The world first knew about Afghanistan in the year 1979. Undoubtedly, Afghanistan then had become a perfect symbol of Russian ambitions in Asia. According to the west, East Germany, Hungary, North Korea, Cuba and then Afghanistan had adequately indicated Kremlin’s ambitions to spread communism in Asia. The Soviet Union stepped in to defend to the then communist Afghan government against the anti-Communist Muslim guerrillas during the Afghan War (1978–92) and continued their presence until full withdrawal in 1989.
The Soviet Union was tasked to reinforce communist factions in Afghanistan, and to support the Banner leader Babrak Karmal in regaining stability…
A look in history
In 1978, the Afghan government under the leadership of the then President Mohammad Daud Khan, was overthrown in a coup led by the left-wing military officers under the leadership of Nur Mohammad Taraki. This resulted in equal distribution of power, making the two communist political organizations, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party which then collectively came to be known as People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan after the coup. The new regime was quite unpopular among the Afghans, quickly established close ties with Kremlin, while launching a series of violent offenses against all the political groups who threatened their leadership, while initiating a series of land reforms. These reforms caused massive discontent among the Afghans especially from the largely anti-communist populations. This got converted into an armed insurrection supported by many tribal and urban groups, which later collectively known as mujahedeen (Arabic mujāhidūn, “those engaging in jihad”) in Islamic translation.
In the wake of Christmas of 1979, the Russian spetznaz along with a small contingent of paratroopers were airdropped in Kabul, the Afghanistan capital. By this time, the cities in Afghanistan were witnessing intense conflict. While struggling to regain control, Hazifullah Amin, tried to sweep away the nation’s Muslim tradition as he wanted a more western modernity and tradition in Afghanistan. This added fuel to an already agitated Muslim communities and more Muslim communities joined the mujahedeen.
This resulted in a massive internal conflict, followed by intense clashes between the People’s and Banner factions, making it necessary for the Kremlin to intervene. The Russian Army drove into Afghanistan on the night of December 24, 1979. Threatened by losing the communist toehold in Afghanistan, Kremlin sent over 30,000 troops and toppled the brief presidency of Hazifullah Amin. The Soviet Union was tasked to reinforce communist factions in Afghanistan, and to support the Banner leader Babrak Karmal in regaining stability but Karmal, due to its unpopularity within the Afghan community failed to regain the trust and so continued to lose territories to the mujahedeen. Supported by the United States the rebellion of mujahedeen grew phenomenally, receiving wide spread support from Afghan communities throughout the country. Initially, the Soviet generals left the task of supressing the rebellion to the government controlled Afghan army, but due to widespread desertions in the fank and file, the army remained ineffective throughout the war.
The Mujahedeen were vicious warriors and proved themselves “fearless” in numerous intense clashes with the Russian soldiers.
Thousands of Afghan leaders were arrested while many fled to the mountains to escape Amin’s police. Amin was a staunch communist and ran his government, severing all links with the Islam, which later became of the primary reason for discontent of Afghan communities against Amin’s governments.
Thousands of Afghans joined theMujahedeen, a guerrilla force armed with the mission to retake the country, with the clandestine support of America. Their agenda was to overthrow Amin government. The Mujahedeen declared a jihad (a holy war) on anyone who supported Amin’s presidency. This then extended to the Russians who had, by now, entered the ongoing civil war in an effort to reinforce the power of the Amin government. The Russian’s claimed that it was the Amin government that invited them and ruled out any possible suspicions of them invading the country. They further claimed that their tasked “included supporting the legitimate government” and declared “Mujahedeenno less than terrorists”.
On 27th December 1979, Russians assassinated Amin, and replaced Babrak Kamal as the head of state. He was positioned not because the Russian’s wanted an Afghan face, but the former was quite “desperate” to retain his power making Russian’s the only viable support. Many Afghan soldiers deserted the army and joined theMujahedeen leaving the Kamal government behind a wall of 85,000 Russian soldiers to defend his control.
The Mujahedeen were vicious warriors and proved themselves “fearless” in numerous intense clashes with the Russian soldiers. They inspite of being equipped with old rifles had extensive knowledge about the mountains and in and around Kabul along with weather conditions. The Russians used napalm, poison gas and aerial forces against the Mujahedeen, experiencing the same enemy which the Americans did in Vietnam.
Mujahedeen controlled over 75% of the Afghanistan despite fighting the then world’s second most powerful army.
By 1982, Mujahedeen controlled over 75% of the Afghanistan despite fighting the then world’s second most powerful army. Young conscripts proved to be “amateurs” in front of the men fuelled with “religious beliefs”. Inspite of having a reputation of ruthlessness, the Russian army proved how helpless they were outside the war. Military equipment was constantly failing and army boots lasted in no more than 10 days in the rough Afghan mountains. Feared by the mujahedeen’s many Russian soldiers deserted. Russian’s tanks proved to be ineffective against mujahedeen. Many experts who closely monitored the conflict stated that “Russian tanks were destroyed even before it reached their objectives”.
The United Nations openly condemned Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and by January 1980 the Security Council called for the motion to recall the Russian forces which then got vetoed.
The US then put a ban on its exports to Russia, ended the SALT talks and boycotted the Olympic Games which took place in Moscow. Beside this, America took no action. CIA played a large role by conducting clandestine operations in the region. It was now clear that Russia found its own Vietnam clearing a path for American intelligence agencies to acquire new intelligence on Russian military hardware which Russia could use against the mujahedeen. Mujahedeen fighters were provided with America surface-to-air missiles but not directly.
With Russia heavily entangled in a fiasco, Mikhail Gorbachev took charge even accepting the fact, what many Russians couldn’t speak out in the open, “Russia could not win this war” while accepting the fact that the war with Afghanistan was crippling Russia’s struggling economy.
In the end of 1980s, civil war between mujahedeen and the Taliban fighters escalatedwith latter on the verge of gripping the nationwhile imposing strict sharia Muslim over the population in Afghanistan.
While receiving heavy finances from Pakistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Rabbani Khalkis, Ahmad Shah Masood, led several uprisings gripping the nation in violence in the early 1979.
The Peshawar Seven
Many of the “fundamentalist” parties that received massive support against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, existed much before the Red army march over the Oxus River. Many leaders of the group received their trainings from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where they were introduced to “Pan-Islamism”, which was then after the end of the course was embedded into them in opposition to the western concept of “national state ruled by a national head”. In the early 1970s, these “fundamental” organizations were in opposition. But in the wake of 1973, Afghanistan witnessed a violent coup, President Daud had ousted his brother King Zahir Shah. As a Pashtun first and then a nationalist, Daud wanted Afghanistan to be free from Northern Western Providence of Afghanistan, which the British had removed cut of the region in 1893.
To counter growing resistance from the pro-Pashtuns of Kabul, the Pakistan government, then under their leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, saw the solution which involved assisting the “Islamist” opponents of Daud, who then accepted the British drawn Durand Line dividing the boundaries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. While receiving heavy finances from Pakistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Rabbani Khalkis, Ahmad Shah Masood, led several uprisings gripping the nation in violence in the early 1979. The uprisings were received by a harsh government response, forcing many actors to flee. While taking refuge in Pakistan, Bhutto allowed them to open their operations in bordering cities while providing them military training and necessary financial aid from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Saudi Arabia too agreed to financially aid these groups. Following a coup in 1978, these groups were massively ignored as they found themselves in a disarray, until the invasion of Red Army in 1979. In the wake of Soviet occupation, Zia-ul Haq picked seven organizations, which also known as the “Peshawar Seven” groups, known by afghans as the “gang of seven”, who were key beneficiaries of funding arms and ammunitions to the mujahedeen’s in their “jihad against the Soviet occupation”.
The original seven –
Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam)
This group was formed under the leadership of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was also an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the 1970s. Still an engineering student, he led most of the demonstration in Kabul between 1967 to 1972. A dedicated Pashtun, many of his followers comprised of Pashtuns from the northern part of Afghanistan. With no classical education on Islamh e opposed classical clergy.
Hekmatyar was strongly supported by Pakistan and received heavy financial assistance from Saudi Arabia.
During the war, Hekmatyar’s group was responsible for the assassination of many prominent afghan leaders in Peshawar. Hekmatyar was strongly supported by Pakistan and received heavy financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. He received some of the finances from the poppy-growing regions of Afghanistan, parts of which he controlled. He maintained a strong presence in the north western regions of Kabul, but never retained his power during the conflict, his operations were succeeded by the Taliban a group which continuous to challenge the peace and security of the country even today.
Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society)
Under the leadership of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former prominent professor of the Kabul University, his party mostly comprised of Tajiks from the norther borders of the country. His group was heavily dominated by the global islamists and members of Ikhwan. Rabbani, had a background of Sufi Naqshbandi, was a graduate from Al-Azhar University. He attended the French school in Kabul, and frequently worked with French aid agencies, especially the Doctors Without Borders, which also helped in increasing the organizations credibility. French propaganda also increased his credibility in the west.
Hezb-I-Islami (Party of Islam)
Under the leadership of Maulavi Younas Khalis, an Islamic scholar, former teacher and a journalist, the organization gained its reputation by involving in direct confrontation with the Soviets. He initially involved with Hekmatyar, but formed his own group in 1979. His group was mainly led by Haji Din Mohammad, who frequently fought with the soviet army. His military commanders included Abdul Haq, Jalaludin Haqani, Abdul Qadir, Qazi Amin Wardak, and Mullah Malang.
Sayaf founded “the University of Dawa and Jihad” in 1985, in the North Western Province of Pakistan.
Itehad Islami (Islamic Unity)
Islamic university was led by a former university professor Abdul Rasul Sayaf, who received massive support from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other Muslim countries. He converted into Saudi Wahhabism at the brink of the war. Sayaf founded “the University of Dawa and Jihad” in 1985, in the North Western Province of Pakistan. Mostly referred to as the “Islamic Sandhurst”,the university provided trainings to militant organizations. In spring 1995, the university received heavy attention to of the Pakistani security services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US, on the accounts of Afghani militants training and conducting activities in Asia and North Africa. It had later established its stronghold in Kabul and was heavily funded by Saudi Arabia.
Mahaz-i-Milli Islam (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan).
The organization functioned under the leadership of Pir Sayed Ahmad Gilani, leader of the powerful Qadiri Sufi sect. The group had a strong presence in the Nangarhar province and the surrounding areas. Gilani, who before the war was a representative of the French company Peugeot, was a strong loyalist. He also had close connections with the Lord Bethell of the London stationed Radio Free Kabul.
Jabha-i-Nijat-Milli (Afghan National Liberation Front)
The Afghan National Liberation Front was formed under the leadership of Sibgratullah Mojadidi, a royalist and a religious leader from Kabul. Inspite of having no active military wing, Mojadidi was considered by many as a leader “with the power to compromise”, and became the first interim President of Afghanistan after the fall of the communist regime in 1992.
Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Forces)
The organization was formed by Nabi Mohammadi, whose party members included many prominent intellectuals. He established his organization from Peshawar.
…since it occurred when the Cold war was on its heights, making it a unique scenario as the Soviet’s for the first time invaded a nation beyond the Eastern bloc—a strategic failure, along with a decisive, humiliating defeat followed by a global condemnation.
The US quagmire
The fall of 1979 saw the involvement of red army, the Soviet Union took immediate steps and sent over thousands of troops in Afghanistan and immediately controlled in and around the capital, Kabulalong with a large portion of the country. This led to a decade long bloody war for Mosco was it tried to maintain a friendly and a socialist connection on the border. An even such as this, was considered by many experts as a water-shed, since it occurred when the Cold war was on its heights, making it a unique scenario as the Soviet’s for the first time invaded a nation beyond the Eastern bloc—a strategic failure, along with a decisive, humiliating defeat followed by a global condemnation. As the lightning fast “aerial” and mechanised movements gave the world first-hand knowledge on “intervention”, the word which accurately describes soviet union’s “righteousness” to defend communism.
Since the war failed to produce the results what many military experts had hoped back in Kremlin the hopes of making the country socialist rocked the days at Kremlin.
In Washington, the communist movements were met with extreme prejudice. For Washington, it became clear that Taraki would play a decisive role in steering away from Moscow, and the Carter administration heavily debated whether to cut the ties with Afghanistan or recognize Taraki in an effort to contain the Soviet presence. However, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski advocated to remove the ties, Carter administration took the risk of containing the soviet expansion. Shortly after the revolution, Washington recognised the government and named Adolph Dubs its Ambassador to Afghanistan. Until his kidnapping and execution by Afghan Shia dissidents in February 1979, Dubs maintained a strong relationship with the Taraki regime in an effort to keep Soviets at bay.
Once again, Washington was haunted with a critical situation, bringing it with a complex situation. In the wake of 1973,Hazifullah Amin, a strong ally of Taraki who became Deputy Prime Minister after the April revolution, received information about Karam’s plot to overthrow the Taraki regime. Amin wanted to take a front step, executed all Parchamists in an effort to retain his power.
In the early winter of 1979, there were many mutinies within the higher and the lower ranks of the afghan army, making them highly ineffective in securing the government assets and key cities…
These incidents complicated the internal politics even more, tearing apart the development initiatives and paving a way for the Soviet army to interfere beyond Kabul. To combat the armed revolt, Amin and Taraki travelled to Moscow to sign a friendship treaty which included a provision that would allow direct Soviet military assistance should the Islamic insurgency threaten the regime which included the provision of active soviet intervention if the regime felt threatened by the Islamic insurgency. The insurgency intensified in the following year, thus confirming the fear of many soviet military officers about Taraki’s inability to prevent a civil war.
In the middle of 1979, Soviets were adamant to replace Taraki and Amin, and dispatched units to protect the Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul. This move escalated the time line of Carter Administration and soon, Washington began supplying non-lethal aid to the Afghan mujahedeen. In August, the Soviet sent a delegation comprising of high ranking military officials. For Washington, this was their one last chance to take a stand against Taraki regime, and also prepare an exit strategy if the Soviet’s took over. Regarding the complete occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet’s many strategic agencies ruled out the option, calling it strictly “probable”.
It felt as if History had something else in mind. Amin sensed that the Soviet mission was designed to strengthen the Taraki. Amin retaliated by executing Taraki, a move which fuelled the already agitated Soviet’s forcing them to camp on the borders. Unable to understand the movement of Soviet’s in Afghanistan, Washington was puzzled: were Soviet’s ready for massive scale assault or continue to active support the April Revolution? There are both the economic and political calculations to be made. In the early winter of 1979, there were many mutinies within the higher and the lower ranks of the afghan army, making them highly ineffective in securing the government assets and key cities, which made difficult for Afghan army to prevent any infiltration. Mujahedeen were able to enter into Kabul in masses. By this time, the Soviets were already preparing to move their mechanised and special forces units. Washington repeatedly demanded an explanation for a massive scale assault which the Soviets repeatedly ignored. Finally, the invasion took place. Soviet troops killed Amin and installed Babrak Karmal as the new interim head of the afghan government.
…it took over 10 years for the Soviet’s to withdraw, after investing billions of dollars.
Expecting a similar outcome, the Carter administration was closely watching it from the outsets, none in Washington predicted a full scale assault of Soviets in Afghanistan, clinging to a simple explanation that the “war would be economically unfeasible”. Washington responded sharply through the Carter’s letter to Brezhnev condemning the soviet aggression, while announcing the protection of oil supplies in the middle east, if the soviets encroaches.
Along with many trade embargos on the Soviet Union, US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and increased the aid to mujahedeen. These actions were apt to teach a lesson to the Soviet “adventure” in Afghanistan. Instead, it took over 10 years for the Soviet’s to withdraw, after investing billions of dollars.
The Soviet’s decimated the progress of the country, leaving the nation unguarded, which Islamic insurgents such as Taliban, seized the control, while giving bases and training camps to key militants including the former world number one terrorist Osama bin laden, giving more wounds to almost every nation in the world.