Kratka politična zgodovina afganistanskega dizastra

Odličen povzetek @pseudoerasmus politične zgodovine Afganistana od 1970-ih let naprej, medetničnih bojev za oblast in pakistanskega odločilnega vpliva, in kako so se v ta dizaster nato najprej zapletli Sovjeti in nato še Američani ter si oboji polomili zobe. Afganistan je bolj kompleksna zgodba, kot se zdi.

Afghanistan enters the news cycle, and there are always people rehashing the 1980s….

Periodic reminder:

Taliban ≠ the mujahiddin of the 1980s.

If anything, the Taliban have just driven from power the remnants/descendants of the mujahiddin/ex-communist coalition of the 1990s

Just to illustrate the complexities of the factional history… a simplified outline:

In 1973, the ethnically Pashtun monarchy was overthrown in a bloodless coup by the cousin of the last king, who declared a republic and wanted a faster modernisation of the country.

In 1978, this cousin prince-president was then overthrown in a bloody coup by a group of *radical* communists, who were composed of mostly ethnic Pashtuns.

But their tribal and social origins were different. The monarchy was founded on a confederation of southern tribes from around Kandahar (like the Taliban at the beginning). The communists were primarily from the ‘eastern’ tribes near the northern Pakistani border.

The radical communists (Khalq) attemped a rural revolution. They always do. Naturally this disturbed the fragile equilibrium in which the monarchy had been modernising the cities but had left the countryside — ironically their base of support esp the rural Pashtun tribes — alone.

Naturally attempted rural reforms created a backlash. (This was exploited by Pakistan, which was only responding in kind: after the king was overthrown, the Afghan govt shored up domestic support by making irredentist-separatist claims against the Pashtun provinces of Pakistan.)

The Khalq (radical communists) were opposed by the more gradualist and moderate (and more ethnically diverse) Parcham faction. The Khalqis started a bloody purge of the Parchamis.

Once again, social and class differences were important. The radical Khalq communists tended to be ethnic Pashtun, Pashto-speaking, sons of rural migrants.

The more moderate Parcham communists were urban, better educated, more ethnically mixed, Persian-speaking, etc.

The Soviet Union worried Afghanistan would implode from factional infighting within the communist ranks, as well as from the rural backlash, now supported by Pakistan.

Therefore the Soviets intervened to *overthrow* the radical communists and put in charge the *moderate* faction

The Soviet war of 1979-89 in itself was factionally even more complex and it’s only worth mentioning the following:

(1) The so-called Mujahiddin could be divided into a group of factions based in Peshawar (Pakistan) and those based in Iran.

(2) The Iran-based factions were a multi-ethnic coalition of Shia Afghans, but the largest faction was dominated by the Hazaras. They are traditionally the ‘downtrodden’ of Afghanistan, with their minority religion and ‘East Asian’ appearance

( The video of the weeping Afghan girl being retweeted, she is probably Hazara. The Hazaras are reputed to be descendants of Mongol invaders but who really knows whether that’s true, this kind of pop ethnology is rampant. )

(3) The Pakistan-based groups of the mujahiddin could be divided into a royalist faction (Hamid Karzai is from a family with close links to the royalist faction); and several other groups, all of whom could be characterised as Islamist, but varying from moderate to radical.

(There were also anti-Soviet communist factions, but they barely register.)

The Pakistan-based groups were supported by a broad coalition of USA-Pakistan-China-UK and the Gulf countries. (The China-Pakistan alliance plays a role in many things…)

India of course supported the communist Afghan government. Most of the Middle East (Egypt leading the way outside the Gulf) sided with the anti-Soviet resistance, with some notable exceptions — Iraq and the PLO.

But the main point is that the Soviet war radically altered the relative power/prominence of many ethnic, tribal, and social groups.

Afghanistan — traditionally a Pashtun ethnocracy with a Persian-speaking Pashtun monarchy & urban elite, but whose power was founded on the military power of the Pashto-speaking rural tribes — this Afghanistan was finished by the Soviet war.

The royalists were essentially discredited during the Soviet war. Their vision of Afghanistan in the 1970s was finished anyway.

The two most important factions to emerge from the Pakistan-based mujahiddin (I am simplifying drastically to avoid overcomplication) were:

    • one was predominantly ethnic Tajik, made famous by Ahmed Shah Massoud.
    • other was Pashtun and identified by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Both groups were Islamists. Hekmatyar’s group was certainly more radical, but outside the Afghan context, the Massoud faction would be reckoned radical in most other countries.

The Massoud faction earned its prominence through battle — near-legendary battles with the Soviet forces. The ‘Lion of Panjshir’ and all that.

The Hekmatyar faction hardly shied away from battle, but their prominence is a result of Pakistan’s favouritism & channelling US & Arab aid toward them.

The Hazaras — the oppressed ethno-religious minority of prewar Afghanistan — now supported by Iran, would fight the Soviets just as hard but their cause was never celebrated as much as the Peshawar Seven. But they would emerge to assert their rights when the Soviets withdrew.

Likewise many northern ethnic groups — especially the Uzbeks — would become important power brokers. The militia of Abdul Rashid Dostum would however support the Soviet-backed communist government — until they switched sides late.

After the Soviet withdrawal (1989), as many have already noted, the communist government in Kabul lasted 3 years. This was in no small part because of the ‘Uzbek faction’ of Dostum — really a large army (large for Afghanistan) that was separate from the government army.

Yet at the same time, the communist government army saw defections to the mujahiddin side in 1991-2. In 1992 the ‘Uzbek faction’ of Dostum switched sides and joined the mujahddin to overthrow the communist government.

(in)famously the mujahiddin collapsed into civil war after the fall of Kabul in 1992. With Pakistan much more strongly pushing Hekmatyar (who was both radical and Pashtun), the civil war took on an ethnic dimension as most groups united against Hekymatar.

But the Pashtun groups were themselves deeply divided, so the prominence of Hekmatyar due to Pakistani support gave it the false appearance of Pashtuns versus all other ethnic groups. But the ethnic angle should not be overstated.

Hekmatyar, Massoud-Rabbani, and Dostum all fell into temporary alliances and then broke those alliances, etc. etc. etc. in a litany of monotonous factionalism in an attempt to take, control, and keep Kabul, etc. etc.

The Taliban that emerged circa 1994 were indeed founded by leaders who participated in the Soviet war, but they were not major elements. Also, most of the rank-and-file fighters came from refugee camps in Pakistan.

People like to point out that Hekmaytar, the leader of the radical Pakistan-based group, eventually allied with the Taliban, but that was after 2001.

In 1996, the mujahiddin government that was overthrown by the Taliban included Hekmatyar.

By the time the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, the deeply divided Pashtun groups had more or less rallied around them. The Taliban were at least Pashtun. They had not driven out the Soviets to let Tajiks and Hazaras gain power, was probably an element along with relief from anarchy

(And almost certainly, many communists joined the Taliban out of ethnic affiliation, and because the civil war was taking on an increasing ethnic flavour. )

which is why the so-called ‘Northern Alliance’ of the civil war period between 1996 and 2001 was primarily a coalition of non-Pashtun ethnic groups as well as Shia minorities (the Taliban being both Pashtun & intolerantly Sunni)

But the Northern Alliance did include some Pashtun groups — some remnant royalists, still others simply anti-Taliban who came from the ‘eastern’ tribes. The Taliban were (still are? I don’t know) disproportionately ‘southern’ tribes, like the monarchy had been

So the final point I want to make is that….

When the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001-2, the regime that was installed in Kabul was a heterogeneous combination of almost all the mujahiddin groups from the 1980s, plus many from the pro-Soviet/pro-communist side.

Summary of summaries: USSR invaded to save the Afghan communists from themselves but ended up fighting the Mujahedins, who overthrew the govt in 1992 but were themselves overthrown by the Taliban in 1996. The Muj restored to power by the USA in 2001 but now re-overthrown by the Taliban

I acknowledge the above summary drastically simplifies things & erases many complexities, but it serves the function of stressing a particular thread of continuity of the events from 1978 to 2021 which are neglected.

Reply to many: I am NOT denying there are connections between the Taliban and the 1980s mujahiddin!!

BUT when ever Afghanistan is in the news, the routine equation of the two groups are rampant. Mostly by people who are more interested in the USA than Afghanistan.

Some of the people who engage in that equation would bite your head off if you confused an obscure communist faction with another. But the fact that most Islamists of the 1980s were not ideologically the same as the Taliban is of no interest to them.

Most of the original core founders of the Taliban were minor insurgents during the 1980s. The two big names from the 1980s — Jalaluddin Haqqani joined the Taliban in 1997? and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 2001. But the mujahiddin were much broader than them.

I can’t remember who said this, but it’s appropriate to repeat: equating the 1980s mujahiddin with the Taliban, or reducing the former to them, or to overemphasising the connection between two, surely qualifies as ORIENTALISM !

Vir: @pseudoerasmus, tukaj

One response

  1. V devetdesetih letih je RTV SLO predvajal nanizanko Hladna Vojna (Cold War).

    V afganistanski epizodi sem si zapomnil nekaj stvari:

    – sovjestki ambasodor v Washingtonu (med kubansko krizo je bil ambasodor) je rekel, da niso hoteli iti v Afganistan, kljub prošnjam afganistanskih rdečih
    – da je CIA učila mudžahedine izdelovati avto bombe, ampak ker ni bilo avtomobilov so mudžahedini izdelali samoincicativno kamel bombo, operativec CIA, ki jih je poučeval in je pripovedoval zgodbo je bil navdušen
    – mudžahedini so šli v boj proti Rusom zaradi tega, ker so delili zemljo in ker so ženske dobile volilno pravico

    To je verzija iz devetdesetih let, moja kupljena verzija (volilne pravice, kamel bombe) nima. Tako kot ni kubanskega bradača, ki je najprej letel v Washington (po zmagi) po piodporo. Šele ko so ga tam zavrnil, je odletel v Moskvo.

    Edina sprememba pri Talibanih bo ta, da ne bodo več napadli ZDA, oziroma ozemlja ZDA. Narod bo žal nastradal.

%d bloggers like this: