Afghanistan, a land that has historically been dominated by foreign occupation and internal conflicts, was a prosperous and modern place to live. However, it is extremely hard for anyone to imagine that, given the recent history of the country. To understand the conflict in this region one must internalize the history, culture and to a larger extent, the religious influence on the population.
The Pre-Islamic Era
According to the archeological evidence, civilization in this region began somewhere between 3000 and 2000 B.C. The very first artifacts and documents were related back to the Iranian Achaemenid Dynasty that ruled this region from 550 B.C. until 331 B.C. Alexander the Great subsequently defeated the Iranian emperor in 330 B.C. and occupied the region despite some local resistance. Alexander and his successors brought their Greek influence to the region and introduced Greek architecture to this new land. Even today, much of Greek infrastructure is still present and visible around the country. After the reign of the Greeks, a Buddhist civilization emerged and flourished in this land. Buddhist control lasted from the late first century until the end of the tenth century.
Kandahar, located in the south-east of present-day Afghanistan was raided by the Arabs in 699 and this laid the foundation of Islamic influence in the region. Islamic influence was further strengthened by the Turkish rule in the region when the Turks conquered India, Iran, and Afghanistan. However, in the 13th century, the Mongols led by Genghis Khan invaded the region, and the next five hundred or so years would prove to be war-torn and Afghanistan would be fought over by various Indian and Persian empires.
Islamic Era and Anglo-Afghan Wars:
In 1504 the region was in a tug of war between Indian Mughals and the Iranian Safavid Dynasty. After the passing of Nadir Shah, leader of the Safavi, the indigenous tribe called “The Pashtuns’’ claimed the region in 1747. Ahmed Shah Abdali (Durrani) was the first ruler from the Pashtun tribe. He is also known as the founder of the Afghan Nation. Under his rule, the Afghan nation extended Delhi and the Arabian sea. He achieved this by bringing all the Pashtun tribes together fighting for one cause. His successor Dost Mohammad Khan ruled at a time when there were multiple nations trying to dominate this Central Asia region. Russia and Great Britain being the major players. Afghanistan managed to maintain its independence from them until the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842) in which Britain removed Dost Mohammad from power, and as a result, the Afghani garrisons were abandoned giving Britain the control of Southern Afghanistan. The north was under the control of the Russians, but in 1878 the British invaded and took control of Northern Afghanistan by defeating the Russians in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
Now that Afghanistan was under British rule, Durranis were given the right to rule and to make internal policy decisions. From 1880 to 1919, Durranis tirelessly worked on consolidating the Afghan tribes while balancing British and Russian interests. The British divided the region into south and north, hence creating future tensions between the Pashtun tribes.
The Modern Era:
The Treaty of Rawalpindi was signed in 1919, which led to the independence of Afghanistan and officially brought an end to the Third-Anglo-Afghan War. Afghanistan regained control of its foreign affairs and policymaking, which led to land reforms, tax reforms, educational reforms, and establishing the nation’s first constitution. However, this system took the power away from the elders of the tribes and the religious establishment. Therefore, this power struggle led to murders of leaders and toppled governments until Nadir Khan took control, and his family ruled until 1978.
Nadir Khan and his successor brought about a modern era in Afghanistan. He allowed the tribal chiefs greater autonomy to conduct their internal business as they have been for ages. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1933 and was succeeded by his son Zahir Shah. Zahir Shah being a teenager (19) at that time was effectively controlled by his two uncles who later became Prime Ministers of the country. During this time the liberal parliament was introduced. Under Zahir Shah’s rule, intellectuals enjoyed freedom, women entered the workplace, and government and education were encouraged, leading to a prosperous time in Afghan history.
Zahir Shah’s cousin Daoud staged a coup in 1973, declaring Afghanistan a republic and himself as the President. The Soviet Union was already involved in giving military aid to Afghanistan, but this time the United States of America also started to aid the country with large sums of money. This aid was invested in infrastructure and education amongst others projects. Kabul became a hotbed for political debate in which both Communist and Islamic ideologies were discussed. Women and men were not segregated in the education system that led to a society in which both men and women earned and grew together.
The Sawr Revolution:
In 1978 The Sawr Revolution, led by Afghanistan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDPA), overthrew Daoud and assassinated him in a communist coup. However, due to internal conflicts, the party split into two factions, Parcham and The Khalq.
Parcham was slowly expelled and became the resistance, while The Khalq led by Noor Mohammad Taraki took control. The Khalq was primarily composed of non-elite Pashtuns and initially enjoyed a period of acceptance from the Afghan population.
However, Khalq’s Marxist approach to the government grew out of control by 1978. Their government became increasingly outspoken and symbolically changed the flag of the nation to a Red flag. The Khalq abandoned the moderate Islamic approach taken by the PDPA and suspended all laws except civil law and criminal law put in place during the Daoud Regime. They also introduced radical land reforms by means of repression leading to tens of thousands of arrests and executions. Their policy of encouraging women’s education was received with extreme resentment by the village elders, who did not like government intervention in their private matters. Education of women was seen as an extremely private matter and having the women of these village tribes obtain education was not a common practice, if not frowned upon. By introducing such revolutionary ideas, the countryside of Afghanistan was pushed to revolt.
President Taraki ordered all Parchamis to exit the military and mandated that all officers must affiliate with Khalq. Due to this order, approximately 800 Parchamis were expelled from the armed forces. Hafizullah Amin became the prime minister in March 1979, while Taraki remained the President and controlled the Army. The rivalry between them led to several attempts on Amin’s life. The final attempt backfired and Amin’s followers murdered Taraki, which created a significant divide in the Khalqis. The Khalqis were further divided by the rival military groups. In late 1979 Amin conducted a military sweep operation against these insurgents and drove approximately 40,000 people (mostly non-combatants) across the border into Pakistan. This was the start of the Afghanistan Refugee Crisis and by the end of 1979, 400,000 Afghani refugees were forced into Pakistan.
The Russians tried to tame the radical Khalqi policies by urging mosque attendance, encouraging the inclusion of the Parchamis and non-communists into governmental roles, and putting a stop to the extremely unpopular land reforms. However, their advice and suggestions were completely ignored. Amin requested the Soviets to intervene and stabilize the situation in the country, but the Soviet intelligence (KGB) in conjunction with the Parchamis staged a coup leading to the assassination of Hafizullah Amin. Babrak Karmal, a Parchami, was brought in as a replacement for Amin.
Now that Khalqis were no longer in charge of the military, Parchamis faced a major problem. The military was dominated by the Khalqis due to the massive purge of Parchamis under Amin’s rule. Khaliqi officers were extremely bitter at what had taken place and the preferential treatment Parchamis were receiving from the Soviets. These Khalqis felt dejected and often assisted the Mujahideen with their fight against the Soviet occupation.
‘Mujahideen’ is pleural from the world Mujahid, which literally means Muslim engaged in ‘Jihad’. BBC.com describes Jihad as, “The word “jihad”… In Arabic…means “effort” or “struggle”. In Islam, it could be an individual’s internal struggle against baser instincts, the struggle to build a good Muslim society, or a war for the faith against unbelievers.”
Mujahideens were a group of regional “freedom fighters” who saw the Soviets as an occupying force in a Muslim country. These groups later unified into a political faction called Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen, but they were not under a single command due to ideological differences. Mujahideens recruited fighters from all over the Muslim world and some of the veterans would become very well known in the future conflicts of this region. Osama-Bin-Laden was one of the most prominent organizers and financiers of such groups, who funneled money, arms, and fighters from all over the Muslim world into Afghanistan.
Part 2 of 4: https://bit.ly/3k9mzTk