Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, May 31st, 2020

Pre-Taliban Political History of Afghanistan


Pre-Taliban Political History of Afghanistan

Modern Afghanistan emerged during the nineteenth century as a buffer state squeezed between the Russian and British empire. From the beginning it was a pawn in the battles between world powers. It had to accommodate different ruling regimes of diverse character in her state structure through coups, counter coups, strife, invasions, etc. entailing into a permanent war–like culture especially from the early 1970s. As a matter of fact, decades of conflict had shattered government and social structures in Afghanistan, the world’s fifth poorest country with a life expectancy of 43. According to the UN report more than seven million people are chronically hungry, and 53 per cent live on less than a dollar a day. One in four children do not survive beyond the age of five. Seventy per cent of the population suffers severe malnutrition. Less than a quarter has access to safe drinking water, only 12 per cent to adequate sanitation and 10 per cent of electricity. The life expectancy of 45 is 20 years lower than in neighbouring countries. In some provinces, the maternal mortality rates are the worst ever recorded, anywhere.
Phase of political instability
The history of Afghanistan in recent past has provided us with many significant revealations. In 1973, King Zahir Shah was over–thrown from power in a Soviet supported coup led by Mohammad Daud Khan. Since then, Afghanistan’s role as a buffer state among superpowers began to change obviously, and the geo–political balance was broken up. Now the Soviet influence became dominant which disturbed the US. The US policy in Afghanistan was in tune with its overall policy towards the oil producing countries, especially in the Middle East. In addition to geopolitical factors, access to sources of energy has been a great concern for the US. It knows that world oil reserves are depleting faster than few discoveries of the fuel. The impending depletion of the world’s oil has been motivating the West in pinning its faith on the Caspian region. In the days of Soviet domination the relatively radical social reforms practised by Daud threatened the status of traditional tribes and religious powers, and their interests as well, many kinds of confrontations, including armed revolt had been building up. The intensification of social conflicts made Daud regime which had not strong and firm foundation fall into predicament and caused domestic conflicts and clashes to escalate continuously. In April 1978, a communist–led ‘Saur Revolution’ eventually brought out the collapse of Daud Khan. He was replaced by a pro–Soviet Noor Mohammad Tarakki, he however, was killed due to inter-factional conflict in the ruling party, leading to Soviet military intervention on 27 December 1979. Thus Afghanistan lost its role as a buffer state completely and became the front land of the Soviet Union’s southward expansion.
The Leftist coup in Afghanistan installed Babrak Karmal, a leader of Moscow’s choice, in the place of Hafizullah Amin as the new ruler of Kabul. The coup in Afghanistan and its possible fall-out for the two neighbouring countries, Iran and Pakistan was noticeable. It had upset the precarious balance gained in bilateral fields, particularly, with Pakistan during Daud. Before the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the fall of Shah’s regime in Iran and the emergence of Khomeini in his place marked a new revival of Islamic tenets. In late 1970s it got an emphasised meaning in Libya and Iran. Further it caused a new surge of revivalism in Pakistan which was manifest in Bhutto’s latter years and was culminated in General Zia’s programmes of Islamic reforms. The new rising tendency, at least, in general was the result of the failure of the secular ideologies. The increasing hegemony of the two world political and economic systems–as represented by the military, technological and economic domination of the United States and the former Soviet had left little room for the autonomy of the liberal/nationalist or Marxist/nationalist movements. They made the course of development a difficult one in Muslim countries.
Background for arrival of Soviet Union
In the changed circumstances the region became a valuable area for the global narcotic trade. Two areas of the world–the ‘Golden Crescent’ of South West Asia consisting of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos are traditionally known for narco cultivation in the world and provides for 60 per cent of heroin reaching America and 80 per cent for Europe. Opium cultivation and use has been continuing in this region for the last few centuries. Under the British rule opium production was licensed. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British used to import opium from India to China for reducing the balance of payments’ deficits caused by large tea purchases. Drug money has changed the economic and social scene in the country. Although a small and powerful group of narco barons has reaped the major profits, members of the law–enforcing agencies, bureaucrats and hangers have also benefited from the trickle. The conflict following the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan facilitated increased opium production. It also provided a source of funding for the anti–Soviet war efforts and allowed traffickers to exploit the support to the Mujahideen by Iran and Pakistan, by using those countries as transit routes. The drug problem became even more serious with the civil war and political anarchy reigning in Afghanistan.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 it had to confront directly with two kinds of powers. The first was the domestic opposition parties, including national, tribal, and religious powers, as well as part of the social forces that approved of democracy and modern reforms. All these compose a loose union under the banner of anti–Soviet. The second was the Western countries headed by America and Pakistan. In the later period of Daud’s regime, the US began to interfere into Afghanistan’s affairs and opposed the Soviet Union’s presence and expansion in Afghanistan. After the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan, the US immediately strengthened its support to the opposition parties in Afghanistan. Taking Pakistan as a base, the US supplied with abundant financial, military and staff assistance as a guarantee for the final military success of Afghanistan’s opposition powers. It was during this period that the religions of the Gulf Bay, mainly the Wahabi, entered Afghan with the slogan of ‘Jihad’. Osama bin Laden was the most active participant and organiser. He also set up a fund named ‘Volunteers’ home’ enrolling volunteers from Saudi Arabia and other Arabic countries to go into Afghanistan for Jihad.
Long term effects of the event       
To flush out the Soviets, Islamic zealots were brought from all parts of the Islamic world to Pakistan and Afghanistan forging a unity among those who shared nothing in common but willingness to die for a cause they considered Islamic. This convergence, enabled by western powers, not only made a superpower to retreat and eventually fall apart but made Islamists aware of the potential of Jihad and force multiplication effect of networking. Its aftermath saw ascendancy of Taliban–recruited, trained, weaponised and militarily backed up by Pakistan, an ally of the West. More sinisterly, Taliban under the patronage of Pakistan, converted Afghanistan into a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists with training bases and infrastructural support to extremists from Turkey to Indonesia, Chechnya to China and Europe to Africa. It became the home of Al-Qaeda and gave Islamists a geographical space to pursue their global agenda with impunity. The situation aggravated in Afghanistan when Jihad was launched by the Mujahideens sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia through ISI of Pakistan against Soviet occupation. The fact is that the motivations of those who finance and train them are hardly religious per se. From Al-Qaeda to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorist organisation misuse the faith of Islam to justify terrorism in its name, even though their principal terrorist motivation is political. For the next ten years after intervention there was a continuous conflict between the Soviet troops and the Mujahideen and the US actively supported the latter throughout the period.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science in BNMU, West Campus P.G.Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India.

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