Jindal School of Journalism and Mass Communications
O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana – India.
From murdered presidents to the formation of multiple terror organisations, and from suicide bombings to rampant drug abuse and displaced children –– Afghanistan has been a victim of political unrest since its first Civil War on April 27, 1978. A constant intervention of external states, the Soviet Union (1979 – 1989) and later, the United States of America (2001- 2021), has only aggravated the Taliban and pushed the nation into further destruction. The people of Afghanistan have seen a kind of bloodshed that no nation’s people deserve to see.
SAUR REVOLUTION AND PRESIDENT MOHAMMED DAOUD KHAN
The execution of the former Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan, along with much of his family in the presidential palace by insurgent troops that were led by the communist party of Afghanistan, People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), set off the Saur Revolution (27 – 28 April 1978). The Saur Revolution is a significant event in the history of Afghanistan not just because of the heavy fighting and high death toll, but also because it set off a forty-three conflict in the country.
Former President Mohammed Daoud Khan came to power by overthrowing the last Monarch of Afghanistan, his cousin, King Zahir Shah in 1973. Many scholars believe that Daoud committed a domestic blunder by abolishing a monarchy that had been ruling over the nation since 1747. Daoud’s “democratic republic” remained alien to most Afghans, especially the conservative kind. (Britannica, 2021) This also opened a gate for Afghan rebels to act against his government, something that was nearly impossible to have happened against the Monarch.
Daoud’s presidency was “democratic” only on paper. The former President founded a one-party system wherein only members of his party were appointed/ promoted to high ranks; he disallowed any kinds of political nonconformity; and limited civil liberties, especially freedom of speech and expression. (Rahi, 2020) Daoud’s limited years of presidency challenged Afghanistan’s left-wing parties and displeased the PDPA enough for its members to overthrow him and take over the nation (1978).
The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan saw an eventual split into two parties sharing power- The people’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party. After PDPA’s murderous takeover, Afghanistan saw a new President, the Khalq faction’s Hafizullah Amin (1979). (Brittanica, 2021) During his presidency Afghanistan began to lose its stability. The government started to face opposition from the Afghan population. They protested against the newly formed government’s Marxist reforms that undermined the country’s traditional Islamic culture. (Britannica, 2021)
The new government shared close ties with the Soviet Union because of a shared set of ideologies. The two cracked down on all opposition and insurgencies against the government together. However, despite similar ideologies, President Amin’s increasing efforts to build relations with Pakistan and the USA made the Soviet Union increasingly paranoid about the party’s intentions. Within a year of the PDPA in power, Afghanistan saw a dramatic rise in the coming together of insurgencies to oppose the government. These insurgencies collectively referred to themselves as “Mujahideen” (those who engage in jihad). (Britannica, 2021)
Due to the mass uprisings and prolonged disagreements between the Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA, the Soviet Union decided to use this as an opportunity to invade Afghanistan on the night of December 24, 1979. (Britannica, 2021) The Soviet Union had many incentives to be in the country and with the use of 30,000 troops, replaced Hafizullah Amin with the Banner (Parcham) Party leader, Babrak Karmal. Apart from supporting the PDPA and helping it come to power, Soviet Union was also accounted for 64% of Afghanistan’s total imports and 34% of its total exports by 1978. Soviet Union’s total credits to Afghanistan had reached 1.26 billion USD, while the US’s to Afghanistan was only 40 million USD. (Menon, 2021)
After the Soviet invasion, Pakistan, along with the USA, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and China-funded and armed the Mujahideen to resist the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan. The mujahideen were successful in preventing the communist regime to rule Afghanistan through a conflict that killed approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers by 1989. (Menon, 2021)
AMERICA’S ROLE IN FUNDING MUJAHIDEEN
The American government became determined to respond to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and subsequently announced sanctions on the Soviet Union, promising renewed aid to Pakistan, and committing to the Persian Gulf’s defence. President Jimmy Carter also boycotted the 1980’s summer Olympics in Moscow. (Boundless, n.d.)
The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) launched “Operation Cyclone”, a mission to fund, support, and arm the Mujahideen and Jihadi warriors of Afghanistan from 1979- 1989. Operation Cyclone became one of the USA’s longest and most expensive military operations. America’s funding started with 20- 30 million USD per year, from 1980 onwards, and touched 630 million USD by 1987. (Boundless, n.d.)
Apart from directly funding Afghan warriors, America was also providing financial assistance and military sales to Pakistan. Their first-year assistance package to Pakistan amounted to 3.2 billion USD (including both, military sales, and economic assistance) and the second assistance package, 4.2 billion USD. America sold high-class weapons, like F-16 aircraft and Stinger antiaircraft missiles, to Pakistan at high costs. The nation is roughly estimated to have spent more than 20 billion USD to train and arm Afghan warriors directly as well as through Pakistan’s assistance.
By 1989, the Soviets failed to keep up with the rising violence and opposition from the Mujahideen and withdrew from Afghanistan 1989. The Soviet war in Afghanistan seemed like an endless battle of violence, casualties, and death. More than 5,00,000 Afghans were killed during the Soviet invasion, which is close to 9% of the country’s population. It was also discovered that 80% of the casualties were Afghan civilians (between ages 15 and 55) and 46% of the deaths were caused by Soviet bombings. (World Peace Foundation, 2015)
Even after the Soviet Army left Afghanistan, the civil war continued for three long years. Afghanistan’s communist government could not manage to control the country or defend itself from the Mujahideen.
THE UNFORTUNATE FORMATION OF THE TALIBAN
Taliban, a fundamentalist religious group, was formed by the Mujahideen members who fought against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Literally meaning “student” in Pashto, the group was formed with the covert support of the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). (BBC, 2021) Initially, the movement received tremendous support because of the promises it made to bring back stability and rule of law in the country. (Maizland, 2021) The movement emerged in Pakistan and began to expand through religious seminars and meetings that were funded by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. (BBC, 2021) After the Taliban was successful in expanding their influence in Afghanistan, the group entered the Afghan city of Herat in 1994 to pacify conflict and violence and by 1996, the group had taken over Kabul from President Rabbani, whom they viewed as corrupt and anti-Pashtun. Taliban officially announced Afghanistan as an Islamic Emirate with Mullah Mohammed Omar as the leader of the group. (Maizland, 2021)
LIFE UNDER TALIBAN (1996 – 2001)
Taliban enforced their interpretation of Wahhabi Sharia law, which is also followed in Saudi Arabia. Their rule was especially constrictive to women, as it restrained them from attending schools, leaving their homes without male companions, and forced them to constantly have their face and body covered, all the while denying them proper healthcare and forcibly marrying girls as young as 10 years to Talibs. They also halted women from any public services and banned them from using smartphones. (Verma, 2021)
On October 15, 1999, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1267, which officially declared Taliban and Al Qaeda as terrorist organisations and imposed sanctions on their arms shipments, funding, and travel. On September 9, 2011, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the commander of the Northern Alliance, was assassinated by Al Qaeda. This development was a serious blow to the anti-Taliban resistance and only tightened relations between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
US INVASION OF AFGHANISTAN (2001)
On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda members hijacked four commercial airlines in America and crashed them into the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (Maizland, 2021) These attacks came to be known as the infamous 9/11 attacks that killed almost three thousand people. The attacks brought out sadness and anger amongst the American citizens and led President George W. Bush to the path of “winning the war against terrorism”. Taliban officially ruled over Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, until the US invaded the country in search of the notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden. It was in late 2001 when the United States stepped foot into Afghanistan and invaded the country. (Maizland, 2021)
The United States, on October 7, 2001, launched Operation Enduring Freedom with the support of Germany, Canada, Australia, and France. During the operation, the US launched airstrikes on numerous Taliban and Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. From November onwards the Talibani regime began to unravel after continuous attacks from opposition groups such as the Northern Alliance, forces led by Abdul Rashid Dostum and more. On November 12, 2001, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1378, which allowed for the UN to take on a “central role” in inviting member states to send peacekeeping forces to promote stability and provide aid in Afghanistan. (Maizland, 2021)
By December 9, 2001, the Taliban had surrendered the Afghan city of Kandahar and a major leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, escaped from the city. While Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden, at the time, was leading Al Qaeda and therefore, the United States put in their maximum effort to track him down in Afghanistan. This also led to a two-week battle (December 3 – 17, 2001) between the US military and Al Qaeda militants. This caused Bin Laden to escape to Pakistan on horseback, on December 16, 2001. (Maizland, 2021)
The diagram mentioned below is a result of the UNAMA Report which notes the parties that caused the most casualties during the crisis in Afghanistan (January- June 2021). The report also mentions that for the first time no causalities in Afghanistan have been caused by international military forces. The report stated that the Afghanistan conflict has now apparently turned into a civilian war. (United Nations, 2021)
The UNAMA report also mentioned that there was a dramatic spike in the causalities in Afghanistan in May 2021, wherein 46% of the civilian casualties were women and children. 468 children were killed and 1214 wounded, while 219 women were killed and 508 wounded. (United Nations, 2021)
AMERICAN PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
On April 17, 2002, President George W. Bush called for the “reconstruction of Afghanistan” in a speech given at the Virginia Military Institute. After the announcement, the U.S. Congress allocated more than 38 billion USD in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan from 2001 – 2009. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021) Two months later, Hamid Karzai became the head of Afghanistan’s transitional government. Karzai was a popular face of the Popalzai tribe of Durrani Pashtuns and was also involved in organising Pashtun resistance against the Taliban. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021)
By 2002, the US had decided to build a civil affairs framework that would coordinate redevelopment facilities and aid with the United Nations and other non-governmental organisations. It also aimed to expand the authority of the Kabul government that was being headed by Hamid Karzai. US military’s “provincial state reconstruction teams” or PRTs are established in different areas in Afghanistan (Herat, Kandahar, Bamiyan, Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif). However, numerous experts from all over the world believed the new model was disorganised and lacked central authority. The PRTs were eventually taken over by NATO states. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021)
With continued reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, a constitution in Afghanistan was finally created in January 2004. The U.S. Ambassador famously told Afghanistan’s Zalmay Khalilzad that “(The people of) Afghanistan have seized the opportunity provided by the United States and its international partners to lay the foundation for democratic institutions and provide a framework for national elections”.
Despite the twenty years of US official goal of turning Afghanistan into a democratic nation, the Taliban has once again taken control of the nation.
In 2020, the acting US Defence Secretary Christopher C. Miller announced plans to cut down on the number of American troops present in Afghanistan at the time. The government planned on withdrawing the troops down to about 2,500 by January. On April 14, 2021, President Biden announced that the US along with NATO will be withdrawing all its troops by September 11, ending the longest war in American history. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021) To this, the Taliban said it won’t be participating in any peace talks or conferences until all foreign troops leave.
The next day, on August 15, 2021, Taliban fighters advanced to Kabul and took control of the city and the Presidential palace, after President Ghani fled the country. Afghan forces have surrendered and are in a negotiating phase with the Taliban. The Taliban is currently claiming to form a government that would be open and inclusive. On August 16, 2021, President Biden defended the US withdrawal and said the government has made the right decision. He acknowledged that the withdrawal process of American troops was “messy” but blamed the Afghan security forces for it. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021)
Much more than 3,60,000 people in Afghanistan have been displaced from their homes since January 2021, with another 30,000 reportedly missing from the country from January and May. According to the UN Refugee Agency, Afghanistan makes up for the world’s third most displaced population in the world (2.6 million persons), after Venezuela (4 million persons) and Syria (6.7 million persons), (UNHCR). The war in Afghanistan is said to be over, but there is no place to call home for many Afghans. In the words of Shamsia Hassani, an artist from Afghanistan, “Afghans remain birds of no nation”.
DRUG ABUSE IN AFGHANISTAN
Apart from the political unrest, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports, close to one million Afghans (between ages 15 and 64) have fallen into drug abuse, which is almost eight per cent of the whole nation’s population. Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer with a lot of opium being laced locally with heroin. As the UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa puts it, “After three decades of war-related trauma and limited access to treatment, the unlimited availability to use cheap narcotics has created a major addiction problem in Afghanistan.” (UNODC)
According to a survey that was undertaken in 2005, the number of Afghan opium consumers has jumped by a whopping 53% (from 1,50,000 to 2,30,000) and heroin from 50,000 to 1,20,000 (a 140% increase). Shockingly, 50% of drug users in the northern and southern regions of Afghanistan are provided opium by their parents. (UNODC)
“Many in Afghanistan are taking drugs as a kind of self-medication against the hardships of life. Significantly, many of them began taking drugs as migrants or refugees in camps in Iran and Pakistan,” stated Mr Costa, adding that while much has been said, and written, about Afghanistan as a leading producer of drugs, causing health havoc in the world. It is time to recognize that the same tragedy is taking place in Afghanistan, which has now become a leading consumer of its opium.” (UNODC)
After an uncoordinated and reckless withdrawal decision of the USA, havoc erupted across Afghanistan, with the Kabul International airport brimming with desperate civilians trying to flee the country and the Taliban rule. (Reuters, 2021) Flights from the airport finally resumed on September 5, which became a ray of hope for many in Afghanistan.
The Panjshir Valley is one of the few regions showing the strongest resistance against the Taliban and its local groups, like the National Resistance front, which is being led by Ahmad Massoud. Many reports have proved that Pakistan has been helping the Taliban in occupying the Panjshir region of Afghanistan. In addition to all of this, videos from local sources have shown the women of Afghanistan protesting against the Taliban, raising new hopes around the world in Afghanistan’s ability to defend itself with foreign intervention. No one knows what Afghanistan’s future holds. But the strength and unity of its people while resisting the harsh regime of the Taliban has brought not just hope, but also bravery around the world.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.