The Ismailis of Afghanistan: INTRODUCTION
The word Afghanistan means the land of the Afghans and the word afghan (awghan or aoghan) means the mountaineers. The oldest Indian literature refers it as Balhekdes. The Persians called it as Zablistan and Kabalistan. To the Greeks, it was Bakhtar or Bactria. Variations on the word Afghan however go back as early as the 3rd century the Sasania reference to Abgan.
Afghanistan as it is seen today, comprises in the north the ancient geographical areas of Aria or Hari Rud, and Bactria (modern Balkh), and on the south Drangiana and Arachosia, while the region of the Paropamisus corresponds with the tract north of the Kabul River. All these lands were included in the Persian Empire, and were directly ruled by Iranian chieftains.
Afghanistan can be characterized geographically as a mountainous desert interspersed with isolated fertile valleys, river basins and oases. It extends eastward from the vast Iranian plateau and incorporates the foothills of the Himalayan range, which rise to a height of 7470 meters in the finger of land that divides Tajikistan from Pakistan and touches on western China. To the north of this range, known as the Hindu Kush, began the plains that cross the Afghan frontier at the Amu Darya river and stretch for thousands of miles across Central Asia and the Russian steppes to the Arctic. To the south of the Hindu Kush is a bleak and windswept desert that passes through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. It has an area of 251823 square miles. Archaeological evidence indicates that people were growing wheat and barley and grazing sheep and goats on the foothills of the Hindu Kush some 9,000 to 11,000
years ago. It also suggests a strong nomadic culture over the wider region to the west and north.
Alexander’s campaigns in Afghanistan are well known, and the cities of Herat and Kandahar owe their foundation or rebuilding to him. After his death the eastern portions of his empire passed to Seleucus Nicator, the founder of the famous Seleucid dynasty, with the exception of the Indian provinces, including probably the Kabul valley, which were absorbed in the kingdom of the Mauryas founded by Chandragupta, the grandfather of Asoka. The decline of the Seleucid power was marked by the establishment of a separate Greek kingdom in Bactria, the first beginning of which go back to about 246 B.C., and which about fifty years later made large conquests in India. The Afghan cradle of the extended kingdom broke off from the Indian accretions; part of it fell to the Parthians, and the Sakas, a tribe from Central Asia whose name is preserved in Seistan, conquered the rest about 130 B.C.. Less than two centuries afterwards the Yueh-chi, another horde from the same locality crushed out the last remnants of Greek rule, and also expelled the Parthians. Kanishka, the greatest of their kings ruled up to Benares on the east and Malwa on the south. He stands next to Asoka in the legends of Buddhism as a protector and spreader of the faith. The empire of Kanishka fell to pieces not long after his death; but Torkman kings of his race reigned for several centuries after in the Kabul valley and the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang (7th century A.D.) found them still professing Buddhism. About the end of the 9th century, the Turkish Shahis gave place to Hindu rulers, who finally disappeared before the onslaught of the Ghaznavids.
The Arabs, after overthrowing the Persian empire of the Sassanids at the battle of Nehawand in 642 A.D., occupied Western Afghanistan, and Herat became one of the principal cities of the Muslim world; but their efforts to add Kabul to their territories were foiled by the resistance of the Shahi kings. On the break–up of the Caliphate, the Persian Safavids (9th century) ruled for a short time in Herat and Balkh, and were succeeded by the more powerful Samanids, and they in turn by the Turkish house of Ghazni. The greatest of the Ghaznavids (977-1186) was Mahmud (998-1030), who ruled over Afghanistan, Trans-Oxiana, Western Persia and the Punjab, and made many expeditions farther into India. Mahmud was however much more than an ordinary Asiatic conqueror. After his death his outlying possessions in the west and north fell into the hands of the Seljuk Turks, while the Afghan house of Ghor finally dispossessed his descendants first of their remaining Afghans, and then of their Indian, dominions.
The greatest of the Ghorids was Shihabuddin Muhammad (1173-1206), who conquered the whole of Northern India and was the virtual founder of the first Muslim empire of Delhi. On his death this empire started into independent existence under his Turkish viceroy, the founder of the Slave dynasty, and the Ghorids sank back into insignificant Afghan princes. After a brief epoch of incorporation in the short-lived empire of Khwarizm, Afghanistan was overrun by the Mongol hordes of Chingiz Khan; and the greater part of it remained under his descendants till the advent of that other great scourge of Asia, Timur Lang, who founded the Timurid dynasty (1370-1508). He subdued the whole country and then passed on to sack Delhi in 1398. After his death in 1405, his mighty empire soon fell to pieces, but his descendants continued to rule in Herat, Balkh, Ghazni, Kabul and Kandahar. One of them was Babar, then the king of Badakhshan, Kabul and Kandahar. He descended upon India at the head of a Turki-Afghan army in 1525, and in 1536 overthrew Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi of Delhi at Panipat, and thus laid the foundation of the Mughal empire in India. Babar did not, however, live long enough to consolidate his Indian conquests, which were confined to the Punjab and the United Provinces, and his son Humayun was driven from India by Sher Shah, and returned shortly before his death. The real builder of the mighty Mughal empire which dominated the greater part of India was Babar’s grandson, Akbar (1556-1605). From this time the Afghan possession of the dynasty became of secondary importance. The Uzbegs had occupied Badakhshan; Herat and later Kandahar, fell under the Persian dynasty of the Safavids; and Ghazni and the Kabul province were left in undisputed Mughal possession.
In 1708, the Ghilzais of Kandahar threw off the Persian yoke, and a few years after defeated the Safavids in Persia itself, while the Abdalis (Durranis) took Herat and overran Khorasan. Nadir Shah, who followed them up into Afghanistan, expelled both clans from Persia and by 1738 was master of the whole country, including the remaining Mughal possessions. Thence he made the celebrated expedition, which resulted in the sack of Delhi in 1739, but did not extend his permanent conquests beyond the Indus. On his assassination in 1747, Afghanistan became, for the first time for many centuries, a national monarchy under Ahmed Shah, the Sadozai chief of the Abdali or Durrani tribe. Ahmed Shah, who reigned till 1773, extended his sway over Khorasan, Kashmir, Sind and Punjab. His son Timur succeeded him, during the twenty years of whose reign, Sind was lost to the Durrani kingdom, Balkh and other districts in Afghan-Turkistan became virtually independent and the foundation of revolt was laid in Khorasan and Kashmir. On the death of Timur in 1793, his son Zaman succeeded, and during the short term of his troubled rule, the Punjab east of the Indus was lost. In 1799 Mahmud, another son of Timur, seized the throne, which in 1803 passed, as the result of a conspiracy, to his brother Shuja Mirza, henceforward known as Shah Shuja al-Mulk. In 1809, in consequence of the intrigues of Napoleon in Persia, Mr. Mountstuart Elphionstone was sent as envoy to Shah Shuja at Peshawar, without any profitable result; for while the British mission was at Peshawar grave events were occurring in Afghanistan. Shah Shuja’s administration was unpopular; the flower of his army was engaged in crushing a rebellion in Kashmir; and the ex-king, Mahmud Shah took the opportunity, to strike a blow for himself. Shah Shuja was defeated and fled, and Mahmud was for the second proclaimed king in 1809. Six years later, Shah Shuja arrived, a refugee, at the British station of Ludhiana, in the Punjab. Mahmud reigned nine years; but the real power was in the hands of his Vizir Fateh Khan. His jealous sovereign, an act that sealed the fate of the Sadozai dynasty, blinded him. Muhammad Azim, the full brother of Fateh Khan, and Dost Muhammad, his half-brother, took the field to avenge the Vizir’s wrongs, with the result that Mahmud fled from Kabul and was deposed in 1818, having first caused Fateh Khan to be murdered.
For some years there was now no settled ruler in Afghanistan. Muhammad Azim held Kabul and was the principal administrator of the kingdom; but he was neither king nor amir, and his brothers, who were governors of provinces, and other Afghan chiefs could scarcely be said to obey him. Meanwhile, the kingdom was falling to pieces. Herat was alienated; Afghan-Turkistan and Badakhshan were lost; and Ranjit Singh had conquered Kashmir, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Attock, and was threatening Peshawar, which he secured after defeating the Afghan army at Nowshera in 1823. Muhammad Azim died in the same year; civil war ensued between the remaining Barakzai brothers. In 1826, Dost Muhammad proclaimed himself lord of Kabul and Ghazni, to which he soon after added Jalallabad. In 1835, after defeating an attempt by Shah Shuja to regain his lost kingdom, he assumed the title of amir.
After the end of 1836, the proceedings of Russia and the relation between the amir and Ranjit Singh created uneasiness, which induced the British government to depute Sir Alexander Burnes to the amir’s court. The mission, professedly a commercial one, had also in view the checking of the advance of Persia on Herat and the establishment of peace between the amir and Ranjit Singh. Burnes was well received, but the amir’s demand that the British should help him against Ranjit Singh was rejected. While communications were still in progress, a Russian officer Captain Vikovitch arrived in Kabul. Lord Auckland demanded his dismissal, and the renunciation on Dost Muhammad’s part of all claim to the former Afghan provinces in the possession of Ranjit Singh. These conditions were refused, and the rash resolution was then taken to re-establish Shah Shuja on the Afghan throne. A treaty was concluded with Ranjit Singh, under which he obtained from Shah Shuja the formal cession of all the territory he had acquired from the Afghans, and agreed to cooperate cordially with the expedition about to be dispatched to Kabul to dethrone Dost Muhammad. In spite of this treaty, Ranjit Singh eventually declined to let the British expedition cross his territories, though a Sikh force, with Sir Claud Wade and a small British detachment, advanced through the Khyber Pass. The army of the Indus, amounting to 21,000 men assembled in upper Sind in 1838, and Shah Shuja was crowned in his grandfather’s mosque; Ghazni was captured in July, 1838. Dost Muhammad, finding his troops deserting, crossed the Hindu Kush and Shah Shuja entered the capital on August 7, 1838. The war was thought to be at an end, and Sir John Keane returned to India, leaving behind at Kabul 8,000 men, besides Shah Shuja’s force, with Sir William Macnaghten, assisted by Burnes, as special envoy.
During the two following years, Shah Shuja and his allies remained in possession of Kabul and Kandahar. Dost Muhammad surrendered in November 1841 and was sent to India. From the beginning, however, insurrection against the new government had been rife. In November 1841, revolt broke out violently at Kabul with the massacre of Burnes and other officers. Disaster after disaster occurred. At a conference with Dost Muhammad’s son Akbar Khan, who had taken the lead of the Afghans, Sir William Macnaghten was murdered by that chief’s own hand. On January 6, 1842, after a convention to evacuate the country had been signed, the British garrison, still numbering 4500 soldiers with some 12000 followers, marched out of the camp. The winter was severe, the troops demoralized, the march a scene of confusion and massacre and the Afghans made hardly pretence of keeping the terms of the convention. On January 13, the last survivors of the force mustered at Gandamak only twenty muskets. Of those who left Kabul, Dr. Brydon alone reached Jalallabad, wounded and half-dead, but 92 prisoners were afterwards recovered. The garrison of Ghazni had already been forced to surrender, but General Nott held Kandahar with a stern hand, and General Sale, who had reached Jalallabad from Kabul at the beginning of the outbreak, maintained that important point gallantly.
To avenge these disasters and recover the prisoners, preparations were made in India on a fitting scale. In April 1842, General Pollock relieved Jalallabad, after forcing the Khyber Pass, and in September occupied Kabul, where Nott, after retaking and dismantling Ghazni, joined him. The prisoners were recovered from Bamiyan; the citadel and central bazar of Kabul were destroyed; and the army finally evacuated Afghanistan in December 1842. Shah Shuja had been assassinated in April 1842, and Dost Muhammad released by the British, was able to resume his position at Kabul, which he retained till his death in 1863.
In 1848, during the second Sikh war, Dost Muhammad stimulated by popular outcry and by the Sikh offer to restore Peshawar to him, crossed the frontier and took Attock. An Afghan cavalry force was sent to join Sher Singh against the British, and was present at the battle of Gujrat in February 1849. The Afghans were ignominiously routed and hotly pursued to the passes. The Peshawar territories were then annexed to British India, and all hope of recovering them for the Afghan dominion was lost.
In 1850, Dost Muhammad reconquered Balkh, and in 1855 the renewal of friendly intercourse between the amir and the British government led to the conclusion of a treaty at Peshawar, while in the same year the amir made himself master of Kandahar. The year 1856 witnessed a new Persian advance to Herat, ending in its capture, and the British expedition to the Persian Gulf, which resulted in its relinquishment to an independent ruler. In January 1857, the amir had an interview at Peshawar with Sir John Lawrence, chief commissioner of the Punjab, at which he was promised arms and subsidy for protection against Persia. In consequence of this treaty a British mission under Major Lumsden proceeded to Kandahar. The Indian Mutiny followed, but in spite of Afghan excitement the amir remained faithful to the British alliance.
In 1863, Dost Muhammad captured Herat after a ten months’ siege. He died there thirteen days later, and was succeeded by his son, Sher Ali Khan. The latter passed through many vicissitudes in rivalry with his brothers and nephews, and at one time in 1867, his fortunes were so low that he held only Balkh and Herat. By the autumn of 1868, however, he was again established on the throne of Kabul, and his competitors were beaten and dispersed. In April 1869, the Earl of Mayo, who had shortly before succeeded Sir John Lawrence as Viceroy, received Sher Ali Khan at Ambala. Friendly relations were confirmed and the amir received the balance of donation of 120,000 British pounds, which had been partly paid by Sir John Lawrence.
In the early part of 1873, a correspondence between the governments of Russia and Great Britain resulted in a declaration by the former that Afghanistan was beyond the field of Russian influence, while the Oxus, from its supposed source in Lake Victoria to the western limit of Balkh, was recognized as the frontier of the state. The principal events that followed were the amir’s effort in 1873 to secure a British guarantee for his rule and family succession, and Lord Lytton’s endeavours in 1876 to obtain his consent to the establishment of British agencies in Afghanistan. The failure of these negotiations led to estrangement between the two governments; and in July, 1878, a Russian mission was received with honour at Kabul, while Sher Ali Khan shortly afterwards refused permission for a British mission to cross the frontier.
After some remonstrance and warning, an ultimatum was dispatched, and, no reply being received up to the last date allowed, the amir’s attitude was accepted as one of hostility to the British government. In November, an invasion of Afghanistan was decided upon, and within a few days the British forces were in full occupation of the Khyber Pass and the Kurram valley, after inflicting severe defeats on the Afghan troops. Kandahar was occupied in January 1879 and Kalat-i Ghilzai and Girishk a few weeks later. The amir fled from Kabul in December, 1878, accompanied by the members of the Russian mission, and died, a fugitive at Mazar-i Sharif three months later. The people as amir recognized his son Yakub Khan, who had been kept a close prisoner at Kabul, but was released before his flight. In May 1879, Yakub voluntarily came into the British camp at Gandamak and signed the treaty. By its terms the amir ceded the Kurram Michni Passes, and of relation with the independent tribes in their neighborhood, was retained by the British government. The amir also agreed to the appointment of a British Resident at Kabul and to the complete subordination of the foreign relations of Afghanistan to British influence. Major Sir Louis Cavagnari was shortly afterwards appointed Resident. In September 1879, the Residency was attacked by a rabble of townspeople and troops, and the Resident and his escort were murdered.
The Kandahar force, which had not at this time entirely evacuated Afghanistan, was ordered to concentrate at Kandahar. Simultaneously, a force under General Roberts marched by the Kurram route, and after routing an Afghan army of Charasia, he took possession of Kabul in October, 1879. Yakub Khan, who had come into the British camp, now abdicated and was removed to India. The Bala Hissar at Kabul was partially destroyed and the city remained under British occupation for nearly a year. During the winter of 1879-80, the British force at the capital was for a time in no little danger, owing to a general tribal rising, which was not suppressed without severe fighting. The British government in July 1880; and the punitive purpose of the expedition having been accomplished recognized a new amir, Abdur Rahman Khan, a grandson of Dost Muhammad and nephew of Sher Ali Khan; the British troops were withdrawn from Kabul in August of that year.
Meanwhile, Sardar Sher Ali Khan, a Barkzai of Kandahar had been formally installed by the British as independent wali of the Kandahar province in May 1880. In July, Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan, a younger brother of Yakub Khan, who had advanced from Herat, inflicted a crushing defeat on a brigade of British troops at Maiwand and invested Kandahar. A relieving force under General Roberts left Kabul on August 8, arrived at Kandahar on the 31st, and on September 1, totally defeated Ayub Khan, whose camp, artillery and baggage were captured, the Sardar escaping with a handful of followers. This victory immediately quieted the country and the last of the British forces evacuated southern Afghanistan in April, 1881. Sher Ali Khan had found himself incapable to maintain the position conferred on him, and had retired at his own request to India. Within three months of the British withdrawal, Ayub Khan, who had been maintaining himself with spirit at Herat, again took field and after defeating amir Abdur Rahman’s troops, he occupied Kandahar. He was however utterly defeated by the amir in September 1881 and fled.
The position originally offered by the government of India to Abdur Rahman Khan was that of amir of Kabul only. As shown above, the course of events placed him in possession of Kandahar and Herat, in addition to the Kabul province, within a year of his ascending the throne. After the defeat of Ayub Khan and the capture of Kandahar, Abdur Rahman Khan returned to Kabul and proceeded to establish his rule on a firm basis. In 1888, Abdur Rahman Khan had to meet the most serious revolt against his authority. His cousin, Muhammad Ishaq Khan suddenly threw off all semblance of allegiance and caused himself to be proclaimed amir. The revolt was completely subdued at Ghazni Ghak. The year 1890 saw a serious disturbance in the Firoz Kohi country, the Shinwaris in rebellion, and operations in progress against the Hazaras. The amir’s measures in connection with all these matters were successful. In 1891, Major General C.S. Maclean demarcated the boundary between Persia and Afghanistan in the vicinity of Hashtadan, which had been under discussion for four years.
Abdur Rahman Khan died at Kabul in 1901 after ruling 21 years and was succeeded by his eldest son, Habibullah Khan (1901-1919). There had been almost peace during the five years in Afghanistan. In March 1905, a treaty between the British government and Habibullah Khan was signed, continuing the agreements, which had been existed with Abdur Rahman. Habibullah was noted for his success in keeping both Britain and Russia at bay and in fiercely maintaining Afghanistan’s independence. He was assassinated in 1919 and replaced by his son, Amanullah (1919-1929). Within months of taking power, Amanullah declared war on Britain. Since the Britain had no taste for further fighting, therefore, agreed through the 1919 Treaty of Rawalpindi that Afghanistan was free to conduct its own foreign affairs.
Immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi, the newly formed Afghan government established contact with the Soviet Union through an exchange of missions, and a Treaty of Friendship between them was signed in May, 1921. Missions were also sent to other European countries and the United States to establish diplomatic relations. Thus ended Britain's attempt to exercise control.
Internally, Amanullah had to deal with armed revolts by the Pushtun tribes against the reform and modernization programme he had set in motion. He was concerned at what he saw as the backwardness of Afghanistan relative to the West and felt that the only way to strengthen it, was to modernize it. He undertook a seven-months tour of Europe in 1928, fuelling rumours that he was turning against Islam. When, on his return, he attempted to impose Western dress codes and co-education, the opposition intensified. A Tajik, Bacha-e-Saqqao, who led the rebel advance, at length overthrew Amanullah. Bacha-e-Saqqao was ousted nine months later by a Pushtun, Muhammad Nadir Khan (1929-1933). In September 1930, a council of tribal and religious leaders, or Loya Jirga, convened by Nadir Khan, accorded him the title of king and decreed that the Hanafi Sharia law of Sunni Islam should be the prevailing legal code. However, the 1931 Constitution created confusion by providing for religious and secular legal systems to operate in parallel. The more severe punishments prescribed under Sharia law, such as amputation for theft.
Nadir Khan was also murdered in 1933 and was succeeded by his 19 year old son, Zahir Shah (1933-1973), who continued to rule for 40 years. The immediate post-war period saw early negotiations for the independence of India, based on partition between India and Pakistan. The Afghan government took an opportunity to argue that the Pushtun tribal areas of North-West Frontier Province should be able to opt for independence. In 1949, a Pakistani air force strike on the tribal area led to a village on the Afghan side of the border being bombed. The Afghan government responded by reneging on all the treaties that had determined the frontier of Afghanistan with British India and supported an initiative to create a Pushtunistan assembly on the Pakistan side of the Durand line. In return, Pakistan imposed a blockade on petroleum products travelling to Afghanistan. The Kabul government promptly signed a barter agreement with the Soviet Union in July, 1950 whereby the latter would provide petroleum products and other important commodities in return for Afghan wool and raw cotton.
Afghanistan thus increasingly looked to the Soviet Union as a trading partner and source of support. Soviet Union also assisted in the further development of military airfields near Mazar-i Sharif in the north, Shindand in the west and Bagram, north of Kabul. The USA was also involved on a much smaller scale, commencing with two major dam projects in the Helmand basin. The process of rapprochement with the USSR and USA was accelerated during the period in office of Muhammad Dawood Khan, who served as prime minister from 1953 to 1963. He also restarted the process of reform that had been moribund since the fall of Amanullah in 1929. In August 1959, Dawood and senior members of the government appeared on a public platform with their wives and daughters unveiled. The army, strengthened with Soviet assistance, put down the inevitable protests by the religious leadership and a gradual process commenced of women entering the urban workforces.
Afghanistan was pushed even further into the hold of the Soviet Union when diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan were deteriorated in 1961 over the Pushtunistan issue, resulting in the closure of the border and a halt to transit trade through Pakistan. The border remained closed until 1963, when Dawood’s resignation made a compromise with Pakistan possible. Immediately following Dawood’s removal, King Zahir Shah gave added impetus to the process of constitutional reform started by Dawood. A Constitutional Advisory Committee, which included two women, was set up. Among the more important provision of the 1964 Constitution was the legal equality of both women and men. The Constitution also gave precedence to the secular legal system over Sharia law, thus overturning the 1931 Constitution. It nevertheless stated that "Islam is the sacred religion of Afghanistan" and provided that Hanafi Sharia law should be the last resort where no existing secular law applied. It also stipulated that an elected parliament be set up, together with 28 provincial councils. A proportion of the individuals to be included in the parliament were to be women, some nominated by the king. The first parliament, elected in 1965, had four women MPs out of a total of 216.
The late 1960s witnessed growing dissent as young people came to the capital from other parts of the country to take advantage of expanded education opportunities, notably in Kabul University, and found a system that was still highly elitist. Radical movements found fertile ground amongst Kabul’s student populations. Some advocated a much faster process of reform and found a vehicle in the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Other vociferously opposed the changes that had already taken place and fought for a return to Islamic values.
The Islamist parties, as they were called, set out to establish a political movement that would work for the creation of an Islamic state based on Sharia law. Among the ready recruits were the sons of Tajiks and Uzbegs who had fled to northern Afghanistan from the religious persecution perpetrated by the Russian government across Central Asia during the 1920s and 1930s.
The following years were ones of considerable unrest, with the socialist and Islamist parties growing in strength. A disastrous three-year famine (1969-1972) tested the government’s effectiveness and integrity to its limits and it was found wanting. Finally, his cousin and former prime minister, Dawood deposed Zahir Shah in July 1973. He abolished the monarchy and proclaimed himself the President of the Republic of Afghanistan.
Dawood (1973-1978) looked to the army and to the moderate wing of the split PDPA to provide his power base. Several members of the PDPA joined Dawood’s Central Committee. Tension quickly developed and PDPA members were removed from the government. Dawood then went on the offensive against all potential opponents, forcing the Islamist parties to flee to Pakistan. He also sought to reduce his dependence on the Soviet Union through increasing overtures to the West and consolidated his relation with Iran.
Dawood fell victim to a coup orchestrated by PDPA that ended Durrani dynastic rule by establishing a communist government (1978-1992) in April 17, 1978. The PDPA took quick measures to create a ceiling on landholdings, reduce rural indebtedness, limit the brideprice and set a minimum age for marriage. A mass literary campaign was also embarked upon as part of a secular education programme aimed at girls and boys, women and men, young and old.
The PDPA’s use of force in bringing the change to fruition, combined with a brutal disregard for societal and religious sensitivities, resulted in a massive backlash from the rural population. The anger of the population found an appropriate outlet in the unifying call for a jihad. One area after another, exploded in violence against the regime, and government forces were called upon to respond with even greater violence. Large-scale desertions from the army followed. It was the non-tribal areas of the north, including the Shia zone of central Afghanistan that launched the first insurrections. The Pushtun tribes were more ready to believe well of the PDPA government by virtue of its predominantly Pushtun membership. The Islamists, who originated in the north, had no illusions about the objectives of the PDPA, having rubbed shoulders with them in Kabul University. Jamiat, in particular, had the necessary combination of organizational strengths and respect for tradition to enable them to build mass supports. The early resistance was therefore to a degree, a rising up of the element within Afghan society that had been marginalised by the ruling Pushtun establishment, with its tribal foundations. It was also a manifestation of educated young taking power from the old aristocracy, building a new alliance with the ulema and developing links with tribal leaders outside the aristocracy. The new resistance leadership encouraged a return to Sharia law as the primary legal code.
The Soviet Union had taken advantage of the PDPA’s assumption of power by engaging ever more deeply in Afghanistan on the economic, political and military fronts. In December 1978, an agreement was signed empowering the Kabul government to call on Moscow for direct military assistance if the need arose. With the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by an Islamist government, Moscow was nervous at the possibility that the Islamists in Afghanistan might exploit any ambivalence it might manifest towards the PDPA regime. Internal power struggle within the PDPA leadership led to the overthrow and subsequent assassination of President Nur Muhammad Taraki in September 1979 and his replacement by President Hafizullah Amin.
There has been much speculation as to why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan towards the end of December, 1979, but the evidence suggests that Moscow’s historical fear of encirclement from the south was the dominant factor. The Soviet military aggression against the Afghan people was however condemned by the United Nations in its Resolution No. ES-6/2 of January 14, 1980. It was also condemned in the Resolution adopted on May 22, 1980 by the Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers.
In sum, the Soviet invasion resulted in the death of President Hafizullah Amin. A relatively moderate member of the PDPA, Babrak Karmal, who arrived from Moscow shortly after the invasion, replaced him. Soviet forces remained in Afghanistan until February 15, 1989. Their decision to withdraw, taken in 1986 and given written form in the Geneva Accords of April 14, 1988, was as much a consequence of internal factors within the Soviet Union as of military defeat. In the end, the processes that had led to the decision to withdraw also resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991, heralding the emergence of a Mujahidin government in April 1992.
The Afghans who took up arms against the PDPA and the Soviet forces, who regarded themselves as engaged in a holy war (jihad), were known as the mujahidin (fighters in a holy war). The fighters found their own leaders at the local level and some of these rose to prominence.
The Taliban appeared to emerge out of nowhere when they first came to the world’s notice in October 1994. The absolute leader of the Taliban is Mulla Muhammad Umar, who has been given the supreme religious title of amir al-muminin (commander of the faithful).