History of Afghan crisis: How it started?

saddam hussain samo
Saddam Hussain Samo on the history of Afghanistan before Soviet-Afghan war

The present crisis of Afghanistan emerged from the ideological rivalry between the US and Soviets. The cold war, which started after the end of World War II in 1945, was actually a competition between these two countries for the global power. After the World Wars, the British Empire had collapsed and its colonies came out as the new independent countries including Pakistan and India. A vacuum was created to be filled by a new super power in Asia and Middle East to lead the globe for the coming decades. Asian, countries were desperate for economic support either from the US or Moscow. The Middle Eastern countries were rich in oil resources and were prone to the influence of the Soviet Union. The US was not ready to allow the Soviets to fill the existing vacuum because Washington considered it not only a threat to its national interest but also to the peace of the world.

American Congress was; therefore, asked to approve an ambitious budget to fund economic and military aid across the region close to the Soviets, as well as for the authority to defend any country threatened by armed aggression. As a result, the US introduced “Truman Doctrine” in 1947, which says, the United States would provide political, military and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces. It was aimed at countering the influence of the Soviet Union. In 1955, the swathes of countries running from Turkey through Iraq and Iran to Pakistan were tied together in a single agreement called “Baghdad Pact” to enable the West to create its influence in this strategic and economic important region and prevent the Soviets from stepping in. Besides, in 1954, SEATO was signed to ensure collective defense and prevent the spread of communism. Moreover, in 1954, the US signed Mutual Defense Assistant Agreement with Pakistan to provide military equipment needed to stop the influence of communism in Islamabad.

Under these circumstances, the US did one mistake i.e. ignoring Afghanistan, which was an important buffer zone to prevent Moscow from reaching the Middle East.  In 1954, for example, a discreet approach by Afghan leadership to the US requesting assistance and arms was dismissed by the State Department. Instead of asking for arms, price Naim, brother of the Prime Minister, was told; Afghanistan should focus on matters closer to home- such as resolving border disputes with Pakistan. The Soviets, decided to avail this opportunity and quickly offered to provide military and development funds, which was accepted by Afghanistan without any hesitation. As a result, $100 million was given as an initial grant for the development of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. From 1953 to 1973, the Soviets aid to Afghanistan was $1500 million as compared to the US aid, which stood at $450 million. It marked the tiltation of Kabul towards communism.

In 1973, Sardar Daud Shah led a military coup and overthrew his cousin Zahir Shah with the help of communist party- Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Afterwards, he declared Afghanistan as republic and announced himself as president. He also served as Prime Minister under Shah Zahir from 1953 to 1963. He rejected the Durand Line after the creation of Pakistan, which was accepted as an international border by the successive Afghan leaders. He wanted the Pashtun areas of Pakistan to be merged with Afghanistan. As a result, he adopted anti-Pakistan and pro-Soviet policy during his tenure as PM because he knew that the Soviet Union could help him to achieve his aim. In 1961, Pakistan closed border for Afghanistan in protest that caused severe economic crisis for Kabul. As a result, Sardar Daud was forced to resign in 1964 as a PM.

After his military coup in 1973, he signed 70 new projects with the Soviet Union within two years. During his tenure, 3000 to 4000 Russian technicians were working in Afghanistan on the different projects; Consequently, Kabul started to witness rapid development. He also adopted harsh policy against Pakistan and supported Baloch rebels and established training camps where 10000 to 15000 tribesmen were prepared for proxy wars in Pakistan to get Pashtun lands. However, he pursed some policies that created confusion within the Soviet leadership. He played Moscow and Washington against each other after his coup, accepting financial aid and construction projects from the both countries. Although he was close to the Soviet Union during his tenure as Prime Minister, he continued the Afghan policy of non-alignment with the Cold War superpowers resulting in deteriorating the relations with Moscow. He also launched his own political party in 1977 and developed differences with the pro-communist PDPA when he arrested communist leaders in Kabul after they staged a noisy protest. He attempted to distance himself from pro-communist elements of coup. These moves were highly criticized by Moscow, which feared that Afghanistan would soon become closer to the West, especially the United States.

Consequently, it was a time for Moscow to get rid of him and replace him with a trustworthy communist leader from the PDPA. A coup was led by pro-soviet PDPA leader against Sardar Daud in April 1978 in which he, along with his family members, was killed in the presidential palace. The new government of Nur Muhammad Taraki was formed. Taraki became the favorite puppet leader for Moscow. Under the communist leaders, secular reforms as per Marxists text were introduced like providing education equally to both boys and girls, banning the dowry for brides and so on. Keeping in view the conservative nature of the country, the religious Afghans disliked his secular policies and turned against him. They considered communism and Marxists text as anti-Islam. The Iranian revolution of 1979 further made their anti-government protest more robost because it encouraged them to demand for Islam goverment in Afghanistan as well.

Twist came in September 1979 when Hafizullah Amin, a close friend of Taraki, who helped him to overthrow Sardar Daud, ousted Taraki from the office and ordered his death a few weeks later. Rumors spread like a wild fire that Amin was a CIA agent. The soviets were further concerned when he held a series of meeting with American diplomats in Kabul. The Soviet Union decided that it was a time for action otherwise they would lose not only Afghanistan but also the whole region to the US. Moscow decided to assassinate Amin and mount a military invasion of Afghanistan to install more responsive Afghan communist leader. Babrak Karmal was chosen as a new leader to govern Afghanistan. Many attempts to kill Amin failed so finally on 24th December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, killed Amin at Kabul palace and installed Babrak Karmal as a new communist leader, but Karmal was unable to attain significant popular support. Backed by the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the mujahedeen rebellion against the communist leaders that had already started against un-Islamic, pro-communist policies of the pro-Soviet leaders, grew stronger until 1989 when they finally defeated Soviet Union. This is from where the Afghan current crisis got birth. The Soviet-Afghan war will be discussed in the next article.


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