Dr. Susmit Kumar

During the 1800s, the British tried to control Afghanistan by invading the country from its neighboring base in India and installing puppet regimes, failing every time. During the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842), it easily overran Afghanistan, but the 14-16,000 retreating British personnel, including 4,500 military personnel and over 10,000 civilian camp followers, were ambushed by Afghan tribesmen in mountain passes. Only one British surgeon survived the ensuing massacre. During the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1881), the British placed a puppet on the throne, gaining control of Afghan foreign policy, and then retreated. In the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan won its full independence.

From 1933 to 1973, Afghanistan had a long period of stability under King Zahir Shah, who was overthrown in 1973 by his brother-in-law Daoud Khan in a bloodless coup. In 1978, the Afghan Communist Party killed Khan and his entire family and took over the government. The new government tried to implement its first five-year plan on the Soviet pattern by increasing the literacy rate from 10 to 50 percent. They forced males and females to sit in the same classrooms, which violated Afghan norms. They also announced drastic land redistribution policies, policies alien to Afghans. These decisions were taken directly out of Marxist-Leninist literature. In consequence, Afghans revolted against the government on a mass scale. When the Afghan army joined the revolt, the Soviet Union sent in its troops to quell the uprisings.

The Soviet occupation resulted in the killing of one to two million Afghan civilians. Over five million Afghans fled to Pakistan, Iran, and other parts of the world. The U.S. administration under Jimmy Carter decided to fund and train Afghan mujahideen via Pakistan’s ISI. This funding increased during the Reagan administration. About 200,000 Soviet troops were controlling Afghan cities, but the villages were controlled by the mujahideen. Finally, even though the Soviets were winning their battles with the mujahideen, they withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 due to mounting international pressure and heavy casualties. About 15,000 Soviet soldiers had been killed and 37,000 wounded. They left Mohammad Najibullah as president.

During the Soviet occupation, to prevent the Soviets from enlisting local support, Afghan guerrillas proved themselves willing to kill or maim suspected informants and those who supported the Soviets. In Bagram province, a woman’s hands and legs were cut off and her eyes put out because her two sons had helped the occupying forces. Afghan guerrillas killed her entire family except her so that other people could see what would happen to anyone who worked with their enemy.[1]

The Najibullah government collapsed in 1992. Kabul fell to a coalition of mujahideen under the military leadership of Ahmed Shah Massoud. More than a dozen mujahideen factions fought among themselves for control of the country until the emergence of the Pakistani-backed Taliban, which captured Kabul in 1996 and about 95 percent of the country by the end of 2000. The Afghan Northern Alliance was controlling the northeast portion of the country and held the United Nations seat. The Taliban strictly enforced Islamic Sharia laws. Women were banned from jobs, girls were forbidden to attend schools or universities, and thieves were punished by amputating their hands or feet.

After the 9/11 attacks, U.S.-led military strikes overthrew the Taliban government when it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. In November 2001, Kabul fell to ground forces led by the Northern Alliance. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage then threatened General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, that he had to decide whether to be with America or with the terrorists, and that if he decided to go with the latter, Pakistan should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age. Only then did Musharraf abandon the Taliban.[2]

During the U.S. attack on Afghanistan in 2001, American special forces organized the evacuation of Pakistani army officers, intelligence advisers, and volunteers who had been trapped fighting alongside the Taliban. This was done via Pakistani airlift from Kunduz, where they were trapped. Musharraf won U.S. support for the airlift by warning that the humiliation resulting from losing hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani soldiers and intelligence operatives would jeopardize his own regime.

In December 2001, a conference of Afghan representatives met in Bonn, Germany, and created a framework for an interim government and laid down a timetable for the transition to democracy. An interim government headed by U.S.-approved Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun from the southern city of Kandahar, was sworn in as chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority.

During the Loya Jirga (“great council”) in June, 2002, more than 2000 delegates gathered for the formation of the new cabinet. Initially, a grassroots movement supported the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, as head of state. The Loya Jirga was then postponed for two days and the former king was forced to renounce any role in the government. In the gathering, intelligence agents openly threatened reform-minded delegates, especially women. Access to the microphone was controlled so that supporters of the interim government dominated the proceedings.[3] The Loya Jirga consequently reaffirmed Karzai as interim president.

Because of fear of violence, many delegates lost the will to demand their democratic rights. A leading activist for women’s rights explained: “Today we are Loya Jirga delegates, but tomorrow we go home as individuals. Who will protect us if we continue to express our views and fight for our rights?” [4]

From December 2003 to January 2004, the Loya Jirga debated and ratified a constitution creating an Islamic state with a presidential system. In the October 2004 elections, Hamid Karzai won and became president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Legislative elections were held in September 2005.

The government has much work to do to restore the country. The many years of war severely damaged Afghanistan’s society and economy. As a result of the prolonged fighting, the majority of Afghan elites and intellectuals fled the country. Illegal poppy cultivation is still a cash crop for poor farmers. In 2001, one hectare of poppy yielded a profit of $13,000, whereas one hectare of wheat and vegetables made only $100.[5] Afghanistan is slowing recovering, but it has a long way to go. It is still struggling against poverty.

NATO officially took charge of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in August 2003. Although France opposed the Iraq War, its troops are fighting under U.S. command in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Apart from Kabul, law and order are absent in interior Afghanistan even after several years of the Karzai government. Some villagers have consequently started favoring the Taliban. NATO forces are now fighting a guerrilla war with the resurgent Taliban in south Afghanistan.

President Karzai is now in effect just mayor of the capital, Kabul; i.e., his authority is limited to Kabul only. In July 2007, Abdul Sattar Murad, governor of Kapisa province, told Newsweek, “In remote parts of the country there is practically a vacuum of authority, a vacuum of power. Somebody will have to fill that vacuum. Either the criminals fill that vacuum or the Taliban and al-Qaida do.”[6] After this interview, Karzai fired Murad from his post as governor. Even in Kabul, it will take time to change the “Taliban mentality” since the Taliban ruled there for six to seven years. As an example of this mindset, Abdul Rahman, a longtime Christian convert, was arrested in Kabul in 2006 for converting to Christianity, and was set free only under intense international pressure.

Afghan and Western officials blame Pakistan’s ISI for restarting the training camps for the Taliban militants and providing them assistance to fight the Karzai government. They claim that Pakistan seeks a weak government in Kabul that it can influence. It also wants to keep tensions boiling in Pashtun-dominated areas on the frontier to block settlement of a decades-old border dispute that the new Afghan parliament is expected to try to end, they say. In addition, they allege that the Taliban are being allowed to maintain arms depots, training camps, and sanctuaries in the lawless tribal belt on Pakistan’s side of the frontier. According to Afghan officials, “Taliban is fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through al-Qaeda network. The money is coming from rogue elements and factional elements living in the Middle East.”[7]

1 Chivers, C.J., “Veterans of Soviets old war warn of betrayal and brutality,” The New York Times, October 22, 2001.

2 Musharraf, Pervez, In the Line of Fire, Free Press, New York, 2006, p. 201.

3 Zakhilwal, Omar and Niazi, Adeena, “The warlords win in Kabul”, The New York Times, June 21, 2002.

4 Ibid.

5 Weiner, Tim, “With Taliban gone, opium farmers return to their only cash crop,” The New York Times, November 26, 2001.

6 Abrashi, Fisnik, “Afghan governor fired after comments,” Associated Press, July 16, 2007.

7 Landey, Jonathan S., “A new Taliban had re-emerged in Afghanistan,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, August 18, 2005.

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