The Afghan Civil War

Nur Mohammad Taraki was elected president of the Revolutionary Council, prime minister of the country, and secretary general of the combined People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Babrak Karmal, a Banner leader, and Hafizullah Amin were elected deputy prime ministers. The leaders of the new government insisted that they were not controlled by the Soviet Union and proclaimed their policies to be based on Afghan nationalism, Islamic principles, socioeconomic justice, nonalignment in foreign affairs, and respect for all agreements and treaties signed by previous Afghan governments.

Unity between the Khalq (People) and Parcham (Banner) factions rapidly faded as the People's Party emerged dominant, particularly because their major base of power was in the military. Karmal and other selected Banner leaders were sent abroad as ambassadors, and there were systematic purges of any Banner members or others who might oppose the regime.

The Taraki regime announced its reform programs, including the elimination of usury, equal rights for women, land reforms, and administrative decrees in classic Marxist-Leninist rhetoric.  The reform program--which threatened to undermine basic Afghan cultural patterns--and political repression antagonized large segments of the population, but major violent responses did not occur until the uprising in Nurestan late in the summer of 1978. Other revolts, largely uncoordinated, spread throughout all of Afghanistan's provinces, and periodic explosions rocked Kabul and other major cities. On Feb. 14, 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed, and the elimination of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan was guaranteed.

Hafizullah Amin became prime minister on March 28, 1979, although Taraki retained his posts as president of the Revolutionary Council and secretary general of the PDPA. The expanding revolts in the countryside, however, continued, and the Afghan Army collapsed. The Amin regime asked for and received more Soviet military aid.

Taraki was killed in a confrontation between Taraki and Amin supporters on Sept. 14, 1979. Amin then tried to broaden his internal base of support and to again interest Pakistan and the United States in Afghan security. Despite his efforts, on the night of Dec. 24, 1979, the Soviets began their invasion of Afghanistan, and Amin and many of his followers were killed on December 27.

Babrak Karmal returned to Afghanistan from the Soviet Union and became prime minister, president of the Revolutionary Council, and secretary general of the PDPA. Opposition to the Soviets and Karmal spread rapidly, urban demonstrations and violence increased, and resistance escalated in all regions. By early 1980, several regional groups, collectively known as mujahideen (from the Arabic word meaning "warriors"), had united inside Afghanistan, or across the border in Peshawar, to resist the Soviet invaders and the Soviet-backed Afghan Army. Friction among the Banner and People's members heightened in 1980 when Karmal removed Assadullah Sarwari, a member of the People's Party, from his position as first deputy prime minister and replaced him with a Banner leader, Sultan Ali Keshtmand. Banner Party dominance was broadened again in June 1981 when Karmal, retaining his other offices, resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by Keshtmand.

On May 4, 1986, Mohammad Najibullah, former head of the secret police, replaced Karmal as secretary general of the PDPA, and in November 1986 Karmal was relieved of all his government and party posts. Friction among the Banner and People's parties continued. A national reconciliation campaign approved by the Politburo in September 1986, which included a unilateral six-month cease-fire to begin on Jan. 15, 1987, met with little response inside Afghanistan and was rejected by resistance leaders in Pakistan.

In November 1987 a new constitution changed the name of the country back to the Republic of Afghanistan and allowed other political parties to participate in the government. Najibullah was elected to the newly strengthened post of president. Despite renewals of the official cease-fire, Afghan resistance to the Soviet presence continued, and the effects of the war were felt in neighbouring countries: Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran numbered in the millions. Morale in the Afghan military was low. Men were drafted only to desert at the earliest opportunity, and the Afghan military dropped from its 1978 strength of 105,000 to about 20,000-30,000 by 1987. The Soviets attempted new tactics, but the resistance always devised counter tactics. For example, the use of the Spetsnaz (special forces) was met by counter-ambushes.

The only weapons systems that solidly continued to bedevil the resistance were combat helicopter gunship and jet bombers. Toward the end of 1986, however, the resistance fighters began to receive more and better weapons from the outside world--particularly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China--via Pakistan, the most important of these being shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles. The Soviet and Afghan air forces then began to suffer considerable casualties.

Pressure from the Pakistanis, from outside supporters, and from the guerrilla commanders had forced the seven major resistance groups based in Peshawar to form an alliance in May 1985. Inside Afghanistan, neighbouring ethnolinguistically oriented resistance groups united for military and political purposes within their various regions. Internal struggles for leadership also occurred in certain areas where the Soviets had little influence, such as Hazarajat and Nurestan. Although no national liberation front existed, the resistance groups began to feel that they were part of an overall effort to liberate Afghanistan.

During the 1980s talks between the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan were held in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations, the primary stumbling blocks being the timetable for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the cessation of arms supplies to the mujahideen. Peace accords were finally signed in April 1988. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev subsequently carried out an earlier promise to begin withdrawing Soviet troops in May of that year; troops began pulling out as scheduled, and the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989. The civil war continued, however, despite predictions of an early collapse of the Najibullah government upon the withdrawal of the Soviets. The mujahideen formed an interim government in Pakistan and steadfastly resisted efforts of reconciliation by Najibullah.

Najibullah was finally ousted from power in 1992, and a coalition of rebel forces set up a fragile interim government. General peace and stability remained a distant hope for the war-torn nation, as rival militias vied for influence, interethnic tensions flared, and the economy lay in chaos. With the fall of the Communist government, Afghanistan appeared to be on a course of Islamicization; the interim government banned the sale of alcohol and pressured women to cover their heads in public and adopt traditional Muslim dress.


Afghanpedia Table of Content