The Afghan Civil War
Nur Mohammad Taraki was elected president of the Revolutionary Council,
prime minister of the country, and secretary general of the combined
People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Babrak
Karmal, a Banner leader, and Hafizullah Amin were elected deputy
prime ministers. The leaders of the new government insisted that they
were not controlled by the Soviet Union and proclaimed their policies
to be based on Afghan nationalism, Islamic principles, socioeconomic
justice, nonalignment in foreign affairs, and respect for all agreements
and treaties signed by previous Afghan governments.
Unity between the Khalq (People) and Parcham (Banner) factions
rapidly faded as the People's Party emerged dominant, particularly
because their major base of power was in the military. Karmal and
other selected Banner leaders were sent abroad as ambassadors, and
there were systematic purges of any Banner members or others who
might oppose the regime.
The Taraki regime announced its reform programs, including the
elimination of usury, equal rights for women, land reforms, and
administrative decrees in classic Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.
The reform program--which threatened to undermine basic Afghan cultural
patterns--and political repression antagonized large segments of
the population, but major violent responses did not occur until
the uprising in Nurestan late in the summer of 1978. Other revolts,
largely uncoordinated, spread throughout all of Afghanistan's provinces,
and periodic explosions rocked Kabul and other major cities. On
Feb. 14, 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed, and the elimination
of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan was guaranteed.
Hafizullah Amin became prime minister on March 28, 1979, although
Taraki retained his posts as president of the Revolutionary Council
and secretary general of the PDPA. The expanding revolts in the
countryside, however, continued, and the Afghan Army collapsed.
The Amin regime asked for and received more Soviet military aid.
Taraki was killed in a confrontation between Taraki and Amin supporters
on Sept. 14, 1979. Amin then tried to broaden his internal base
of support and to again interest Pakistan and the United States
in Afghan security. Despite his efforts, on the night of Dec. 24,
1979, the Soviets began their invasion of Afghanistan, and Amin
and many of his followers were killed on December 27.
Babrak Karmal returned to Afghanistan from the Soviet Union and
became prime minister, president of the Revolutionary Council, and
secretary general of the PDPA. Opposition to the Soviets and Karmal
spread rapidly, urban demonstrations and violence increased, and
resistance escalated in all regions. By early 1980, several regional
groups, collectively known as mujahideen (from the Arabic word meaning
"warriors"), had united inside Afghanistan, or across
the border in Peshawar, to resist the Soviet invaders and the Soviet-backed
Afghan Army. Friction among the Banner and People's members heightened
in 1980 when Karmal removed Assadullah Sarwari, a member of the
People's Party, from his position as first deputy prime minister
and replaced him with a Banner leader, Sultan Ali Keshtmand. Banner
Party dominance was broadened again in June 1981 when Karmal, retaining
his other offices, resigned as prime minister and was succeeded
On May 4, 1986, Mohammad
Najibullah, former head of the secret police, replaced Karmal
as secretary general of the PDPA, and in November 1986 Karmal was
relieved of all his government and party posts. Friction among the
Banner and People's parties continued. A national reconciliation
campaign approved by the Politburo in September 1986, which included
a unilateral six-month cease-fire to begin on Jan. 15, 1987, met
with little response inside Afghanistan and was rejected by resistance
leaders in Pakistan.
In November 1987 a new constitution changed the name of the country
back to the Republic of Afghanistan and allowed other political
parties to participate in the government. Najibullah was elected
to the newly strengthened post of president. Despite renewals of
the official cease-fire, Afghan resistance to the Soviet presence
continued, and the effects of the war were felt in neighbouring
countries: Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran numbered in the
millions. Morale in the Afghan military was low. Men were drafted
only to desert at the earliest opportunity, and the Afghan military
dropped from its 1978 strength of 105,000 to about 20,000-30,000
by 1987. The Soviets attempted new tactics, but the resistance always
devised counter tactics. For example, the use of the Spetsnaz (special
forces) was met by counter-ambushes.
The only weapons systems that solidly continued to bedevil the
resistance were combat helicopter gunship and jet bombers. Toward
the end of 1986, however, the resistance fighters began to receive
more and better weapons from the outside world--particularly from
the United States, the United Kingdom, and China--via Pakistan,
the most important of these being shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles.
The Soviet and Afghan air forces then began to suffer considerable
Pressure from the Pakistanis, from outside supporters, and from
the guerrilla commanders had forced the seven major resistance groups
based in Peshawar to form an alliance in May 1985. Inside Afghanistan,
neighbouring ethnolinguistically oriented resistance groups united
for military and political purposes within their various regions.
Internal struggles for leadership also occurred in certain areas
where the Soviets had little influence, such as Hazarajat and Nurestan.
Although no national liberation front existed, the resistance groups
began to feel that they were part of an overall effort to liberate
During the 1980s talks between the foreign ministers of Afghanistan
and Pakistan were held in Geneva under the auspices of the United
Nations, the primary stumbling blocks being the timetable for the
withdrawal of Soviet troops and the cessation of arms supplies to
the mujahideen. Peace accords were finally signed in April 1988.
General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev subsequently carried out an
earlier promise to begin withdrawing Soviet troops in May of that
year; troops began pulling out as scheduled, and the last Soviet
soldier left Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989. The civil war continued,
however, despite predictions of an early collapse of the Najibullah
government upon the withdrawal of the Soviets. The mujahideen formed
an interim government in Pakistan and steadfastly resisted efforts
of reconciliation by Najibullah.
Najibullah was finally ousted from power in 1992, and a coalition
of rebel forces set up a fragile interim government. General peace
and stability remained a distant hope for the war-torn nation, as
rival militias vied for influence, interethnic tensions flared,
and the economy lay in chaos. With the fall of the Communist government,
Afghanistan appeared to be on a course of Islamicization; the interim
government banned the sale of alcohol and pressured women to cover
their heads in public and adopt traditional Muslim dress.
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