. The government's defenses held through five months of fighting and then counterattacked in June. Rabbani hung on to his shrinking legitimacy as president, and a quest for a political solution began in earnest.
The dramatic events early in the year drastically altered the struggle for control of what was left of central authority. For the first time the Islamic Republican government secured the capital and found some breathing room to begin the enormous tasks of restoring order, basic public services and credible central authority. Beyond these lay the daunting challenges of uniting and rebuilding the Afghan nation as a whole.
Hekmatyar's fall did not diminish conflict. Branding the Rabbani government as corrupt and venal as the rest of the Mujahidin leaders, the Taliban claimed the exclusive right to rule. After two weeks of negotiations, government forces drove the Taliban and the Hezb-i-Wahdat out of Kabul's southern suburbs. Within a week, the Taliban were forced back into Logar and Wardak provinces and the capital was freed from rocketing. The offensive it had launched against Ismael Khan's positions in southern and western Afghanistan were repulsed in April and May. Yet, by early summer the Taliban had stabilized their positions on all fronts. After three months of fighting the government had failed to dislodge it from Maidan Shahr, twenty-five kilometers south of Kabul. In addition to its core region centering on Kandahar, the Taliban continued to control parts of Wardak, Logar, Helmand, Farah, Nimroz, and Uruzghar provinces. By mid-June a short ceasefire with the prospect of negotiations was agreed on.
Its spectacular emergence notwithstanding, the Taliban leadership confronts an anomalous situation. In negotiating with the Rabbani government, it runs the risk of losing its aura of deliverance and being perceived instead as another regional warlord power. How that might affect its popular support or the elan of its soldiers is not yet clear. It has dramatically changed the Afghan political equation, but its emergence as a major contender has made a political solution leading to peace more problematic.
The Taliban's achievements have crystalized as well as changed the rivalries that dominate Afghan politics. A three-cornered struggle has become more clearly defined. Rabbani's Islamic government, the Taliban and Dostam (with or without the assets of his allies in the Supreme Coordinating Council) have the material resources, the regional and sociological bases, the elements of political identity and the foreign support to dominate Afghan politics. (The Shia communities have defensive capabilities, but must find allies to have national impact.) Yet none of these three are capable of defeating the others and forcefully uniting the country. Each has demonstrated ability to defend its region against attacks from the others.
The combat fault lines running between them are now well defined: roughly the Kabul River gorge and upper basin separating the Rabbani government--dominated by Tajiks and Farsiwans--from the Pushtun region to its south; the highway running through Kunduz between the Salang Pass and Sher Khan Bandar on the Tajikistan border which generally separates Uzbeks under Dostam from Tajiks following Massoud and Rabbani; Faryab and Baghis provinces fought over by Dostam and Ismael Khan; and northern Farah and Helmand provinces where Ismael Khan maneuvers against various Pushtun rivals. In all of these areas combat has produced shifting results as one side or another gains temporary advantage. There has been no instance of a major or lasting penetration by one protagonist into the core area of another, and with Hekmatyar's apparent demise the likelihood of such a major event has lessened. (Dostam's presence in and near Kabul has depended upon allies in the immediate vicinity--first Massoud, later Mazari and Hekmatyar. With the loss of these allies, as well armed as he is, Dostam's position has become purely regional.)
The Rabbani government appears to be gaining military strength compared with its rivals. In 1994-95 it has demonstrated the ability to defend itself against attacks from both sides and from Shias within Kabul itself. No longer distracted by Hekmatyar, in early 1995 it devastated Hezb-i-Wahdat, forced Taliban out of Kabul while recovering Kunduz and Sher Khan Bandar from Dostam and successfully defending Herat in the west. Even so, there are inherent limits in the government's situation. Dostam controls the Salang Pass and has strengthened his grip on the north-south highway. Rabbani's government is still subject to attack from both sides in addition to assaults from the Iran backed Hazarajat. Geographically and politically it occupies the weakest position for attracting foreign assistance. It would require extraordinary leadership and a remarkable set of circumstances for a Kabul-centered government to defeat all its adversaries militarily.
The most basic reason why complete victory eludes all the protagonists is that it would require intrusion into regional communities with clear ethnic dominance patterns and increasingly stronger senses of political autonomy. Moreover, all sides are well armed. In post-Marxist Afghanistan all armies are regionally based and they have all done poorly outside of their own turf.
The Taliban factor increases the possibility of a divided Afghanistan. As an instrument for rallying the Pushtun community to a degree that was impossible while the widely disliked Hekmatyar attempted to carry the Pushtun banner, the Taliban may yet be able to assemble forces strong enough to drive the Tajik dominated government out of Kabul and perhaps over the Hindu Kush. In effect, this would reduce the number of major protagonists to two. It would oblige the putative minority Tajiks and Uzbeks and probably the Shias into a joint defense. Such a scenario would leave Afghanistan dangerously divided, seriously raising the prospect of partition.
A stabilized three-sided stand-off offers a lesser threat to Afghanistan's national integrity. It provides a better opportunity for balance and flexibility among the sides. It removes the temptation of using the Hindu Kush as a physical justification for dividing or fragmenting the country. Each protagonist being smaller and weaker (than would be the case if Pushtuns were pitted against the minorities) is more likely to find the prospect of being absorbed or dominated by their cross-border counterparts in Iran, Pakistan of Central Asia less appealing. The important presence of the Shias, even if they do not constitute a fourth major protagonist, obliges their regional neighbors to bargain with them to achieve stability. A tripartite stalemate, offers the eventual prospect of reconciliation and even consensus which could be facilitated by the UN.
Mujahidin failure to create a semblance of effective national government has added immeasurably to Afghanistan's tragedy. Perhaps three million Afghans remain marooned outside their country. Internal conditions make the return of many of them increasingly unlikely. In addition, the internecine fighting has spawned hundreds of thousands of new internal refugees, many clustered in crude tent cities in the Kabul River valley near Jalalabad. Pakistan has attempted to keep them from crossing the border. With resettlement long delayed, national reconstruction has been severely restricted and almost all remaining external assistance has been funneled instead into the fighting.
Where strong regional and local leadership exists, resettlement and the beginnings of reconstruction have been evident. Herat, Panjshir valley and the northeast, and the plain around Mazar-i-Sharif have experienced degrees of recovery. Regional marketing, land reclamation, re-opening of schools, some small-scale construction and light industry have reappeared.
The rest of Afghanistan, especially Kabul, await peace before measurable improvements can be expected. Instead, rogue economies based on theft, extortion and smuggling remain rife in many areas, especially the east and south. Until intervention by the Taliban, agriculture in the eastern Pushtun provinces was completely dominated by opium cultivation and processing. Poppy growing for subsistence consumption had been traditional in parts of Afghanistan, but since the late 1980s it became Afghanistan's most valuable commercial export.
The recovery of functional national government is likely to require an evolutionary process involving the progressive reaching of agreements between the three most powerful protagonists. There are compelling reasons for them to grope toward a national union, probably federal in structure. The lack of national authority over a medium- or long-term period increases the risk of dismemberment. Competing ambitions between Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics are more likely to escalate toward annexation of contiguous regions of Afghanistan if there is no progress toward national unity.
So far, despite the turmoil the threat of dismemberment or partition has not materialized. However destructive it has been, political energy has been directed inward, with instances of overlapping alliances and cooperation between the major communities. This has been especially true among the minorities, including the Shias, for example, Muhseni's Harakat Islami as a Shia bulwark of -and-out relations with Dostam and Massoud, Massoud's largely Pushtun senior staff in the defense ministry, and Ismail Khan's alliances with Durrani chiefs.
Many of these connections are examples of opportunistic intrigues, yet under the stress of competing pressures, the qawn, with its pull toward primordial loyalty can be expected to prevail. Even so, cooperation leading to political cohesion offers obvious benefits. National survival and avoidance of further exhaustion from internal war call for it. Recovery of transportation, communications, law and order, education, and comprehensive economic policy leading to commerce on a national level is impossible without agreement on a functional center. Regional recovery such as Ismail Khan has led in Herat requires economies of scale, exchange with the complementary economies of adjacent regions, and national promotion of international trade to rise above sporadic local successes.
War and tumult have changed Afghanistan's political landscape, if not political values. For the first time in more than two centuries, Pushtuns do not dominate areas of Afghanistan beyond their own ancestral regions. Meanwhile, it is clear that the Tajiks and Farsiwans, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Ismailis, and the smaller communities expect equivalent political status in whatever national system might evolve. Ghilzai political dominance appears to have been short lived. Given the disarray among the Pushtuns, the "minorities" have considerable opportunity to solidify their claims.
Foreign involvement has long since become a critical factor. Shia politics have been greatly influenced by Iranian material support and guidance. Dostam has retained close connections with Uzbekistan. The civil war in Tajikistan spilled into Afghanistan in 1992, bringing more than 100,000 refugees across the Amu Darya, as well as cross-border raids and artillery counterattacks. Russian support of the Tajikistan government has brought Russians back to the Afghan border.
By far the most serious potential foreign issues for Afghanistan concern its relations with Pakistan. It continues to be closely involved with the shuras, commanders and perhaps the Taliban inside eastern Afghanistan. The dilemmas run deep. If Pushtuns refuse to reach a compact with Afghanistan's other communities and are unable to dominate them, the implications for their relations with Pakistan are ominous. The border they share with Pakistan could become even more volatile. Denied power and control over Afghanistan's material resources--which are mostly concentrated in the minority regions--the frustrations of Afghanistan's Pushtuns could threaten Pakistan's own stability.
If Afghanistan becomes partitioned between north and south, demands could rise for the creation of either a Pushtunistan separate from Pakistan or a greater Northwest Frontier Province inside Pakistan. Either one of these possibilities would generate great political pressure for Pakistan. If it accepts the status quo it could lose control of its border as Pushtun nationalists from both sides agitate for a new Pushtunistan. If it tries to amalgamate Afghan Pushtuns into Pakistan it would risk creating a Trojan horse that could cause serious political instability.
A partitioning of Afghanistan would also greatly increase the difficulty of Pakistan's avowed goal of political, cultural, and logistical connections with the newly independent Central Asian Republics. An independent northern Afghanistan could have less interest in being a conduit for Pakistan's economic relations with Central Asia than would a united Afghanistan. Much would depend upon the circumstances that might lead to such a partition.
Afghanistan thus presents a series of dilemmas for its neighbors. They have helped fuel the war over Kabul and the fighting elsewhere. Their good offices have led to cease fires and temporary agreements between the parties. They play both roles, fearing the loss of connections with the major Afghan players, lest one of them prevails.
Having developed special relationships with communities inside Afghanistan, its neighbors run the risk of acting as spoilers if Afghans make progress toward political unity. At some point such meddling could ignite a crisis that could destabilize the region. Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan are closely tied to the creation of an effective, united and popular Afghan government. Such an outcome could improve its hopes for strong links with Central Asia. It could also lessen Pushtun unrest, with its potential for complicating cross-border relations. It is thus in Pakistan's interest to encourage general political reconciliation among Afghans, a policy which requires reducing its focus on Afghan regional politics.
Despite Afghans' pride in independence, during the past two centuries their politics have been greatly influenced by foreign involvements. In its present condition of great political vulnerability, Afghanistan is again intimately affected by foreign powers. Yet since the founding of its tribal monarchy foreign meddling has been dominated by imperial, alien, and non-Islamic nations. In a new era of political alignments and cultural resurgence, there is opportunity for Afghanistan to revive within a community of Islamic states. Whether that possibility will materialize depends greatly on its neighbors.* * *
Literature on Afghan politics and government mushroomed rapidly in connection with the Soviet war. For the period prior to 1980 the best sources in English are Kawun Kakar Hasan's Government and Society in Afghanistan: The Reign of Amin 'Abd al-Rahman Khan, Louis Dupree's Afghanistan, Leon Poullada's Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919-1929, Vartan Gregorian's The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1840-1946, Richard S. Newell's The Politics of Afghanistan, and Donald Wilbur's Afghanistan. Among them these titles cover the efforts to consolidate central authority over Afghanistan's disparate communities and to develop a modern state.
Among the many works that addressed the Marxist seizure of power, Soviet occupation, the growth of nationalist resistance, Soviet withdrawal, the ensuing civil war culminating in the mujahidin victory and struggle for power, several are outstanding and have been important sources for this chapter. For the Saur coup and the early period of Soviet occupation, Henry S. Bradsher's Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. A thorough examination of the Afghan communism is presented in Anthony Arnold's Afghanistan's Two-Party Communism. The most creative and influential interpretation of the social foundations and ideological impact of the Soviet war and Afghan resistance is provided by Olivier Roy in Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. An excellent account of the Geneva negotiations and the Soviet withdrawal is given in Raiz Muhammad Khan's Untying the Afghan Knot: Negotiating the Soviet Withdrawal. The best comprehensive analysis of the Marxist client government, the end of the war and its aftermath is The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System by Barnett Rubin.
Data as of 1997
|what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact
Copyright 2013 Mongabay.com