Prof. James DeShaw Rae
Fall 2021, POLS 130
A Nation Divided
Within Afghanistan, the people were in an intrastate conflict: the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) and People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan were in a civil war. Their struggle for power and influence originated from a difference in ideology and tradition, with neither side being willing to budge. On May 8, 1978, the Afghan government, led by President Nur Mohammad Taraki, requested help from the Soviet Union to support the DRA. Thus, Afghan-Soviet relations were strengthened through the assistance of the Soviet government, which provided large amounts of financial support and military equipment training to Afghans. The previous president, President Daud Khan’s interest in beginning a military buildup to counter Pakistan’s and Iran’s influence in Afghan politics resulted in the Afghanistan government signing a treaty with the Soviet Union for military support, opening the door for the Soviet’s official involvement in Afghanistan. The Afghan government was not the only party that benefited from this relationship. The Soviets had their self-interests in establishing a symbiotic relationship with the Afghan government as Afghanistan was “a key position in Asia, one with trade possibilities and access to Gulf oil” (Rubin #). However, not all groups in Afghanistan believed that Soviet involvement was welcome. Several viewed it as an invasion and thus began the transformation of the war in Afghanistan from the purely civil war to a proxy war. I’d want to implement an exclusive realism viewpoint to Afghanistan’s civil conflict circumstances and propose a realist solution. The desire for power and the desire to dominate, according to realism, is a primary segment of human nature.
Initially, when Afghanistan’s communist party came to power after the April 27, 1978 coup, they put into action several radical modernization reforms that were unpopular among traditional rural Afghans who believed these changes to be against Muslim tradition. On December 24, 1979, in support of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government, the Soviet government deployed the 40th Army to Kabul and staged a coup against the then-president, Hafizullah Amin. Amin, who had been the second-in-command to Nur Mohammad Taraki, antagonized relations with the Soviets when he had ordered President Taraki to be murdered. Consequently, the newly arrived Soviet army was ordered to kill Amin and install Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal in his place. The deployment was called an invasion by Afghanistan’s various insurgent groups and their supporters. These groups made up what is inclusively known as the mujahideen. The mujahideen were supported financially by parties not directly involved in the conflict, such as China and Pakistan. As they began to revolt against the Afghan government and their Soviet support, the conflict in Afghanistan shifted from a previously purely intrastate war. This shift made the Soviet-Afghan War a proxy war, as both the war and resulting consequences were instigated and driven by factions not directly involved in the fighting. The fighting between the mujahideen and the Afghan government represented their own goals and the interests of aiding countries who pushed to change the tide of the war to a result that would benefit them most.
The mujahideen met the Soviet’s invasion with guerilla warfare in the rural countryside. The most famous (and likely most effective) of the mujahideen commanders was Ahmed Shah Massoud (1953–2001), known as the “Lion of the Panjshir.” His troops fought under the banner of the Jamiat-i-Islami, one of the Peshawar Seven factions led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, who would later become the 10th president of Afghanistan. Massoud was a strategic and tactical genius, and his mujahideen were a crucial part of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Their forces received military training and supplies, such as weapons and monetary funds from Pakistan and China. Meanwhile, the trials of the war weighed down on the Soviet Union. While the Soviets had much more advanced warfare technology, their weapons and resources were ineffective against the mujahideen rebels’ guerrilla warfare in the rough Afghanistan landscape. As a result of extending conflict, the Soviet-Afghan War’s financial toll was taking on the Soviet Union wasn’t sustainable. By 1982, the mujahideen controlled 75% of Afghanistan. (Truemen) The Soviet Union began withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. By February 15, 1989, the Afghan government troops were left without backup in their fight for modernization against the mujahideen, but this did not mean that the type of war had shifted back to a purely intrastate conflict.
The war between the mujahideen and the Afghan government did not end with the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, but their troop’s exit was an integral part of the mujahideen’s strategy to transfer the burdens of war to the Afghan armed forces. The mujahideen, in the meantime, received support from the USA through aid from the CIA funneled through the Pakistani secret service.
“In order to undermine the then-newly formed and popular PDPA government, the Carter administration and the CIA began the imperialist intervention by providing training, financial support, and weapons to Sunni extremists (the Mujahideen) who started committing acts of terrorism against schools and teachers in rural areas.” (Velina, 2019)
Meanwhile, the Afghan government was able to hold off the opposing forces with aid from foreign powers as well. The Soviets may have pulled out their troops; however, they were still very much involved through commerce, and this involvement provided much-needed resources for the Afghan government. More specifically, Russia was still selling oil products to Afghanistan, and the Uzbek militia was providing tactical support. In 1992, however, under a new government, Russia created an embargo. It refused to sell oil products to Afghanistan as its new leader did not associate with these former communist parties. The Uzbek militia, in the meantime, defected, creating extreme weaknesses. After several years of fighting, these exposures were too much for the Afghan government, which collapsed. The political situation in Afghanistan became that of a failed state, as the previously established democratic government no longer held any legitimacy in Afghanistan. Instead, the mujahideen replaced the failed government with a new governing council. Since the fall of the Afghan government, different factions have continued to fight for control, with power changing hands multiple times, the most recent and strongest controlling body being the Taliban.
Civil wars, according to realism, arise when the distinction between internal order and foreign disorder dissolves. In such a circumstance, the central authority loses credibility, and people begin to reclaim the liberty formerly granted to the central government for security reasons. The same dynamics occurred in Afghanistan. People have lost faith in governments during the 1990s, and they have banded together along ethnic lines to gain power and seek protection. From 1979 until 1989, Afghanistan was one of the cold war’s battlegrounds, when two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, pursued proxy battles. Money from the United States, which poured into the region to stoke anti-communist fervor, was primarily responsible for spreading Islamic extremism over the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands. These US-created guerilla warriors initially proved effective in advancing the United States’ interests in the region. The Mujahedin, also known as independence soldiers, appeared to be a powerful army in the face of the Soviet Union’s red military and the Afghan government backed by the Soviets. With the failure of the Soviet Union in 1989, the United States prevailed over the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan lost its political and economic relevance to the United States.
“A Realist would suggest that the solution for Afghanistan and for other similar civil wars is separation or partition” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2011, p. 88).
Realists advocate divide and rule rather than many liberal methods of civil and racial warfare, which rely on power-sharing agreements and the development of multi-ethnic governments. From a realistic standpoint, the international political agreement at the conclusion of a rigged presidential race is also not helping to security and stability, but it is expanding the differences among the country’s many groups.
The effects of the Afghan-Soviet war have had long-standing consequences, forever changing the country. Beginning with an intrastate civil war, this conflict merged into a proxy war due to influences and support from countries around the globe who had their own self-serving interests and plans. Despite the removal of foreign physical forces (for instance, Russian troops and the Uzbek militia), the steady financial support and outside influence proved that this war would continue to be a proxy war, even though the two parties fighting were contained to the Afghani citizens. Ultimately, this civil unrest ended with the fall of the Afghan government, transforming Afghanistan into a failed state, and this result continues to impact the daily life of each Afghan citizen. The struggle for power, constant interference from foreign bodies, and turmoil due to the changing governments and powers have hindered Afghanistan’s effort to rebuild, and ultimately, their citizens are the ones paying the price, time and time again.
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