Islamic State of Afghanistan
(The Taliban regime refers to the country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.)
Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979. The USSR
was forced to withdraw 10 years later by anti-communist mujahidin forces supplied
and trained by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others. Fighting subsequently
continued among the various mujahidin factions, but the fundamentalist Islamic
Taliban movement has been able to seize most of the country. In addition to the
continuing civil strife, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a crumbling
infrastructure, and widespread land mines.
Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, has had a turbulent
history. In 328 BC, Alexander the Great entered the territory of present-day Afghanistan,
then part of the Persian Empire, to capture Bactria (present-day Balkh). Invasions
by the Scythians, White Huns, and Turks followed in succeeding centuries. In AD
642, Arabs invaded the entire region and introduced Islam.
Arab rule quickly gave way to the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered
by the Turkic Ghaznavids in 998. Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030) consolidated the
conquests of his predecessors and turned Ghazni into a great cultural center as
well as a base for frequent forays into India. Following Mahmud's short-lived
dynasty, various princes attempted to rule sections of the country until the Mongol
invasion of 1219. The Mongol invasion, led by Genghis Khan, resulted in massive
slaughter of the population, destruction of many cities, including Herat, Ghazni,
and Balkh, and the despoliation of fertile agricultural areas.
Following Genghis Khan's death in 1227, a succession of petty chiefs and princes
struggled for supremacy until late in the 14th century, when one of his descendants,
Tamerlane, incorporated Afghanistan into his own vast Asian empire. Babur, a descendant
of Tamerlane and the founder of India's Moghul dynasty at the beginning of the
16th century, made Kabul the capital of an Afghan principality.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of what is known today as Afghanistan,
established his rule. A Pashtun, Durrani was elected king by a tribal council
after the assassination of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah at Khabushan in the same
year. Throughout his reign, Durrani consolidated chieftainships, petty principalities,
and fragmented provinces into one country. His rule extended from Mashad in the
west to Kashmir and Delhi in the east, and from the Amu Darya (Oxus) River in
the north to the Arabian Sea in the south. With the exception of a 9-month period
in 1929, all of Afghanistan's rulers until the 1978 Marxist coup were from Durrani's
Pashtun tribal confederation, and all were members of that tribe's Mohammadzai
clan after 1818.
Collision between the expanding British and Russian Empires significantly influenced
Afghanistan during the 19th century in what was termed "The Great Game." British
concern over Russian advances in Central Asia and growing influence in Persia
culminated in two Anglo-Afghan wars. The first (1839-42) resulted not only in
the destruction of a British army, but is remembered today as an example of the
ferocity of Afghan resistance to foreign rule. The second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-80)
was sparked by Amir Sher Ali's refusal to accept a British mission in Kabul. This
conflict brought Amir Abdur Rahman to the Afghan throne. During his reign (1880-1901),
the British and Russians officially established the boundaries of what would become
modern Afghanistan. The British retained effective control over Kabul's foreign
Afghanistan remained neutral during World War I, despite German encouragement
of anti-British feelings and Afghan rebellion along the borders of British India.
The Afghan king's policy of neutrality was not universally popular within the
Habibullah, Abdur Rahman's son and successor, was assassinated in 1919, possibly
by family members opposed to British influence. His third son, Amanullah, regained
control of Afghanistan's foreign policy after launching the Third Anglo-Afghan
war with an attack on India in the same year. During the ensuing conflict, the
war-weary British relinquished their control over Afghan foreign affairs by signing
the Treaty of Rawalpindi in August 1919. In commemoration of this event, Afghans
celebrate August 19 as their Independence Day.
Reform and Reaction
King Amanullah (1919-29) moved to end his country's traditional isolation in the
years following the Third Anglo-Afghan war. He established diplomatic relations
with most major countries and, following a 1927 tour of Europe and Turkey--during
which he noted the modernization and secularization advanced by Ataturk--introduced
several reforms intended to modernize Afghanistan. Some of these, such as the
abolition of the traditional Muslim veil for women and the opening of a number
of co-educational schools, quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders.
Faced with overwhelming armed opposition, Amanullah was forced to abdicate in
January 1929 after Kabul fell to forces led by Bacha-i-Saqao, a Tajik brigand.
Prince Nadir Khan, a cousin of Amanullah's, in turn defeated Bacha-i-Saqao in
October of the same year and, with considerable Pashtun tribal support, was declared
King Nadir Shah. Four years later, however, he was assassinated in a revenge killing
by a Kabul student.
Mohammad Zahir Shah, Nadir Khan's 19-year-old son, succeeded to the throne
and reigned from 1933 to 1973. In 1964, King Zahir Shah promulgated a liberal
constitution providing for a two-chamber legislature to which the king appointed
one-third of the deputies. The people elected another third, and the remainder
were selected indirectly by provincial assemblies. Although Zahir's "experiment
in democracy" produced few lasting reforms, it permitted the growth of unofficial
extremist parties on both the left and the right. These included the communist
People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had close ideological ties
to the Soviet Union. In 1967, the PDPA split into two major rival factions: the
Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin and supported
by elements within the military, and the Parcham (Banner) faction led by Babrak
Karmal. The split reflected ethnic, class, and ideological divisions within Afghan
Zahir's cousin, Sardar Mohammad Daoud, served as his Prime Minister from 1953
to 1963. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Daoud solicited military and economic
assistance from both Washington and Moscow and introduced controversial social
policies of a reformist nature. Daoud's alleged support for the creation of a
Pashtun state in the Pakistan-Afghan border area heightened tensions with Pakistan
and eventually resulted in Daoud's dismissal in March 1963.
Daoud's Republic (1973-78) and the April 1978 Coup
Amid charges of corruption and malfeasance against the royal family and poor economic
conditions created by the severe 1971-72 drought, former Prime Minister Daoud
seized power in a military coup on July 17, 1973. Zahir Shah fled the country
eventually finding refuge in Italy. Daoud abolished the monarchy, abrogated the
1964 constitution, and declared Afghanistan a republic with himself as its first
President and Prime Minister. His attempts to carry out badly needed economic
and social reforms met with little success, and the new constitution promulgated
in February 1977 failed to quell chronic political instability.
Seeking to exploit more effectively mounting popular disaffection, the PDPA
reunified with Moscow's support. On April 27, 1978, the PDPA initiated a bloody
coup, which resulted in the overthrow and murder of Daoud and most of his family.
Nur Muhammad Taraki, Secretary General of the PDPA, became President of the Revolutionary
Council and Prime Minister of the newly established Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Opposition to the Marxist government emerged almost immediately. During its
first 18 months of rule, the PDPA brutally imposed a Marxist-style "reform" program,
which ran counter to deeply rooted Afghan traditions.
Decrees abolishing usury, forcing changes in marriage customs, and pushing
through an ill-conceived land reform were particularly misunderstood virtually
all Afghans. In addition, thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious
establishment, and the intelligentsia were imprisoned, tortured, or murdered.
Conflicts within the PDPA also surfaced early and resulted in exiles, purges,
imprisonments, and executions.
By the summer of 1978, a revolt began in the Nuristan region of eastern Afghanistan
and quickly spread into a countrywide insurgency. In September 1979, Hafizullah
Amin, who had earlier been Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, seized power
from Taraki after a palace shootout. Over the next 2 months, instability plagued
Amin's regime as he moved against perceived enemies in the PDPA. By December,
party morale was crumbling, and the insurgency was growing.
The Soviet Invasion
The Soviet Union moved quickly to take advantage of the April 1978 coup. In December
1978, Moscow signed a new bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation with
Afghanistan, and the Soviet military assistance program increased significantly.
The regime's survival increasingly was dependent upon Soviet military equipment
and advisers as the insurgency spread and the Afghan army began to collapse.
By October 1979, however, relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union
were tense as Hafizullah Amin refused to take Soviet advice on how to stabilize
and consolidate his government. Faced with a deteriorating security situation
on December 24, 1979, large numbers of Soviet airborne forces, joining thousands
of Soviet troops already on the ground, began to land in Kabul under the pretext
of a field exercise. On December 26, these invasion forces killed Hafizullah Amin
and installed Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham faction, bringing him
back from Czechoslovakia and making him Prime Minister. Massive Soviet ground
forces invaded from the north on December 27.
Following the invasion, the Karmal regime, although backed by an expeditionary
force that grew as large as 120,000 Soviet troops, was unable to establish authority
outside Kabul. As much as 80% of the countryside, including parts of Herat and
Kandahar, eluded effective government control. An overwhelming majority of Afghans
opposed the communist regime, either actively or passively. Afghan freedom fighters
(mujahidin) made it almost impossible for the regime to maintain a system of local
government outside major urban centers. Poorly armed at first, in 1984 the mujahidin
began receiving substantial assistance in the form of weapons and training from
the U.S. and other outside powers.
In May 1985, the seven principal Peshawar-based guerrilla organizations formed
an alliance to coordinate their political and military operations against the
Soviet occupation. Late in 1985, the mujahidin were active in and around Kabul,
launching rocket attacks and conducting operations against the communist government.
The failure of the Soviet Union to win over a significant number of Afghan collaborators
or to rebuild a viable Afghan army forced it to bear an increasing responsibility
for fighting the resistance and for civilian administration.
Soviet and popular displeasure with the Karmal regime led to its demise in
May 1986. Karmal was replaced by Muhammad Najibullah, former chief of the Afghan
secret police (KHAD). Najibullah had established a reputation for brutal efficiency
during his tenure as KHAD chief. As Prime Minister, Najibullah was ineffective
and highly dependent on Soviet support. Undercut by deep-seated divisions within
the PDPA, regime efforts to broaden its base of support proved futile.
The Geneva Accords and Their Aftermath
By the mid-1980s, the tenacious Afghan resistance movement--aided by the United
States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others--was exacting a high price from the
Soviets, both militarily within Afghanistan and by souring the U.S.S.R.'s relations
with much of the Western and Islamic world. Although informal negotiations for
a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway since 1982, it was not
until 1988 that the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States
and Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement settling the major
differences between them. The agreement, known as the Geneva accords, included
five major documents, which, among other things, called for U.S. and Soviet noninterference
in the internal affairs of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the right of refugees to
return to Afghanistan without fear of persecution or harassment, and, most importantly,
a timetable that ensured full Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by February 15,
1989. About 14,500 Soviet and an estimated one million Afghan lives were lost
between 1979 and the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Significantly, the mujahidin were neither party to the negotiations nor to
the 1988 agreement and, consequently, refused to accept the terms of the accords.
As a result, the civil war continued after the Soviet withdrawal, which was completed
in February 1989. Najibullah's regime, though failing to win popular support,
territory, or international recognition, was able to remain in power until 1992
but collapsed after the defection of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Uzbek militia
in March. However, when the victorious mujahidin entered Kabul to assume control
over the city and the central government, a new round of internecine fighting
began between the various militias, which had coexisted only uneasily during the
Soviet occupation. With the demise of their common enemy, the militias' ethnic,
clan, religious, and personality differences surfaced, and the civil war continued.
Seeking to resolve these differences, the leaders of the Peshawar-based mujahidin
groups established an interim Islamic Jihad Council in mid-April to assume power
in Kabul. Moderate leader Prof. Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was to chair the council
for 2 months, after which a 10-member leadership council composed of mujahidin
leaders and presided over by the head of the Jamiat-i-Islami, Prof. Burhanuddin
Rabbani, was to be set up for 4 months. During this 6-month period, a Loya Jirga,
or grand council of Afghan elders and notables, would convene and designate an
interim administration which would hold power up to a year, pending elections.
But in May 1992, Rabbani prematurely formed the leadership council, undermining
Mojaddedi's fragile authority. In June, Mojaddedi surrendered power to the Leadership
Council, which then elected Rabbani as President. Nonetheless, heavy fighting
broke out in August 1992 in Kabul between forces loyal to President Rabbani and
rival factions, particularly those who supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami.
After Rabbani extended his tenure in December 1992, fighting in the capital flared
up in January and February 1993. The Islamabad Accord, signed in March 1993, which
appointed Hekmatyar as Prime Minister, failed to have a lasting effect. A follow-up
agreement, the Jalalabad Accord, called for the militias to be disarmed but was
never fully implemented. Through 1993, Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces, allied
with the Shi'a Hezb-i-Wahdat militia, clashed intermittently with Rabbani and
Masood's Jamiat forces. Cooperating with Jamiat were militants of Sayyaf's Ittehad-i-Islami
and, periodically, troops loyal to ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostam.
On January 1, 1994, Dostam switched sides, precipitating largescale fighting in
Kabul and in northern provinces, which caused thousands of civilian casualties
in Kabul and elsewhere and created a new wave of displaced persons and refugees.
The country sank even further into anarchy, forces loyal to Rabbani and Masood,
both ethnic Tajiks, controlled Kabul and much of the northeast, while local warlords
exerted power over the rest of the country.
Rise of the Taliban
In reaction to the anarchy and warlordism prevalent in the country, and the lack
of Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, a movement of former mujahidin
arose. Many Taliban had been educated in madrassas in Pakistan and were largely
from rural Pashtun backgrounds. The name "Talib" itself means pupil. This group
dedicated itself to removing the warlords, providing order, and imposing Islam
on the country. It received considerable support from Pakistan. In 1994 it developed
enough strength to capture the city of Kandahar from a local warlord and proceeded
to expand its control throughout Afghanistan, occupying Kabul in September 1996.
By the end of 1998, the Taliban occupied about 90% of the country, limiting the
opposition largely to a small largely Tajik corner in the northeast and the Panjshir
valley. Efforts by the UN, prominent Afghans living outside the country, and other
interested countries to bring about a peaceful solution to the continuing conflict
came to naught, largely because of intransigence on the part of the Taliban.
The Taliban has sought to impose an extreme interpretation of Islam--based
in part upon rural Pashtun tradition--upon the entire country and committed massive
human rights violations, particularly directed against women and girls, in the
process. Women are restricted from working outside the home, pursuing an education,
are not to leave their homes without an accompanying male relative, and forced
to wear a traditional body-covering garment called the burka. The Taliban committed
serious atrocities against minority populations, particularly the Shi'a Hazara
ethnic group, and killed noncombatants in several well-documented instances. In
2001, as part of a drive against relics of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past, the
Taliban destroyed two large statues of the Buddha outside of the city of Bamiyan
and announced destruction of all pre-Islamic statues in Afghanistan, including
the remaining holdings of the Kabul Museum.
Since the mid-1990s the Taliban has provided sanctuary to Usama bin Laden,
a Saudi national who had fought with them against the Soviets, and provided a
base for his and other terrorist organizations. The UN Security Council repeatedly
sanctioned the Taliban for these activities. Bin Laden is believed to provide
both financial and political support to the Taliban. Bin Laden and his al Qaeda
group were charged with the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es
Salaam in 1998, and in August 1998 the United States launched a cruise missile
attack against bin Laden's terrorist camp in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and al Qaeda
are believed to be responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist acts in the
United States, among other crimes.
In September, agents working on behalf of the Taliban and believed to be associated
with bin Laden's al Qaeda group assassinated Northern Alliance Defense Minister
and chief military commander Ahmed Shah Masood, a hero of the Afghan resistance
against the Soviets and the Taliban's principal military opponent. Following the
Taliban's repeated refusal to expel bin Laden and his group and end its support
for international terrorism, the U.S. and its partners in the anti-terrorist coalition
began a campaign on October 7, 2001, targeting terrorist facilities and various
Taliban military and political assets within Afghanistan.