The war in Afghanistan has been going on for decades now. Suicide bombings in religious sites and crowded places like markets, mass shootings, rocket attacks and other forms of terror have become a part of Afghan people’s everyday lives. Despite all the financial and military aid provided by different countries, the situations don’t seem to get any better. But how did Afghanistan, a rapidly flourishing country from the early 1960s until the late 1970s, end up having such a pathetic fate?
AFGHANISTAN: BRIEF HISTORY
First, we must understand what Afghanistan is and how it is located on the map. It’s a country that sits in a harsh, almost inhospitable area between the traditional crossroads of great powers. Forces from India, the Far East, the Middle East, and the West have all attempted to pass and fallen before Afghanistan. That is why Afghanistan is referred to as “the graveyard of empires.” Initially inhabited by many mixed tribal groups, its people survived in the many valleys of the region completely isolated from the outside world.
In the 19th century, the region was of interest to the large Russian and larger British empires who had swooped across Asia, taking as much land as they could. Afghanistan’s borders were rather incidentally carved as a buffer between the two empires, leading to many arbitrary mixings and splitting of ethnic groups. The British would take many tours into Afghanistan to seize its pivotal central position on the map. However, by 1919, after only managing to slowly chip away at its frontier, Afghanistan would be affirmed as an independent emirate, and slightly later, kingdom.
THE SOVIET-AFGHAN WAR:
Shortly after being declared as a Kingdom, Afghanistan started to see a lot of development under their king, Mohammad Zahir Shah. The country started having metaled roads, large buildings and slowly pushed towards modernizing in the early 1960s. He introduced an election system and granted certain basic rights to the people like the right to vote, right to education. He also emphasized women’s education. This was possible due to the financial aid provided by both the USA and mostly USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). The USSR saw a huge business potential in the oil refineries and its abundance in Afghanistan and started to give more and more money to the Afghan government for its development. During this time period, the cold war was in a full-swing and this humongous funding was seen by the US as an attempt to spread communism by the USSR.
Afghanistan’s good days were short-lived. The king’s cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan, feeling the pleas of the Pashtun people, long ago split by the Pakistani border, had gone ignored far too long, staged a bloodless coup against his cousin. Soon declaring himself both president and prime minister of the new Afghan Republic in 1973. Daoud Khan continued to push for progressive policies, which the other ethnic groups were not in favour of. Not liking the strong criticism, he began cracking down and shutting civil liberties. Both the left-wing and traditionalist groups despised him. And this would culminate in a revolution in the April of 1978, ousting Daoud Khan for the Communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, backed by the Soviets, of course.
The PDPA’s prime minister, Hafizullah Amin, radically pushed the envelope of progress. More women’s rights, more equality, more socialism. These top-down changes were very invasive on the self-sufficient rural people, who, now being bombarded with tax and land reform and threats to their traditional power structures, were very displeased. Amin, even worse than his predecessor, responded to dissent with imprisonment and execution. This resulted in big riots back in 1979. To prevent the riots and have the upper hand, Amin’s predecessor turned to the Soviets for support. When Amin caught wind that Taraki sought to disempower him, he had Taraki killed and took on the vacant presidency for himself. Further weakening the government stability, and resolve against the rebels. General secretary of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, decided the U.S.S.R must take control of the situation themselves. Remove the uncontrollable Amin and pacify the anarchy.
On 24th December 1979, a combined air and land invasion of Afghanistan commenced. The Red Army quickly seized many urban areas, roads, and communication lines. Amin himself was captured and executed to be replaced by the more moderate Babrak Karmal. Disputes swiftly erupted internationally on whether this was an intervention or an invasion. The West and many Muslim countries decided on the latter. The tribal warlords had been repulsed to the mountains by the invasion. But this would only spell a new stage in the war in Afghanistan. The foreign atheist/orthodox invader gave credence to this being a Jihad, or Holy War. And the warlords were soon united as the Mujahideen. The U.S. saw this as an opportunity to fight the spread of communism in Afghanistan and thus, started fueling the Mujahideen with weapons through Pakistan, as Pakistan wouldn’t mind Pan-Islamic cooperation.
Despite all the support from the west, the Soviets clearly had the upper hand in the war. However, the arrival of Ahmed Shah Masood to Mujahideen’s power started changing things. The Mujahideen indulged in guerilla warfare. Initiating a repeated and gruelling effort for the Soviets to drive away from the fighters, and then for them to boomerang right back. It seemed as if for every fighter they’d killed, his death aided in the recruitment of five more, eager to become a martyr. The soviets’ constant search and destroy missions were also in vain as no matter how many battles they had won, they continued to lose the war in Afghanistan.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev took over as the general secretary of the USSR. His unique foreign policies and anti-war sentiments started shifting dynamics in the union. The Mujahideen kept getting stronger as the US kept supplying next-gen artillery to them. In 89’, the USSR would cease to exist as Gorbachev had signed off the Geneva accords and withdrawn its power from all the occupied regions. This was the end of the Soviet-Afghan war.
RISE OF MILITANTS DURING THE AFGHANISTAN WAR:
The end of this war didn’t mean that the situations in Afghanistan would improve. It kept getting worse. The Mujahideen continued to resist Mohammed Najibullah’s government, formed in 1986, well past withdrawal. As a result, Najibullah disbanded the government, when in 1992 the warlords of the Mujahideen had finally surrendered the capital, Kabul. They sought to reach an agreement on how things would move forward. All agreed at Massoud’s proposal that they rule in an Islamic coalition government. Except for one, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who sought sole rule. And so, the war continued for several years between Massoud’s alliance and Hekmatyar’s Pakistani-backed army.
In 1994, Massoud had bested Hekmatyar, until a man by the name of Mohammed Mullah Omar rallied his followers to further the fight against Massoud. They called themselves the Taliban. Pakistan’s favour transferred to this new group and in 1996, the Taliban had seized control of much of the country and took Kabul. Brutally executing the former president Najibullah and declaring themselves as an Islamic emirate. Massoud, however, ignored their taunts and was unwavering in his resistance, continuing to fight from the north of the country with what few of his allies remained. It, unfortunately, ended when on September 9th 2001, Massoud was assassinated by Taliban members who had claimed themselves to be reporters. The alliance without the leadership of their national hero was surely doomed.
Merely two days later, the terrorist group Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center in New York. Their leader, Osama Bin Laden, was offered shelter in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The attacks provoked U.S. president George W. Bush to declare a war on terror and demanded the Taliban surrender, Bin Laden. They refused. The U.S. had covertly aided the Mujahideen against the Soviets, and with the Soviets gone, the Mujahideen had splintered into many spiritual successors, such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The irony of this was not lost on many. That, however, did not change the fact that in 2001, the U.S. declared war on the Taliban. Decades of war, political instability, and virtual anarchy are not going to be ignorable for any country.
Recently, former U.S. President Donald Trump declared that he will withdraw almost 50% of the troops from Afghanistan. After decades of war, Trump felt that he’s been spending a lot on some war that only got worse due to foreign intervention. But Joe Biden, the current President of the United States, may reverse this decision because of his approach to this war.
Millions of Afghans died, and even more, millions to live as refugees, an unfortunate burden on the countries that have held them for so long. The routes and motives for many Islamic terrorist groups can be traced back to the Soviet-Afghan war. It was where their leaders met, their men were armed, and their resolve hardened. The fact that most people have forgotten or neglect this war but still live so heavily under its effects, is rather disappointing. Even now, thousands of people die daily in Afghanistan. Women are oppressed, with almost no rights. Children starve and go through a childhood full of terror and violence. A lot of countries, including the UN, are striving towards making things better in Afghanistan. We hope we get some positive outcome.