1. A Client Government in Afghanistan
1. The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
At half past six on the evening of Thursday, 27 December 1979, an explosion occurred in the central part of the general communications system in the city of Kabul. Three days before, the minister of communications of the Soviet Union had been a guest of honor of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. He had been given the chance to see the hub of the communications system for a reason. The purpose of the host government was to obtain technical assistance from the Soviet Union. But the purpose of the minister was to pinpoint the center of the system in order to paralyze the whole communications network later, when the Soviet invasion began.
After darkness set in, about five thousand Soviet soldiers, who had been landing during the past three days at the International Airport of Kabul, headed toward Tapa-e-Tajbeg palace, where Hafizullah Amin, president of the Revolutionary Council, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and general secretary of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, had transferred his seat from the city palace on 19 December 1979. The new palace had originally been the seat of the reformist King Amanullah (1919-29). Before Amin became the head of state, the Khalqi government had spent more than one billion afghanis (approximately $20 million) to repair the palace and make it a suitable seat for his predecessor, Nur Mohammad Taraki. President Amin moved into it at the urging of his Soviet advisers. He also wanted to be away from the old palace, which reminded him of the many bloody events that had taken place there. But Tapa-e-Tajbeg, situated on a mound two miles south of the city, could easily be attacked should the Soviet Union decide to do so. That evening, the Soviet military units in Kabul carried out such an order.
Storming of the Presidential Palace
At twenty minutes past seven, Tapa-e-Tajbeg was shelled by rockets from the west side. That evening under a clear sky the fertile Chardi Basin, where Tajbeg is located, became a scene of carnage. The sounds of rockets prompted many people in the city, myself among them, to climb onto the flat rooftops of their houses to see what was happening. Because of the tyranny of the government, the people had turned against it and hoped to see it toppled. They were, however, disappointed. Instead of Afghans, the Alpha antiterrorist squad of the KGB, dressed in Afghan uniforms and commanded by Colonel Boyarinov, had gone into operation. Leaders of both the party and the government were also caught unaware. They had a blind faith in the Kremlin rulers and did not expect that their supporters would overthrow them by force. An exception may have been President Amin, but on this point his views had not become known.
The rocket attack was the external sign of the operations. The scene of the major operations was on the ground. The armored units had already started moving from Kabul International Airport, located on the opposite side of the city. They needed time to reach Tajbeg and other strategic places. The operation began on one of the longest nights of the year. From Kabul International Airport the units headed to the various places in the outskirts of the city where Afghan army divisions had been stationed. The movements of these units made the earth shake as if Kabul had been hit by one of its periodic tremors.
The sounds of these movements were heard as far as Khushal Maina, in the western outskirts of the city, from where I was watching the scene. The Russian military units headed toward the various military and strategic centers, such as tank units number four and fifteen in thePul-e-Charkhi area, the Qargha Division, the Rishkhor Division, the police force of the Ministry of Interior, the television and radio station, and, of course, the presidential palace. These were all the organized military and strategic centers in and around the capital city from which immediate opposition could be offered; occupying them would ensure immediate success.
The Soviets intended to occupy the nerve centers of the city unaware. “Russian advisers already attached to Afghan army units repeated tricks used during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Turn in all live ammunition and substitute blank rounds for a ‘training exercise,’ the Afghan soldiers had been told. Batteries were removed from vehicles for winterization.…Due to an alleged shortage, the diesel fuel in the older tanks had to be siphoned off for the replacement armor.” Also, Soviet advisers had persuaded some of the personnel of the Kabul air base to go on vacation and then had given their duties to the newly arrived Soviet experts. Although Soviet advisers did not directly control the units, as they had before Amin came to power, they succeeded in persuading the Afghan personnel to do their bidding.
Some former leading members of the faction of the party to which President Amin belonged accompanied the invading units. Being influential with the army, they had turned against Amin when, in September of the same year, a split in the leadership occurred that led to their expulsion. They then took refuge in the Soviet embassy. When the invading military units attacked Tajbeg, two of them, Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoy and Asadullah Sarwari, guided the invaders. But the presidential guards stationed near the palace held them back with counterattacks.
A Poisoned Luncheon in the Presidential Palace
All this time President Amin was lying half-conscious in the palace, incapacitated by KGB agents. Around one o’clock that day, Amin, with a number of his leading party and government officials, had been poisoned when consuming a special luncheon that the palace had arranged in honor of Ghulam Dastagir Panjsheri, a member of the central committee of the party. Panjsheri had returned from a long trip to the Soviet Union. Although not on good terms with Amin, Panjsheri had told him that he had brought good tidings and wished to discuss them with him and other comrades. Since Panjsheri was the only one who did not consume the poisoned food, he was suspected. Some kind of light poison had been mixed with the soup and ashak (a special Afghan dish) served by two Russian girls who were working as waitresses in the palace. Also, “a number of Afghan leaders were arrested at a Soviet-hosted reception staged at the Intercontinental Hotel.…Similarly, Afghan army liaison officers were isolated at a reception party.”
The chief cook of the palace was Michail Talebov, a native of Soviet Azerbaijan, who, as a lieutenant colonel, was in the pay of the KGB. He had been employed at the urging of Soviet advisers. Amin was unwilling to have either the waitresses or the cook, but his Soviet comrades had told him that because his personal safety was a matter of utmost significance, these persons were necessary to perform such sensitive jobs. Amin was still reluctant to accept the advice. At last he acquiesced, but he made it known that they were welcome only until he found some trustworthy Afghan employees.
At the time of the attack Amin was conscious but groggy. After the effects of the poisoning had been felt, a team of physicians, including an old Russian physician from the Four-Hundred-Bed Hospital, began treating Amin. The hospital, which had been built with Russian funds, was the most modern hospital in Afghanistan. The physicians and nurses were still in the palace when it came under fire. Because the communication lines had been cut, Amin did not know what was happening.
President Amin’s Faith in his Soviet Comrades
At this time Jahandad, commander of the eighteen hundred presidential guards, presented himself to Amin and asked for instructions. Amin wanted to know who the attackers were. When told that they were the comrades from the north, Amin was stunned. He did not believe his communist comrades would overthrow his government by force, even though he had earlier confided to one of his senior surviving officials that the Soviets might do away with him personally. As will be described in the next chapter, early in 1979 Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin had made clear to Kabul that the Soviet government did not wish to send its troops to Afghanistan. That was why, even in the gravest minutes of his life, Amin did not believe Jahandad, to whom he had entrusted his own life and the lives of his dearest ones. He even admonished Jahandad for his report.
There are two versions of what Amin told his protecting commander. One version is that Amin said the attackers might be the Ikhwanis, that is, the Muslim fundamentalists who are the irreconcilable enemiesof the communists. This version cannot be taken seriously, because the Ikhwanis in the army were not strong enough to make a coup. Duringthe twenty-month rule of the Khalqis, the army had been purged of Ikhwanis.
More likely is the second version, according to which Amin told Jahandad, “It is the work of Paktiawal”—that is, people from the province of Paktia. In the present context “Paktiawal” referred to Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoy, Asadullah Sarwari, and Aslam Watanjar. Except for Sarwari, who was from the province of Ghazni bordering the province of Paktia, the others were from Paktia. All three were military officers who had played prominent roles in the communist coup as well as the coup that overthrew the constitutional monarchy. They had influence with the army, which was officered by a considerable number of persons from Paktia. Until their break with Amin, Sarwari was head of the Intelligence Department (AGSA), while the others were cabinet ministers. At first close friends of Amin, they later turned against him, siding with President Nur Mohammad Taraki in opposition to Amin. When Amin overcame them, they took refuge in the Soviet embassy.
On this point, as well as a number of others that will be described in the next chapter, Amin’s relations with the Soviets became strained. The Soviets, however, showed no signs of displeasure. Although the initial warmth of the relationships that existed between them had evaporated, the Soviets showed interest in supporting Amin’s government. In particular, during the last weeks of Amin’s rule the Soviet Union sent a number of missions to Kabul to help the government organize its five-year development plan, which it intended to launch at the beginning of the new Afghan year (21 March 1980), and also to assess the amount of credit that it wished to extend. The three opponents of Amin now assisted the invading forces. Amin was thus partly correct in saying that the attack was the work of Paktiawal.
It is unknown what specific instructions, if any, Amin gave to Jahandad. What is known is that Jahandad, who was of the Sabari tribe from the district of Khost of Paktia Province, had decided that the time had come to prove his loyalty to the land of his birth and defy the invaders, even though they were the Soviets. On returning to his brigade, Jahandad ordered his men, who were a select corps of the loyal party members and close relatives of Amin, to fight the aggressors. They counterattacked and halted the initial advance of the invaders. The confrontation was intense and prolonged. Both sides sustained losses until the Afghans were finally overcome by some kind of nerve gas. The Afghans were in a commanding position in the nine-kilometer-long perimeter of the palace. The palace is, as already noted, situated on a mound. Also, the Soviet soldiers did not overwhelm the Afghan soldiers in numbers, although they were, of course, better armed. The invaders feared that if the Afghans were not soon overcome, forces from the nearby military divisions of Rishkhor and Qargha might join them.
According to eyewitnesses, “The Soviet soldiers then launched, from a sort of large gun, a grey gas in the direction of the Afghan soldiers, causing dizziness, nausea and paralysis of the limbs.” According to Ghulam M. Zurmulwal, the Afghan troops were overcome by the use of “napalm bombs and incendiary bombs.” This still did not bring an end to the fighting. Troops from the nearby Rishkhor Division arrived and started firing toward the enemies. But by that time the invaders had entered the palace and were themselves in a commanding position. Firing in the surrounding area of the palace was heard throughout the night and even into the next morning. Of the eighteen hundred soldiers of the presidential guards, none survived. “Boyarinov ordered that no witnesses in the palace were to survive to tell the tale.” Those who were still alive but unconscious were killed by the invaders after they entered the palace. They carried their bodies to the foot of nearby hills, where they buried them; the burial sites were forbidden areas throughout the occupation. To distort the truth, the new regime spread rumors that the presidential guards dispersed after they were defeated. In fact, those who dispersed were soldiers from the Rishkhor Division. Only Jahandad was taken alive; he was then imprisoned in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison with other members of the government and later executed.
The Elimination of President Amin
The actual target of the attack was President Amin. After the return of Jahandad, nothing was heard of Amin. After overcoming the presidential guards, the invaders, accompanied by Gulabzoy and Sarwari, entered the palace. The medical team—including the old Russian physician and the head of the team, physician Wilayat Khan—was still attending to Amin. When the invaders entered the palace, they shot at random, but not as thoroughly as elsewhere. The Soviet physician was killed in the frenzy. So was the wife of Foreign Minister Shah Wali, who, along with her husband, was among the guests. The physician Wilayat Khan, speaking in the Ukrainian language, pleaded with the attackers from behind the Soviet nurses and was spared. Shah Wali was lucky to escape death; he, along with a number of others, had already been taken to the Four-Hundred-Bed-Hospital for treatment.
What happened to Amin is not known for sure. Sarwari and Gulabzoy have been quoted as saying that before they entered the palace Amin was already dead, killed either by soldiers under their command or by his own hand. This is not true. As guides accompanying the invading units, Sarwari and Gulabzoy had no soldiers under their command. That Amin did not kill himself is clear from a statement by Nikolai Berlev, a member of the attacking Alpha group. According to Berlev, “Dressed in an Adidas T-shirt and blue boxing shorts, Amin rushed out of the room with a gun in his hand, and was instantly shot dead.” Besides, according to Berlev, “Sarwari was frightened and completely broken, [but] when he was led upstairs and shown Amin’s dead body, he felt as if someone had attached wings to his back. He cheered up almost at once.” Yet Berlev’s account is also unreliable: Afghans do not wear T-shirts and boxing shorts in the winter. Besides, such outfits are not fashionable among Afghans, particularly among their rulers, who want to look dignified; Amin himself wore the loose national costume at home. Still more important, Amin and others, as already described, had been poisoned, and thus he was unable to “rush out of the room with a gun in his hand.” I am certain that the luncheon in the palace on that day had been poisoned. Of my many informants, one had consumed the luncheon and had been treated in the hospital. All this does not make clear how Amin was killed. According to one source, the invaders took Amin and a few others into the grounds, where they shot them dead. According to a number of other sources, Amin was seized alive and taken to the Soviet embassy in a black limousine guarded by two tanks. Whatever the truth, “When it was all over, Amin’s bullet-riddled body was displayed to the half-jubilant, half-petrified leaders of the new Soviet client state.”
While President Daoud lost eighteen members of his family in the coup, Amin lost only a few: himself and two of his eldest sons. He was survived by his wife, his youngest son, two daughters, and a grandson. His wife, perhaps by chance, had not eaten the poisoned food. On the eve of the communist coup, she helped Amin by safeguarding incriminating documents while their house was being searched by the police; in the present coup she managed to call for a medical team. She also opposed the transfer of the sick Amin to a Soviet medical center, as the Soviets, presumably through the old physician, had urged. “It appears the Soviets originally intended to incapacitate and kidnap Amin.”
Occupation of other Military Centers
Meanwhile, the invading units carried on operations in other parts of the city. Below the palace was the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense. Since Amin served also as the minister of defense, the next important person was Mohammad Ya’qub, the chief of staff. Since he was sent food from the presidential palace, he too had been poisoned, but he was still in his office when the building came under fire. Here the invading units showed no concern for human life. On entering the building, soldiers threw hand grenades and fired wildly. An unknown number of people were killed. Only a small number survived, having been left for dead. The police officers and men of the Ministry of Interior also perished in a matter of hours. A Soviet adviser of the police department asked its director, Sayyed Ali Shah Paiman, to be his guest that evening without giving him a hint of the impending catastrophe. Sensing something unpleasant in the air, Paiman declined the invitation so that he could remain in his office.
At the Kabul radio and television building, the guards, who had been stationed in two tanks, offered resistance until they were overcome. The heroism shown by a Kandahari guard stationed in an inaccessible point somewhere near the entrance is worth mentioning. He refused to let anybody in without instructions from his superiors. Unwilling to damage the building, the aggressors halted. The guard felt he had accomplished his duty. However, a station adviser known as Paichalov, whom the guard knew and trusted, approached him and stabbed him to death.
Asadullah Sarwari was later commissioned to bring about the submission of the Intelligence Department. Since he was its first president, and since the incumbent, Asadullah Amin, nephew and son-in-law of President Amin, was in Moscow at the time, Sarwari fulfilled his mission. According to Khalqi sources, Soviet advisers had persuaded Asadullah Amin to go to Moscow for treatment after he had consumed a poisoned apple; this was the work of KGB agents. Other sources have said that he had been injured in a shootout in mid-December in the presidential palace. In any case, his absence impaired the job of intelligence collection during the days preceding the invasion. Aslam Watanjar had accompanied the Soviet military force to the Afghan armored units near the Pul-e-Charkhi prison, where he persuaded the garrisons not to resist Soviet troops because Amin’s removal was, in his words, “for the good of the country.” Watanjar had initiated the first communist coup from there when he was commander of one of its units.
The invading units must have been concerned with the possible reaction by Division Eight of Qargha and Division Seven of Rishkhor. Neither showed any determined opposition. As already noted, General Aziem Ahmadzay, chief of staff of the Rishkhor Division, sent some troops to reinforce the besieged palace guards, but they could not accomplish anything decisive. Abdul Sattar, commander of the Qargha Division, at first was unwilling to submit. His units even attacked the invaders, damaging two Soviet tanks. Unwilling to retaliate, they sent Aslam Watanjar to Abdul Sattar. Whatever was exchanged between them, Sattar accepted the coup as a fait accompli.
The Defiant Attitude of the Ghazni Military Division
The defiant military division of the province of Ghazni, numbering thirteen thousand soldiers, soon became a source of concern for the new rulers. Its commandant, Ja’far Sartairay (Zadran), argued that the division was loyal to Amin and did not believe the accusations that the new rulers had brought against him. The authorities summoned the commandant to Kabul, but he refused to go, reasoning that in his absence the division might rebel. On the fourth day of the invasion, Marshal Sergei Sokolov, the Soviet supreme commander in Kabul, set out for Ghazni at the head of a joint Russo-Afghan mission. There Sokolov told a gathering of military officers that Amin had established connections with the CIA and the Ikhwanis and that he wanted to turn Afghanistan into another Chile. Sokolov also said that Amin intended to do away with progressive officers and establish a fascist regime. To convince the skeptical officers, he told them that the Soviet government had in its possession evidence to prove the accusations, which it would disclose at an appropriate time. The new regime and the Soviet Union would repeat these accusations against Amin in the years ahead. In private, however, Sokolov warned the commandant that if the division opposed the government, it would be wiped out, and he would be held responsible for it. The commandant then acquiesced. He remained in his position for the next four months, after which he was transferred to Kabul to serve as a teacher. In 1990 he was killed in one of the coup attempts.
Military Officers and the Invasion: An Evaluation
In the next chapter I discuss Amin’s relations with the Soviets and to describe why they invaded Afghanistan. Here I want to evaluate the attitude of the military officers toward the invasion. To understand this matter, the following points about the army must be borne in mind. When the Khalqis came to power, they tried to make the army a “Khalqi army,” that is, the army of the people. They purged the army of the non-Khalqi officers and promoted their own officers. This was the biggest source of tension, which, along with other problems, led to major abortive uprisings, all of which weakened the army.
Added to this was the alienation of many officers, particularly in Division Seven of Rishkhor, who were loyal to President Taraki, replaced by Amin after their differences had led to a confrontation that will be detailed in the next chapter. The pro-Taraki officers rebelled after Taraki was suffocated on 9 October 1979. Although pro-Amin officers were more numerous than any other committed group of officers, and although they were more determined than either the pro-Taraki or Parchami officers, they declined to oppose the invaders, despite the fact that of all communist officers the pro-Amin officers were the most patriotic and the least communist. The presence in the invading army of Sarwari, Watanjar, and Gulabzoy might have influenced the officers not to respond actively. More important was the faith these officers had in communism and the Soviet Union. Even officers loyal to Amin did not know of his disillusionment with the Soviets. Also, the effects of the indoctrination courses on communism and friendship with the Soviet Union carried out in the army cells cannot be discounted. On the point of winning Soviet friendship, the two main factions of the party, Khalqi and Parchami, competed with each other so much that people sarcastically remarked that in order to win the Soviet favor, they behaved as if they were cowives.
All this led to a naive belief among the communist officers that the Soviet Union was the true friend of the Afghans and that whatever its rulers did was for their good. Whether these officers were communists is open to question, but their faith in the Soviet Union was total. Their sudden rise to power had intoxicated them. After the invasion some officers argued that because Amin had betrayed communism, the Soviet Union was forced to do what it did. Also, the commanding officers were confounded by events because they did not have instructions from Amin on what to do if the Soviet Union invaded their country. Besides, unlike most Afghans, they were aware of the Soviet military might, and they had been influenced by propaganda about the dangers posed to the “glorious April Revolution” by “reactionary forces” and “imperialists” led by “the world-consuming imperialist,” that is, the United States of America. This meant that their country, their compatriots, and their dignity, which required them to stand against invaders as their predecessors had stood, were sacrificed for an ideology that served the national interest of Russia.
Never before have the Afghan defenders of national dignity failed in their duty as these communist officers failed. Never before have uniformed Afghan military officers been insulted so much as these officers were by individual men and women, particularly the latter, in public places in the city of Kabul for months after the invasion. To escape the sarcastic remarks of women, these officers avoided going by public buses in the city in uniform, as is the custom in Afghanistan. Indeed, the expression Mairmun Mansabdar (Mrs. Officer) became a common insult in the months after the invasion.
1. For a background to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its wider implications for the region and the world, see Bradsher, Afghanistan. [BACK]
2. Andrew and Gordiesky, KGB, 574. [BACK]
3. Deac, “Sky Train Invasion,” 22. [BACK]
4. Ibid., 23 [BACK]
5. Andrew and Gordiesky, KGB, 574. [BACK]
6. Quoted in Reshtia, Price of Liberty, 54. [BACK]
7. Zurmulwal, Russia’s Armed Aggression, 27. [BACK]
8. Andrew and Gordiesky, KGB, 575. [BACK]
9. Anwar, Tragedy of Afghanistan, 190. [BACK]
10. Dobbs, “Secret Memos.” [BACK]
11. Ibid. [BACK]
12. Deac, “Sky Train Invasion,” 24. [BACK]
13. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 186. [BACK]
2. Why Did the Soviet Union Invade?
In the events that led to the Soviet invasion, Hafizullah Amin played a major role, particularly after he replaced Taraki as president of the Revolutionary Council and general secretary of the party. Amin (1929-79) was a Kharotay Ghilzay Pashtun from the Qazi Khel village of the Paghman district to the west of Kabul. His father had served as a police officer in the constitutional period. Amin had graduated from the College of Sciences of Kabul University and had twice been on American educational grants to the United States for higher studies. He had obtained a master’s degree at Columbia University and been elected president of the Afghan Students Association; in 1965, just as he was about to start work on his doctoral dissertation, he was called home. Before leaving for the United States he had been a teacher at two government-run high schools, Ibn-e-Sena and Teacher’s Training; afterward he continued teaching there and served as principal of Ibn-e-Sena. Both schools had students mainly from the countryside, which gave Amin a chance to influence the future teachers and military officers.
Amin returned to Afghanistan in late 1965 a bitter man but determined to stand up against the political establishment, which he thought to have deprived him of his right to higher education. He joined the PDPA, and thereafter the bitter man turned into a dynamic political man—particularly after the 1969 general election, when he won a seat in parliament from his Paghman constituency. But within the PDPA he had opponents who accused him of being a CIA agent. They had turned against him because Amin pursued a policy of creating a power base for himself, particularly among the Pashtun recruits. His opponents feared the prospect of Amin coming to power. On the eve of the coup when the Parcham and Khalq factions united, they asked Taraki to relieve Amin of the post of liaison officer with the military, but before the latter could do so Amin made the coup and stood head and shoulders high among his rival peers.
Amin was anxious to be on good terms with the Soviets. This he had ensured even before the coup had been made. The villa of the Soviet TASS correspondent in Kabul was the meeting place between Karmal and Taraki and the KGB men. When Amin became important as a military liaison officer, Taraki introduced him to the KGB man in Kabul. “The KGB began…to see Amin regularly at the TASS villa. During those secret meetings, Amin told the KGB about Khalq members in the army, and brought all in all about 300 names of servicemen.” After the coup Amin was a deputy premier and minister of foreign affairs, and, thanks to his influence with the army, he was able to extend control over the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior and bypass their Parchami ministers in reshuffling their personnel. He also “skillfully influenced the opinions of the Soviet ambassador [Alexander Puzanov] and numerous Soviet advisers who were sent to Afghanistan on his and Taraki’s requests.…Amin isolated the advisers from…Karmal, and quickly indoctrinated [Nikolai] Simonenko, turning him into a supporter of the Khalq faction.” Simonenko was chief of the Soviet advisers in Kabul. Amin felt confident that “the Soviets would not interfere with his plans,” particularly after Puzanov declined to meet with Karmal, who—along with his brother, Mahmud Baryalay, and Anahita Ratibzad—had spent a night at the villa of the correspondent to meet with the ambassador, secretly going there after Amin had decided to send them abroad as ambassadors. However, Amin’s amicable relations with the Soviets did not last long. His differences with the Kremlin masters became apparent on two fronts: ideological and political.
Amin held that in developing countries such as Afghanistan the military, not workers or peasants, could bring about revolution. In such societies, Amin believed, the workers were few, and the peasants, though numerous, were scattered, unorganized, and politically unaware. It would take too long to wait for them to become aware and organized so that they could play a role in overthrowing the established order. In such a situation, the ideologically advanced communists should concentrate on the military officers, whose profession tends to make them modernists and secularists. Using Marxist theory and Leninist organization to transform society from feudalism to socialism, these vanguards of the working-class movement should organize the military. In a speech at the Institute of Polytechnic after the coup in 1978, Amin propounded his views along these lines, indicating that his comrades in the socialist camp might not accept his theory but that he was willing to discuss his beliefs with them.
For Amin, this theory had practical implications. As a military liaison member he had recruited, trained, and mobilized military officers with whose help he had toppled the government of Mohammad Daoud. The military support also enabled Amin to send abroad his Parcham opponents, including Karmal. It was on this point that the rift began between Amin and Karmal, first appearing in a politburo meeting after the coup. As an orthodox internationalist Marxist with no substantial support among the military, Karmal argued that the military officers were unable to absorb Marxist theory. Karmal’s purpose was to weaken Amin’s position. Although Soviet theoreticians had expounded a similar thesis in connection with Africa, Amin’s notion of making Afghanistan a Third World model for passage to socialism without the direct support of the Soviet Union was bound to be considered heresy. Still, had other differences not arisen, “the Soviet Union would scarcely have launched its invasion, with all its enormous political, economic, and psychological costs, for the sake of semantics.”
Rift in the Khalq Leadership
Amin’s relations with Taraki and the Soviet Union became strained simultaneously; it is thus necessary to trace them a little more closely. The strain in relations appeared during the Herat uprising in March 1979, in which about twenty-five thousand people were killed. The uprising was so serious that “the Soviets stepped in to support their puppet Kabul regime. Squadrons of ground-attack bombers,…based at Doshanbe in Russian Tajikistan,…drop[ped] their payloads on Herat.” But Taraki wanted full Soviet involvement. To suppress the uprising and “save the revolution,” Taraki told the Soviet premier Alexi Kosygin, “We need practical and technical help in both men and weapons.” To get that aid, Taraki importuned “like a merchant in the Kabul market, using flattery and cajolery.” During a secret trip, he assured his host, “We will never be as close to anyone else as we are to you. We are the pupils of Lenin.” But Premier Kosygin could not be moved, arguing, “If our troops were sent in, the situation in your country would not improve. On the contrary, it would get worse.” Kosygin, however, promised him additional military experts as well as grain and credit. The recently disclosed Soviet archives on Afghanistan have no reference to Amin on this point. Perhaps he did not know of Taraki’s request, but one reported incident suggests that he was against it.
After the Herat uprising, the difference between Amin and Taraki became evident; nevertheless, because of his role in suppressing it, Amin was promoted to the position of first minister (Lomray Wazir), not prime minister, as is generally understood. Also, from then on Soviet advisers who favored Taraki worked to enlarge the differences. They preferred Taraki because he wanted a closer relationship with the Soviet Union, particularly in foreign affairs. “Whereas Amin did not favor the idea of Afghanistan being pushed into the Soviet bloc, Taraki did. Similarly, with regard to the pursuit of the policy of non-alignment, Taraki preferred that Afghanistan should be non-aligned on the model of Cuba with the active support of the Soviet bloc, whereas Amin intended to keep away from the Soviet bloc, and forge friendly relations with all countries.”
Amin’s domestic policy also created friction. After he got the new post as well as the post of minister of defense, Amin tried to monopolize power, thereby alienating not only Taraki but also his close friends, Asadullah Sarwari, Aslam Watanjar, Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoy, and Sher Jan Mizdooryar, known as the “Gang of Four.” Mizdooryar, although a member of the Gang of Four, was insignificant. Each of the first three, however, having played a role in the communist coup and being more or less of the same age as Amin, felt a sense of rivalry with him. They rallied behind Taraki, who, as a cofounder of the party and as an elder, was like a father to them.
In this context the role played by the Soviet advisers proved crucial. Raja Anwar states that “Sarwari’s defection from the Khalq chessboard was not the handiwork of Soviet advisers.” This is not true. First, Sarwari had not defected from “the Khalq chessboard.” Sarwari defected from Amin’s side to Taraki’s, but he remained within the same chessboard. Second, AGSA’s chief adviser, Colonel Bogdanov, who was at the same time the KGB chief in Kabul, influenced Sarwari to the extent that the latter would use abusive language against Amin. With Taraki’s support and the encouragement by his own advisers, Sarwari worked as if he were the head of an autonomous body. The Soviet advisers in AGSA worked on instructions only from Taraki. The great amount of human blood that AGSA shed was the work more of Sarwari than of anyone else. Of all the Khalqi leaders, Sarwari was the most radical and the most adventurous. His superior, Amin, could not restrain him; indeed, he and his associates feared AGSA.
Despite these developments, Amin still needed Taraki. Amin was anxious to keep him pleased, but at the same time he tried to strip him of power. In public, however, he praised the old man, who had developed a cult of personality. To alienate Taraki from the triumvirate, Amin concentrated on building up Taraki’s public image by calling him the “genius of the East,” “the powerful master,” and “the body and soul of the party,” while referring to himself as “his loyal disciple” (shagird-e-wafadar). Amin raised Taraki to the status of Romania’s Ceausescu, whose admirers praised him as the “Genius of the Carpathians” and the “Danube of Thought.” It was depressing to see the grinning image of yesterday’s Afghan plebeian projected from the huge framed photos fixed on the front of numerous public buildings in the city of Kabul. Even in the early stage of their rule, I noted the name of Taraki with lofty titles thirty times in three pages of the government-controlled newspaper, Anis.
Taraki, however, could not be pleased, especially when Amin engaged in nepotism. Taraki was unwilling to serve as a figurehead under “his loyal disciple,” whom he had, before their rise to power, saved from his opponents. The climax came in July 1979: in a politburo meeting, Amin pronounced Taraki responsible for the government’s failures. In August, Taraki accused Amin of nepotism. It seemed impossible for them to iron out their differences along the democratic principles on which their Marxist-Leninist party was based, even though recently they had reaffirmed their faith in the principle of “collective leadership and collective decision.” So far, however, their struggle was confined within their own circle.
Soviet Scheme for a New Afghan Government
The Soviet leaders, through their agents in AGSA, must have known of the rift. The ambassador Alexander Puzanov worked to promote the Soviet scheme. That scheme was to unite the two factions of the party by sending Amin abroad as an ambassador and preparing the ground for the formation of a new government to be composed of the Taraki and Karmal factions. The scheme made it necessary for Taraki and Karmal to meet. The task of arranging a meeting between the two was made easier when Taraki stopped in Moscow on 10 September 1979 on his way home from Havana, where he had attended a meeting of the heads of the nonaligned countries. Karmal had been summoned from his hideout somewhere in Czechoslovakia, where he was spending his life of exile after the same Taraki had deprived him of Afghan citizenship a year earlier.
Anwar states that at the Moscow airport a meeting chaired by Gromyko was arranged between the hitherto antagonistic leaders. This is not true. Taraki stayed in Moscow for two days (10 and 11 September) and met twice with Brezhnev, Gromyko, and Brezhnev’s foreign affairs adviser, Andrey Alexander, in the Kremlin. The first meeting was also attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Shah Wali and Sayyed Mohammad Daoud Tarun, President Taraki’s aide de camp. This meant that it was an ordinary meeting. But the second meeting went awry. When the Afghans, as before, took seats, they were told that all should leave except for President Taraki. Shah Wali and Tarun still remained, thinking that as senior officials they would also be taking part as before. But the security guards roughly pushed them out. The meeting must have been exceptional. The exclusion of Shah Wali probably meant the inclusion of Karmal. The joint communiqué issued following the meetings made no reference to the formation of a government representing a “national democratic front.” Afghan sources stated that Taraki and Brezhnev had agreed to change the Afghan government. Probably, as Anwar states, Soviet leaders had advised Taraki to send Amin and his supporters into diplomatic exile and appoint Karmal prime minister and deputy general secretary of the party, while he was to remain as head of the party and the state. What is now certain is that “Moscow urged Taraki to put Amin in his place, with help from ambassador Puzanov,…General Ivanov, and General Pavlovsky.” At the time, the latter two were on missions in Kabul as representatives of the KGB and the Soviet Ministry of Defense respectively. The phrase “to put Amin in his place” could mean anything. It was hoped that these changes would result in a government representing a “national democratic front.” Taraki had to put the scheme into operation.
On the day when Taraki’s plane was about to land at Kabul airport, Sarwari had arranged that a death squad would gun down Amin when he was on his way to receive Taraki. But in this game Amin proved superior to his rivals. Since the official next to Sarwari in AGSA worked secretly for him, Amin knew of Sarwari’s moves against him. Also, through the efforts of Sayyed Daoud Tarun, Amin was informed of Taraki’s moves. Amin had received an encoded telegram from Tarun in Moscow, stating that the Moscow meeting had decided on his elimination. Although barred from the meeting, Tarun knew of its content through a minute intelligence device that he had planted in his master’s (Taraki’s) pocket. Tarun served more as an attendant of Taraki than as a member of the delegation. Not long afterwards, what had allegedly gone on in Moscow was known in Kabul, and the news of the meeting between Taraki and Karmal spread like wildfire. On the day of Taraki’s arrival in Kabul, Amin had taken control of the airport, replacing its personnel with persons loyal to him. He himself wore an armored shield under his clothes. On that occasion no incident occurred.
The Palace Plot
Between 11 and 14 September the rival groups plotted against each other. While Amin worked to weaken Taraki by removing Sarwari, Watanjar, and Gulabzoy from their posts, the latter tried to do away with him. Taraki told his associates that Amin intended to remove him by a coup. When Amin’s supporters tried to bring AGSA under their thumb, Taraki’s supporters gunned them down. Amin’s associates, Nawab Helmandi, Sur Gul Khateez, and Khair Mohammad were the victims. Amin asked Taraki to dismiss Sarwari and others from their posts; Taraki proposed a compromise, but by then a compromise had become unworkable. Amin insisted on his demand. As the first minister and the strong man in the party and the government, Amin could dismiss his enemies, but he preferred that Taraki do it, not only to wean him from his partisans but also to help unify the party. Taraki was, after all, general secretary of the party, president of the Revolutionary Council, chief commander of the armed forces, and president of the Defense Committee of Afghanistan. He had let himself become entangled with men who had become Amin’s uncompromising enemies. Finally Taraki decided, with Sarwari and others, that Amin was to be invited to the palace to resolve the differences in line with the principle of inner democracy and collective leadership. He was to be given guarantees for his safety, but when he arrived he would be done away with. To persuade Amin to come, Alexander Puzanov was to be invited and asked to mediate.
Anwar was the first to describe the incident in the palace. In his book, which is an apologia for the Soviet policies on Afghanistan, he implies that what happened on 14 September occurred without the presence of the Soviet ambassador. The reports leaked out of the palace, the two-sheet publication issued for the benefit of party members, and the events themselves speak otherwise. The publication states that Amin, having received “assurances” from Puzanov and his own “comrades,” accepted the invitation, much against the advice of Sayyed Daoud Tarun. Amin arrived at half-past five in the afternoon at the palace entrance. When he entered the corridor of the second floor, the presidential guards fired at him, but shot Tarun instead, killing him. Amin escaped. Puzanov and the two generals were present with Taraki. Amin rushed to the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense and took control of the situation, ordering a siege of the presidential palace, where Taraki was. In the confusion the ambassador and the two generals left. By Amin’s order Taraki was detained and, on 9 October, suffocated. The hastily convened meeting of the politburo replaced Taraki with Amin as head of party and the state. Amin formed a new government of persons loyal to him.
Amin implicated Puzanov in the plot. It seems inconceivable that Amin would have made such a charge had it not been true. It was a matter of common sense for Amin to be wary of the consequences of accusing the representative of the Soviet Union. It is a fact that not only Puzanov but also Generals Ivanov and Pavlovsky were present at the time of the incident. The KGB official Alexander Morozov writes, “The generals and Ambassador Puzanov took off for yet another meeting at the House of the Nation. Taraki asked Amin to attend it as well. However, the latter refused point blank, citing the possibility of an attempt on his life as an excuse. But yielding to Taraki’s insistence he agreed and demanded guarantees of his safety from Puzanov. The latter gave him the guarantee, speaking to Amin over the phone.”
The triumphant Amin started to rule with the view that the Soviet Union would back him. Once again he was mistaken. The Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, looked on the killing of Taraki as a personal insult. Afterward the Soviet leaders changed their policy on Afghanistan.
The whereabouts of Sarwari and his associates—with the exception of Mizdooryar, who had been arrested—was a source of concern for Amin. The conspirators first stayed at the villa of the TASS correspondent, and later Puzanov managed to smuggle them to the Soviet Union in nailed wooden boxes. Amin asked Puzanov to hand them over, but the latter was unwilling. In this connection a story was told that is apparently unbelievable. According to the story, Amin one day summoned Puzanov to his presence and accused him not only of having hidden his opponents in the embassy but also of having plotted against him. When Puzanov denied the accusations and, further, argued that as a diplomat he could not be treated as an accused person under investigation, Amin slapped him in the face and poured forth insulting words in Pashto on Marx, Lenin, and Brezhnev. This impulsive outburst should have made Amin more cautious in his dealing with the Soviets. In any case, Amin’s relations with Moscow became strained.
Amin must have concluded that with Puzanov in Kabul, his relations with Moscow were not likely to improve. But after the failed palace coup Puzanov became supportive of Amin, concluding, “We are facing a fait accompli: Amin has come to power. Taraki failed to withstand Amin’s push for power. Frankly, Taraki was a weakling and a dawdler. He never was as good as his word. On the contrary Amin is strong, and we must do business with him and support him.” Amin’s displeasure with Puzanov surfaced on 6 October, when Foreign Minister Shah Wali, while addressing ambassadors of the communist countries with the exception of China, “accused Puzanov of complicity in the abortive attempt to remove Amin, saying Puzanov was in Taraki’s office when he assured him on the phone that it was safe to go to the palace.” Puzanov was represented at the meeting by Vasily Safronchuck, another embassy diplomat. “As a result of the distrust of Puzanov, and as a warning to the Kremlin about meddling in Afghan affairs, Wali as foreign minister officially asked the Soviet Union to replace its ambassador.” Shah Wali also said that Moscow had invited Amin to Moscow to discuss the Afghan domestic issue, but he had refused to go. It was another event that the Kremlin leaders could not digest. Other events also adversely affected Amin’s relations with Moscow.
Rift with the Soviet Union
During the 104 days of Amin’s rule, Kabul was apparently enthusiastic about the Soviet Union, commemorating with fervor the public events related to it and repeating in its mass media its newly adopted slogan that friendship with the Soviet Union was an integral part of “Afghan patriotism.” Hoping to obtain economic assistance as well as military aid, the government appeared anxious to have a close relationship with Moscow. The Soviet leaders likewise appeared anxious to cooperate, despite the impersonal tone of their congratulatory messages to President Amin. But the latter showed that he wanted to govern as an independent ruler.
Amin’s assertiveness appeared in more than one form. By the time he took over the reins of government, Soviet advisers had obtained for themselves such a commanding position that
Amin had tried to downgrade the Soviet experts, to make them function as advisers as their titles suggested. However, there was no question of either replacing them or decreasing their numbers, which continued to increase. Before the April coup they numbered 2,100, but on the eve of the invasion their numbers had risen to more than 5,500. Their presence was a source of concern not only for the Afghan people but also for the government. Amin had instructed his officers that they should only listen to the advisers, not act on their advice. It is not known whether or not his instruction was general and whether or not it was carried out by all civilian and military officials; however, by the time of the invasion the advisers attached to the military section of the Intelligence Department were indeed working as advisers only.
no significant decision was made, no important order issued in either the civilian ministries in Kabul or the Afghan armed forces without the clearance of Soviet advisers. The advisers had obtained the authority to hold up orders until they countersigned them. What had started in 1978 as the Soviets’ helping out by replacing purged officers and officials had developed into a general dependence upon them that must having been as galling for Amin as it was needed by him.
Another problem that Amin had with the Soviet Union was the price of Afghan natural gas, which the Soviet Union had imported since 1968 below the international rate. Despite Afghan protests, the gas has been metered for accounting and crediting purposes on the Soviet side of the border and under the supervision of Soviet personnel. Afghan officials were forced to accept Moscow’s price schedule and its word on the amount being transported into the Soviet Union and the credit due Afghanistan. Afghanistan lost a large portion of its income on this product, which was its biggest source of revenue. Three ministers, including Abdul Karim Meesaq, minister of finance, sent a polite letter to the Soviet government to this effect. While expressing the hope that the friendship between the two countries would last forever, they asked the Soviets to revise the gas price. The Soviet response is not known. What is known is that a day before his fall, Amin confided in one of his senior officials that the Soviet Union had asked his government to pay three times the price of gasoline that it used to pay. Amin had told them that because of their weak finances the Afghans were unable to pay such a high price; if the Soviets insisted, the Afghans would have to use bicycles.
Being a communist, and seeing that Afghanistan had been made dependent on the Soviet Union, Amin hoped that the Soviet Union would assist Afghanistan in its development schemes. He had submitted a list of projects to the Soviets, including plans to extract oil and to set up new factories. He also asked that these projects be completed by certain dates. At the same time Amin began to remove pro-Soviet officials from sensitive positions and recruited Western-educated Afghans to higher positions.
The Dilemma of Afghan Reformist Rulers
President Amin showed concern about the independence of the country. While addressing a group of university professors whom he had invited to dine with him, he assured them, “You professors may or may not be with us, but as long as I am alive I will never allow any foreign power to dominate our fatherland.” To his trusted military officers he was even more open, saying that he did not understand why the Soviets were working against his government. Even in the early days of the coup Amin had reprimanded Puzanov. One day Amin asked him, “What kind of communist are you that you make such demands of me? The people of Afghanistan,” he argued, “will never accept your demands, and if pressed, will make trouble for our governments.” Puzanov’s response and the nature of the “demand” are unknown. On another occasion Amin was more emphatic. In October 1979 he told the American chargé d’affaires, “If Brezhnev himself should ask him [Amin] to take any action against Afghan independence,…he would not hesitate ‘to sacrifice his life’ in opposition to such a request.” This was in fact what he did.
It was, however, Amin’s naivete, lack of experience, and belief in communist comradeship that prevented him from questioning how independence would be maintained once the Soviet Union had been allowed to penetrate the state. He failed to understand that the Soviet leaders preferred compliant rulers in countries such as Afghanistan. Their attitude toward rulers of the East European countries should have been a lesson for him. He and others also erred by depriving themselves of the advice of Afghans experienced in diplomacy and the art of government. Although a tyro in diplomacy, Amin felt confident in it. An observer has said of Amin, “His confident attitude, reflected in numerous off-the-record comments, was that he knew how to handle the Russians, who needed him as much or more than he needed them.”
Amin faced the same fundamental problem that his reformist predecessors had faced before him: how to preserve the country’s independence and at the same time develop it with the credit and technical assistance of the Soviet Union, when other governments did not want to assist it substantially. This dilemma has baffled all reformist Afghan rulers. Although concerned about independence, Amin wanted to develop Afghanistan with Soviet help, stating, “We are convinced that if there were no vast economic and military aid from the Soviet Union, we could not resist the aggression and conspiracies of imperialism, its leftist-looking allies [China and others] and international reaction, and could not move our country toward the construction of a socialist society.”
By “military aid” Amin meant military weapons. From the April coup onward, Amin often stated that the Khalqis had made “the April Revolution” and that they were able to defend it. This claim was addressed both to the Khalqis’ home critics, who worried that the government had made the country so dependent on the Soviet Union that its leaders might one day make it part of their empire, and also to the Soviet leaders, in effect telling them that Afghanistan did not need their military help in defending the revolution. After Amin came to power, he made his view clear on this, saying, “We will ourselves defend our country…[and will] never give this trouble to our international brothers to fight for us.”
Although the government was under pressure and the party divided, Amin had the wisdom and the courage to seek solutions through negotiation with adversaries, an approach that the Soviet Union opposed at the time but supported after ten years of war. Amin “was following in the footsteps of Moosa Shafiq’s government and Daoud, turning to a non-Communist neighbor in an effort to balance and reduce Soviet influence.” This “non-Communist” country was Pakistan, which held a key position in balancing the already unbalanced situation in the region.
Amin knew that the Durand Line could be used by either Pakistan or Afghanistan against the other, depending on circumstances. When Amin usurped power, it was Pakistan’s turn. By that time nearly 400,000 Afghans had fled to Pakistan, and it was from among them that the Afghan Islamic organizations recruited men to fight the government. To make Afghanistan stable, Amin needed an understanding with Pakistan. In early December, Amin sought a meeting with General Zia al-Haq of Pakistan. On 19 December he announced that Pakistan’s foreign minister, Agha Shahi, was due to make an official visit on 22 December. Apparently because of snow in Kabul, Agha Shahi did not arrive on that day. Foreign Minister Shah Wali appeared desperate, anxious to see Agha Shahi in Kabul soon. A new date, 31 December, was set for his arrival at Kabul, but by that time the Russians had moved in.
Amin also moved to negotiate with Afghan opponents. Reportedly through the mediation of a former member of parliament, Mohammad A’zam Shinwaray, representatives of the Islamic Party (led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) and the government met somewhere in the frontier province of Kunar. An agreement for the formation of a coalition government was said to have been reached between them. Amin’s moves were, however, noticed by the watchful eyes of the Soviet Union. On 31 October 1979 the Soviet politburo noted: “Disturbing signals are coming about Amin’s efforts to make contracts [contacts] with representatives of conservative Muslim opposition and leaders of tribes hostile to the government, in the course of which he shows readiness to come to an agreement on compromise conditions that are to the detriment of the country’s progressive development.” It also stated that Amin intended “to pursue a more balanced policy in relations with the Western powers”; indeed, “U.S.A. representatives after their contacts with the Afghans have come to the conclusion that it is possible to change Afghanistan’s political line in the direction which is favorable to Washington.” Calling Amin “insincere and two-faced,” the politburo held that he “not only does not stop anti-Soviet moods but in fact encourages them.” This comment referred to Amin’s disclosure that the Soviet ambassador had taken part against him in the abortive palace coup. Calling this disclosure of a fact to be “slanderous inventions,” the politburo concluded that “in Amin we have come across an ambitious, cruel, treacherous person who may change the political orientation of the regime.”
Despite these misgivings, the Soviet Union instructed its officials to do business as usual with Amin until the Kremlin rulers were certain about his true intentions. For them it was not hard to become certain about those intentions: Taraki had assured his Kremlin comrades that “we will never be as close to anyone else as we are to you”; by contrast, Amin proceeded to follow, in the words of the Kremlin masters, “a more balanced policy.” This was the broad line of policy that Afghan rulers had pursued in the past; but the Kremlin rulers held this policy to be “detrimental” to Afghanistan, as if they were also Afghan rulers. It was a plain fact that they were not the rulers of Afghanistan, yet they persisted in thinking that they were and, more ominously, in acting on that mistaken belief. Thus, on 12 December 1979 they decided that Amin must go and that they would rule Afghanistan through Karmal and his Parchami group.
In early December rumors circulated in Kabul that the Soviets intended to seek an alternative to the government of Amin. The situation at home and in the region seemed ripe for such a move.
Having suppressed many uprisings, the government had alienated the public. It had also eliminated public figures in the name of “socialism,” “revolution,” “progress,” and “toiling men and women,” and it had proclaimed the creation of a society “free of exploitation of man by man.” By labeling their opponents “counterrevolutionaries,” “reactionaries,” “narrow-minded nationalists,” “courtiers,” “feudals,” and so on, the new rulers provided themselves grounds to liquidate them. Actually, the Soviet advisers had initiated the program, but when the dogmatic, rough-edged rural plebeians directed the police state, they took the rhetoric more seriously than the Soviet advisers had probably imagined. The official party, because it had been split into factions, was in disarray. There was, in short, a power vacuum, and since there was no known figure around whom the opponents could rally, the Soviet leaders apparently assumed that with Amin removed, the compliant Karmal, backed by the Soviet might, would fill the vacuum.
The turmoil in the region also seemed conducive to such a move. The military regime in Pakistan, led by General Zia al-Haq, who came to power in 1977, and the religious regime in Iran, led by the Ayatullah Khomeini, who came to power in 1979, were grappling with serious problems. No outside power, especially the United States of America, was present in the region to counter the Soviet Union, as the British in India had countered Russia in the past. The United States, which had contained the Soviet Union in the 1950s by sponsoring the military pacts of SEATO and CENTO and had kept a presence in Iran since the end of World War II, had already backed away. Besides, in November 1979 the United States found itself confronted with the Khomeini regime over the problem of diplomats taken hostage by Iran. More important, the U.S. administrations had always considered Afghanistan to be within the Soviet influence. Still, the Soviet Union preferred to see its troops invited before moving militarily. The question thus arises, were the Soviet troops invited, or did the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan without an invitation?
Invasion without Invitation
Since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan when Amin was in power, the invitation for its troops should have come from him. As prime minister and minister of defense, president of the Revolutionary Council, and general secretary of the party, Amin was the central figure. Having probed this question, which encompasses the whole aspect of Afghan national life and, to some extent, international relations as well, I have concluded that neither Amin nor the Revolutionary Council had either orally or in writing asked the Soviet Union to send its troops into Afghanistan, although Soviet officials had made extensive efforts to frighten them about an imaginary danger directed at Afghanistan. But the Soviet government as well as the Karmal regime have fabricated stories contrary to this conclusion.
In December 1979 Soviet officials told Amin that the “revolution” was in danger from the United States, which was about to launch a massive assault from the Persian Gulf. To meet the assault, Afghanistan should be prepared militarily. Amin then requested Soviet military weapons on a large scale, a request that was granted. But the Soviet officials made it known that the effective use of a variety of advanced weapons required the presence of Soviet military experts and instructors to train the Afghans, a proposal that had already been accepted and was once again confirmed. Already on 7 July 1979, a Soviet battalion disguised as aircraft technicians had landed at the Bagram air base north of Kabul “to protect and defend the airfield where our [the Soviet] aircraft were landing bringing aid cargo to Afghanistan.…The place was a sort of bridgehead where Soviet specialists and advisers with their families could assemble if the situation got worse.” By 6 December the number had increased to 2,500. Amin demanded an explanation from the new Soviet ambassador, Fikrat A. Tabeyev, who explained that the buildup was in response to increased activity by the imperialists along the frontiers. Tabeyev also said that the Soviet experts were at the base to train the Afghans in the use of weapons. Amin seemed concerned but made no comment. On 18 December, A. H. Hakeemi, commander of the Bagram airbase, informed Amin that the Soviets seemed to be up to something sinister, similar to what they had done in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Amin assured him that things would be all right shortly. Amin was probably hopeful about the outcome of his scheduled meeting with the foreign minister of Pakistan, Agha Shahi. The meeting did not take place. Amin planned to summon political officials in the military together with commanding officers of the Kabul area to the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense. He intended to tell them that of late the Soviet attitude toward Afghanistan had changed and that on all important matters they were to act only on his orders. But hours before the scheduled meeting, the Soviet cook and waitresses poisoned Amin, and the occupation began.
The Soviet government and the regime of Karmal have claimed that the troops sent into Afghanistan were in line with article four of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness, and Cooperation, which Taraki and Brezhnev had concluded in Moscow on 5 December 1978. Leaving aside whether or not the treaty was legally valid, we may note that the article stipulates that in the case of military cooperation, appropriate agreements should be concluded in advance. The treaty reads in part, “In the interests of strengthening the defense capacity of the high contracting parties, they shall continue to develop cooperation in the military field on the basis of appropriate agreements concluded between them.” First, “cooperation in the military field” is a vague phrase that may or may not be taken to mean the dispatch of troops by one contracting party to the assistance of another. Second, even if this phrase does mean the dispatch of troops, the treaty nevertheless stipulates that “appropriate agreements” be concluded between the parties. Such agreements had not been concluded, nor had the Kabul government indicated a willingness for them. Contrary to the general view, during Amin’s rule the government was not so weak that its opponents could overthrow it. Except for a disturbance in the Rishkhor military division by pro-Taraki officers, a disturbance that was quickly suppressed, no major uprising took place while Amin was in power. “Until the invasion the [Islamic opposition] parties were more or less dormant, because they received virtually no assistance from outside.” The security situation in Afghanistan was far from being so desperate as to need Soviet troops. The Soviet Union, before the invasion, had not officially raised the issue with the government of Amin. Had Amin requested military aid, as distinct from weapons, the Soviet Union would have obtained a document about it, a point so significant that it was bound to affect, as it did, its relations with Afghanistan and to some extent also with the region and the world. The Soviet Union never produced such a document. After the invasion the Soviet Union fabricated stories justifying its actions, one of which said that members of the Revolutionary Council had asked the Soviets to send troops to Afghanistan.
Since Amin was the central figure both in the party hierarchy and the state, and since he had driven away his rivals, and since he had assigned his own men to key positions in the party as well as the government, it is inconceivable that someone else would have dared to invite Soviet troops. The subsequent claims by Karmal and the Soviet Union are groundless. Henry Bradsher has described and analyzed these claims in detail. Here I only evaluate the claims. According to an official Soviet declaration, the military assistance was in the form of “a limited contingent” that “[would] be used exclusively in rebuffing the armed interference from the outside.” It was also declared that the “limited contingent [would] be completely pulled out of Afghanistan when the reason that necessitated such an action exists no longer.” In subsequent declarations, the word contingent was changed to contingents. By making this statement, the Soviet leaders put themselves into such a position that to justify their actions they had to tell lies about this as well as related issues. When the Soviet Union withdrew its forces in 1989, after ten years of war, it declared that the “limited military contingent” in Afghanistan numbered 105,000 men. If this number can be described, as the Soviet Union so described it, as a “limited contingent,” then ordinary language is obviously inadequate.
Also, in ordinary language the phrase “armed interference from the outside” means interference by one country in the internal affairs of another—in the present case, in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union never substantiated its claim, because the armed forcesof no other country had intervened. By “armed interference from the outside” the Soviet Union in fact meant the Afghan mujahideen who struggled against the government, which had usurped power. As many uprisings had shown, most Afghans (with the exception of a small number of pro-Moscow communists) considered the communist government illegitimate, a usurper. While a civil war was going on among the contending Afghan groups, the Soviet Union intervened in favor of its surrogates. Its intervention was therefore nothing but an unprovoked, armed aggression. Besides, the Soviet government committed the aggression at a time when a government friendly to it was in power. In the course of the ten years that the Soviet troops were in Afghanistan, they fought against Afghans, not against the army of another country.
If the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to be used “exclusively for assistance in rebuffing the armed interference from the outside,” why did they kill President Amin and topple his government, which they claimed to have invited them? On this point the Soviet argument was that Amin had been overthrown not by its forces but by the true Afghan revolutionaries. However, the Soviet Union itself repudiated this fabrication. On 23 December 1989 the Soviet Supreme Council declared the dispatch of troops to Afghanistan unconstitutional. While castigating Leonid Brezhnev and others for sending the troops into Afghanistan, it declared that the decision to invade Afghanistan “was made by a small circle of people in violation of the Soviet constitution, according to which such matters belong to the jurisdiction of higher state bodies.”
Another “reason” was given more prominence in the Soviet official declarations. According to this claim, the southern flanks of the Soviet Union had become “insecure” and “the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were counting on stealthily approaching our territory more closely through Afghanistan”; thus, the Soviets “had no choice but to send troops.” First, this claim is not in line with the allegation that the troops were sent to repel foreign aggression. Second, the Soviet Union provided no evidence to substantiate the claim. How could Afghanistan pose a threat to the Soviet Union when a government led by their own comrades was in power there when the Soviets intervened? Moreover, when a government feels its boundaries have become insecure, does it then have the right to invade other countries? If this were to be accepted as a norm of behavior, what would happen to international relations? In such a case any stronger country could justify invading its weaker neighbors. The law of the jungle would prevail.
More specifically, across the wide Soviet empire no other country except Turkey had as geographically distinct boundaries as Afghanistan had with it. Afghanistan was separated from the Soviet empire for 2,300 kilometers, for the greater part by the River Oxus and then by an uninhabitable desert. It is strange to think that the Soviet state would have been unable to safeguard its boundaries against a smaller country, even if a hostile government were in power. After all, the Soviet Union had adjusted boundaries with its much bigger neighbors, notably China, and coexisted with them. Throughout history, conquests and massive migrations occurred as nomadic hordes descended from the north on the settled populations in the south—not the other way around. The concern that the Soviet leaders showed about the “insecurity” of their southern borders was a mere rationalization for their drive for expansion, a drive reminiscent of nineteenth-century colonialism. It was also a reflection of the problems that they had with the Muslim nations of the Central Asian Republics, such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and other groups whose kinsmen live across the border in Afghanistan.
The claims were a cover-up for an agenda the Kremlin decision makers had for Afghanistan. The agenda was to rule it through an outcast group of communists, much as the Soviets had dominated Bukhara in the early 1920s. Since the independent-minded Amin and his government stood in the way, they had to be removed. On 12 December 1979 the Soviet politburo, chaired by Leonid Brezhnev, endorsed the KGB view and decided to invade. In the KGB’s view, “The situation [in Afghanistan] [could] be saved only by the removal of Amin from power and the restoration of unity” in the ruling party. The Kremlin ruling group adopted this view because it considered Amin to be “insincere” toward the Soviet Union; he was pursuing “a more balanced foreign policy” and was bent on purging the party and state of potential opponents. “The Soviets had never trusted Amin, regarding him as a power-hungry politician of dubious ideological convictions.” In waging an undeclared war on the Afghans in what historian Barbara Tuchman has called “The March of Folly,” a few superannuated Soviet leaders ignored the sound advice that their own premier Kosygin had given to Taraki earlier in the year: “If our troops were sent in, the situation in your country would not improve. On the contrary, it would get worse. Our troops would have to struggle not only with an external aggressor, but with a significant part of your own people. And the people would never forgive such things.”
In the present interdependent world, a secret decision made by a few irresponsible men in the Soviet empire to wage an unprovoked war on Afghanistan was bound to be opposed by millions of men and women; it also led to the intensification of the cold war. Luckily, this was the last decision of its kind the Soviet leaders would make.
In installing Karmal, the Kremlin decision makers acted on the view that what counted was success, and that before the god of success the scruples of human behavior did not count. The Soviets had built their empire with this precept in mind. But could they succeed in Afghanistan with the outcast Karmal and his faction of Parcham?
1. A. Morozov, “Between Amin and Karmal,” 37. Morozov was the KGB deputy chief in Afghanistan from 1975 to 1979. I am grateful to Mr. Alam Katawazay for providing me copies of the three articles by Morozov. Quoting from Morozov, Arnold states that “[President] Da’ud delegated to him [Amin] the military-recruitment program and introduced him to the K.G.B.” (“Communism in Afghanistan,” 114). If not a printing mistake, this wild statement should be rejected outright. [BACK]
2. Morozov, “Night Visit,” 32. [BACK]
3. Morozov, “Between Amin and Karmal,” 39. [BACK]
4. Morozov, “Night Visit,” 30. [BACK]
5. Roy, “Origin,” 53. [BACK]
6. Arnold, “Communism in Afghanistan,” 53. [BACK]
7. Safi, Just Uprising; Anonymous, Uprising of the Twenty-fourth; Yusufi, Uprising; Khairkhwah, Commemorating the Martyrs. [BACK]
8. Deac, “Sky Train Invasion,” 23. [BACK]
9. Dobbs, “Secret Memos.” This article is based on the newly disclosed Soviet archives containing the minutes of the decision the Soviet leaders had made about invading Afghanistan. I am pleased to note that the article confirmed my findings. I am grateful to Dr. Zamin Mohmand for providing me the clipping of the article. [BACK]
10. Wakman, Afghanistan, 119. [BACK]
11. Anwar, Tragedy, 162. [BACK]
12. Ibid., 162, 165. [BACK]
13. Ibid., 168. [BACK]
14. A photographer of the Afghan delegation quoted by Daoud Malikyar, personal communication, San Diego, June 1991. [BACK]
15. Morozov, “Shots Fired,” 32. [BACK]
16. Anwar, Tragedy, 168. [BACK]
17. Ibid., 170, 171. [BACK]
18. Morozov, “Shots Fired,” 34. [BACK]
19. G. Povlovsky, the Soviet chief adviser in Afghanistan in 1979, quoted in Sharq, Memoirs, 159. Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sharq held high state positions when Mohammad Daoud was prime minister and president of Afghanistan. A medical physician by profession, Dr. Sharq was Mohammad Daoud’s associate. From 1988 to 1989 he himself was prime minister of Afghanistan. His book, which describes mainly the events in high circles, is very informative. Sharq is the first prime minister of Afghanistan to publish his memoirs. [BACK]
20. A former government official, personal communication, Los Angeles, February 1991. The official said that he was present at the occasion. [BACK]
21. Quoted in Morozov, “Shots Fired,” 34. [BACK]
22. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 117. [BACK]
23. Ibid. [BACK]
24. Ibid. [BACK]
25. Shroder and Assifi, “Afghan Mineral Resources,”112. According to the authors, the Soviet exploitation of Afghan resources can be understood from the further facts that Afghan-Soviet agreements called for the average annual export of 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas to the Soviet Union up to 1985. The revenues from the sale of gas were not, however, to be paid to the Afghan government: they were to be applied as repayment for Soviet loans and the interest on those loans, including funds spent by the Soviets for Soviet-assisted projects. In addition, in 1980 the Soviets took the step of crediting its imports of Afghan natural gas against the cost of maintaining the “friendly fraternal assistance” of its “limited military contingent” in Afghanistan. In other words, after 1980 the Afghans were forced to pay with their natural resources for the invasion and occupation of their own country and the destruction of their own people. Also, in early 1980 Soviet experts began to increase gas production by 65 percent. Afghan gas fields at a place near Shiberghan were (as of 1977) estimated to have reserves in excess of 500 trillion cubic feet. In 1979 Soviet experts discovered another gas-bearing zone in northern Afghanistan capable of producing one-quarter million cubic meters per day. See also Assifi, “Russian Rope.” [BACK]
26. A former official of the Afghan Ministry of Finance, personal communication, Pul-e-Charkhi concentration camp, 1983. [BACK]
27. A former senior official, personal communication, Kabul, 1987. [BACK]
28. Mansur Hashemi, the former Khalqi minister of water and power, personal communication, Sadarat prison, 1982. [BACK]
29. A former junior professor of Kabul University, personal communication, Peshawar, 1988. [BACK]
30. A senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Khalqi Government, personal communication, Kabul, 1987. [BACK]
31. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 118. [BACK]
32. S. Harrison, quoted in Wakman, Afghanistan, 121. [BACK]
33. For details of how the United States and other noncommunist governments stopped financial aid to the Khalqi government, see Bradsher, Afghanistan, 99. [BACK]
34. Ibid., 118. [BACK]
35. Ibid., 117. [BACK]
36. Ibid., 122. In July 1979 Amin took an unusual step to establish a personal relationship with the U.S. administration. According to a former government official, he carried a personal message from Hafizullah Amin to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser. The official said that he personally handed over the letter to Mr. Brzezinski but received no reply. [BACK]
37. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 179. [BACK]
38. Nasrat, “Bitter Facts,” 97. According to Nasrat,“If the country’s situation had not taken a different turn, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, on his own request, would have been appointed minister of tribal affairs.” According to rumors in circulation in Kabul at the time, Hekmatyar was assigned the post of prime minister in the envisaged Khalqi-dominated coalition government. [BACK]
39. Kornienko, “Afghan Endeavor,” 54-55. I am grateful to Ralph Magnus for giving me a copy of the article along with the official Soviet memoranda attached to it. [BACK]
40. Ibid., 30. [BACK]
41. G. M. Noorzoy, personal communication, Kabul, February 1980. [BACK]
42. Ivanov, “Revelations,” 20. [BACK]
43. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 176. According to Abdul Hakeem Hakeemi, commander of the Bagram airbase at the time, the number was much smaller, and they arrived only weeks before the invasion. Personal communication, San Diego, March 1995. [BACK]
44. A former Afghan official, personal communication, Los Angeles, 1991. [BACK]
45. Roy, Islam and Resistance, 121, 76. [BACK]
46. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 173-75; see also Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 96. [BACK]
47. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 185. [BACK]
48. In 1989 the Soviet Supreme Council denounced the invasion by a vote of 1,678-18, with 19 abstentions (Honolulu Advertiser, 25 December 1989, C1). [BACK]
49. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 155. [BACK]
50. Dobbs, “Secret Memos.” [BACK]
51. Ibid. [BACK]
3. Under the Soviet Shadow
When the Soviet forces started operations in Kabul, Babrak Karmal, the outcast leader of the Parcham faction of the PDPA, was in Doshanbay, the capital city of the Soviet republic of Tajikistan bordering Afghanistan. Afterward Karmal broadcast over radio a statement on a frequency close to that of Radio Afghanistan in which he said, “Today the torture machine of Amin has been broken.” In the name of the Revolutionary Council of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, he asked Afghans, especially the security and army officers, to remain vigilant and maintain security and order.
At three o’clock in the morning the news of the formation of a new government was broadcast over the radio. A statement to this effect was made in the name of Karmal, but at the time he was not in Kabul. Instead, a tape recording of his voice was used. Karmal was later brought “in a tank or armored personnel carrier from Bagram to Kabul by the airborne troops.” He took residence in the old palace in the city. Between eight and nine o’clock on 28 December 1979, a helicopter landed in the Soviet embassy compound and after a pause of fifteen minutes or so flew back. It is believed that the helicopter brought Marshal Sergei Sokolov, who had organized the operation from Termez (the border town of Soviet Uzbekistan) and who was now the supreme commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The marshal took up his residence in the Chilsitun Palace to the southeast of the city; a reception was held there, attended by Karmal and other leading members of the PDPA and the new government. The warm messages of the Soviet government and party leaders addressed to Karmal, now called president of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan, president of the Council of Ministers of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and general secretary of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, were read by General Abdul Qadir, who had just been released from a term of life imprisonment along with other members of the Parcham faction. Sokolov stayed in Chilsitun until early 1982, when he was forced to abandon it for a residence in Wazir Akbar Khan Maina, near the old palace, because the mujahideen’s rocket attacks had made it unsafe for him.
The morning announcement of the formation of the new government was brief. It included, besides Karmal, the names of Asadullah Sarwari, as vice president and deputy premier, and of Sultan Ali Kishtmand as deputy prime minister. The appointments were strange: Sarwari, when chief of AGSA, had tortured Kishtmand in the prison so much that he had to be sent to Moscow for medical treatment.
The second official announcement was also brief but stunning. It read in part, “The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan earnestly demands that the USSR render urgent political, moral, and economic assistance, including military aid, to Afghanistan. The government of the USSR has accepted the proposal of the Afghan side.” The reason for the request was described thus: “Because of the continuation and expansion of aggression, intervention, and provocations by foreign enemies of Afghanistan.”
At this time the new government existed only on paper. Its head, Karmal, was still in the Soviet Union, not in Afghanistan. The year before, the Khalqi government, which the Soviet Union had recognized, had deprived him of Afghan citizenship. Now that the Soviet forces had overthrown the Khalqi government, only they were in power in Kabul. The statement admitted this also when it said the Soviet Union had “accepted the proposal.” More important, the Soviet Union had already given the “military aid” now requested in the name of the nonexistent government. Indeed, this “military aid” had made the declaration possible in the first place.
On 10 January 1980 the names of ministers of the new government were announced. The new government was composed of Parchamis, Khalqis, and a few pro-Parcham individuals. Amin’s senior ministers, with the exception of two, were imprisoned. The Taraki faction, now led by Sarwari and Gulabzoy, called itself “the principled Khalqis.” Before the major policies of the new government are described, it is necessary to discuss the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and dwell on the relationship between its Parcham faction and Moscow.
Rule by surrogates
Rule by surrogates has become more common in modern times than at any time before. So long as the Soviet Union had not found surrogates in Afghanistan, it showed due respect to that country’s independence, territorial integrity, and nonaligned foreign policy. Before the invasion the Soviets declared time and again that they wished to grant disinterested assistance to Afghanistan, but they wanted nothing to do with its politics. They cited Afghanistan as a model of cooperation between two countries with different social and political systems. Some Soviet leaders went even further. During an official tour of Afghanistan in December 1955, while visiting cadets in Kabul, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev advised Afghan Premier Mohammad Daoud to eliminate any cadet found to be a communist. Such assurances were credible to the Afghans, perhaps because they lacked experience in dealing with the outside world, owing to their short period of diplomatic history, and perhaps also because of their national and Islamic values, which require them to accept the words of others, and especially high dignitaries.
The Afghans had yet to learn the saying about the Russians: they think one thing, say something else, and do yet another. After Khrushchev’s visit, the Soviet Union encouraged receptive educated Afghans to organize a party of their own. In particular, it encouraged a group of Afghan leftists for such a purpose after 1960, when Karmal performed a service to the Soviet Union as well as to Premier Mohammad Daoud. In that year Karmal informed Premier Daoud that Sibgatullah Mojaddidi had plotted to blow up the bridge of Pul-e-Artan in Kabul when the motorcade of a Soviet delegation was to cross it. Rahmatullah Mojaddidi, a leftist brother of Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, had passed on the information to Karmal through some Parchami leaders, Sulaiman Laweq and Mier Akbar Khybar. While the incident resulted in the imprisonment of Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, it made Karmal and his circle of leftists a serviceable group to Premier Daoud and the Soviet Union. In general, the leftists became active after the Soviets extended economic assistance to Afghanistan in 1956, and the government, though harsh toward others, tolerated them. In the constitutional period they as well as others emerged in the open.
On 1 January 1965 twenty-eight educated Afghans assembled secretly in the residence of Nur Mohammad Taraki in Karta-e-Char in the city of Kabul, and there they founded the PDPA along the lines of the pro-Moscow communist parties. In this first party congress they named Nur Mohammad Taraki as general secretary and Babrak Karmal as secretary of the PDPA. The charter reads, “The PDPA, whose ideology is the practical experience of Marxism-Leninism, is founded on the voluntary union of the progressive and informed people of Afghanistan: the workers, peasants, artisans, and intellectuals.” In real life, unable to win the tradition-bound Muslim peasants and workers to its cause, the PDPA tried to win over the Afghan elite and to “maintain control [influence] over the state apparatus and to eliminate any Western presence.” It followed the Soviet’s policy toward the Afghan governments. After 1956, when the Soviet Union extended financial assistance to Afghanistan, Soviet policy called for closer cooperation with the Afghan governments. Party activists worked within the existing framework of government rather than outside it, agitating only against those governments that tried to distance Afghanistan from the Soviet Union and to bring it closer to the Western and Arab worlds. The PDPA showed respect to the monarchy. Taraki, for instance, kissed the hands of the Afghan king, and Karmal, in a parliamentary session, called the king the most progressive monarch in Asia. In his compliments, Karmal used words that Lenin had first employed toward the “revolutionary” King Amanullah.
The PDPA was, however, unable to make progress in society. Its original name was the Association of National Democrats, and its leaders associated themselves with national issues such as Pashtunistan. Karmal had been first a member of the Union for the Independence of Pashtunistan; Taraki had been a founding member of the Awakened Youth (Weekh Zalmyan), a group of national democrats. After adopting its present name with its leftist connotation, the PDPA was subjected to pressure from within and without. The pressure from society on it was strong. In the constitutional period, when the free press mushroomed, the PDPA began to disseminate its views in its periodical Khalq, first published in April 1966. The public reacted against it. The House of Elders of parliament considered the periodical against the public interest and asked the government to ban it. The government did so in May 1966, after six issues had come out. In November of the same year Karmal expressed pro-Soviet sentiments in the House of Representatives; some of its members beat him. In 1970 a member of the PDPA praised Lenin in the commemoration of his centenary in words that custom had preserved for the Prophet Mohammad; in response, the ’ulama (religious scholars) from all over the country held protest rallies lasting over a month in Kabul against the communists.
To pressure the communists, the government of Premier Nur Ahmad E’temadi initially encouraged these rallies. But the rallies turned into a two-edged sword, denouncing both the PDPA and the government. In a twenty-two-clause proposal, the ’ulama asked the government not only to suppress the communists but also to forego social reforms, including coeducation and the unveiling of women. The proposal also demanded that women not be permitted to hold public office. When the government rejected the proposal, the ’ulama—led by such persons as Mawlana Fayzani—denounced the government as well and dropped the name of the king from Friday sermons, a sign of rebellion. The government repressed the rallies, and the communists were thus spared. Had the premier (probably at the advice of the former premier, Mohammad Daoud) not suppressed the rallies, the PDPA would probably have been dissolved.
Pressures from within the PDPA were disruptive. The leftist implications of the new name alerted the public to the danger of communism. The national elements of the party broke off with it. Among them was the historian Mier Ghulam Mohammad Ghobar. As a founding member of the Fatherland Party, Ghobar had played a leading role in parliament and national politics in the 1950s; now he too turned against the PDPA. More disruptive was its split in 1967 into four groups: the Khalq faction, led by Taraki; the Parcham faction, led by Karmal; the Sitam-e-Milli faction, led by Tahir Badakhshi; and the Goroh-e-Kar faction, led by Dastagir Panjsheri. Dastagir later joined the Khalq faction, but then the Khalq faction lost two of its leading members, who formed factions of their own: Jawanan-e-Zahmatkash (Industrious Youth), led by Zahir Ofuq, and another, which had no specific name but was more radical, led by Abdul Karim Zarghun.
The PDPA groups were Marxist-Leninist proponents of the Moscow line. The Sitam-e-Milli, however, placed more emphasis on the problem of ethnicity than class struggle. Its leader, Tahir Badakhshi, held that the emancipation of the “oppressed nationalities” from Pashtun “domination” was the main problem and thus needed to be addressed first. Toward this end, he worked for Uzbek-Tajik unity, identifying himself with the Tajik although he was the son of an Uzbek father. A founder of the PDPA, Badakhshi broke off with it to promote his own view. The educated sectarian elements of some ethnic groups rallied behind him, but Sitam-e-Milli remained insignificant, although in the beginning it had attracted some followers in Badakhshan.
Like most opposition groups, the Sitam-e-Milli failed to remain solid for long, soon splitting into two subgroups. Its radical wing, led by Abharuddin Baw’ess, followed a revolutionary line, while Badakhshi stood for moderation. A talented and dynamic man, Baw’ess trained his followers in a militant spirit; with their help, for a short time he occupied the frontier district of Darwaz in the abortive uprisings in 1975. A Tajik from the same locality, Baw’ess afterward lived in hiding until the Khalqis did away with him when he escaped from the Ali Abad hospital, where he had been transferred from prison for medical treatment, and was arrested again.
On 14 February 1979 four followers of Baw’ess kidnapped U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs and took him hostage in a hotel to pressure the government to release their leader. Directed by Soviet advisers, the Khalqi police stormed the hotel, where all perished. The incident brought the Sitam-e-Milli to the front line of national and international attention for the first time; it also worsened relations between Afghanistan and the United States. The Carter administration first announced the withdrawal of most of its diplomats from Kabul; later President Carter signed a law that prohibited any further aid to Afghanistan until the government apologized and assumed responsibility for Dubs’s death. This action drew the Khalqi government closer to the Soviet Union. Sitam-e-Milli also declined in strength, which may account for the change of its name to the Organization of the Toilers ofAfghanistan, or SAZA (Sazman-e-Zahmatkashan-e-Afghanistan), for the followers of Badakhshi, and the Commando Organization of the Liberation of Afghanistan, or SARFA (Sazman-e-Rehaeebakhsh-e-Fedayee-e-Afghanistan), for the followers of Baw’ess. Encouraged by a few Tajikized Russian interpreters and the Parchami Premier Kishtmand, they subsequently entered the Parchami government and formed some militia units.
Internal pressure on the Sitam-e-Milli proved crucial. In the Khalqi period the government imprisoned or executed many officers in the army uprisings on suspicion of being Sitamis. During the resistance period after the invasion, the Islamic organizations hunted the Sitamis down for their leftist views, although the Islamic Association sympathized with their notion of “national oppression.”
The suppression of Sitamis did not create a stir. Common Afghans did not sympathize with them. One reason for this lack of sympathy was the linguistic and social integration that the society had undergone with improvements in the system of transportation, particularly after the opening of the Salang tunnel in 1965, when the northern and southern regions were brought closer. Until then the northeastern region, the most distant from Kabul, had been isolated by the deterioration of relations with Pakistan over the problem of Pashtunistan, cutting it off from Chitral, with which it had trade and other ties. Before that the Bolshevik revolution had done much the same to its ties with the regions beyond the Oxus, where people of the same stock lived. This isolation, and the fact that in this poor region no major development project had been undertaken, accounted for the discontent among its educated elements.
Serious also was the exploitation of the locals by government officials. But they were not the only people who had been exploited, nor was theirs the only region that had remained undeveloped. Besides, the exploiters were not only Pashtun officials but all officials, since the bureaucracy—particularly after the spread of modern free education—was open to all ethnic groups. Also, since Afghan Dari (Persian) was the medium of bureaucracy, Persian-speaking Afghans dominated it. With the extension of the government’s direct control over the country since the days of Amir Abdur Rahman, Afghan Persian has made steady progress. This fact is significant because the Pashtun Mohammadzay ruling dynasty had become linguistically Persianized and thus more at home with the Persian-speaking Afghans than the Pashto-speaking Afghans, that is, Pashtuns. This linguistic preference, coupled with the fact that the ruling dynasty preferred that clients run the government, may account for the fact that it gave a disproportionately high number of cabinet posts to Persian-speaking Afghans. This was the case since the days of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who founded modern Afghanistan in the middle of the eighteenth century. Persian-speaking Afghans have at times served as alter egos to kings, as Mohammad Wali did in the reign of King Amanullah and Ali Mohammad in the reign of King Mohammad Zahir. Both were Tajiks from Badakhshan. The “sitam-e-milli” or “national oppression” becomes relevant when it is understood as a reflection of the tyranny of the illiberal state. To view it as an oppression of the ethnic Pashtuns is to misread it. This was one of the reasons why, like the Maoist groups, the Sitam-e-Milli, after its initial upsurge, declined even in Badakhshan, and its leaders had to rely for survival on the Soviets.
In conclusion, the Sitamis aroused an awareness to a problem that needed to be tackled constitutionally, but they also sensationalized divisiveness and hatred.
The Khalq and Parcham Factions
The main factions of the PDPA were the Khalq and the Parcham, each of which claimed to represent the “true” PDPA. Their composition, too, was influenced by ethnic, regional, and social considerations. The Parcham faction was distinct from the Khalq faction in its composition, the social background of its members, and their views on national policies and matters of morality and general behavior.
The Parchamis were mainly from cities, with some from the countryside. The Khalqis were almost all from rural areas, with a significant number from ethnic and client minorities integrated among the Pashtuns. Most Khalqis belonged to poor rural groups, and most Parchamis to well-off groups. A number of the latter arose from the landowning, bureaucratic, and wealthy families. Also, some Parchamis were from urban ethnic minorities. Unlike the Khalqis, most Parchamis were non-Pashtuns (the Pashtuns being the main ethnic group, as already noted). Thus, the Parchamis were—again unlike the Khalqis—less rooted in society, more internationalist and less nationalist in outlook. They also had many women in their ranks. In the upper echelons they were indifferent to the moral dictates of society, where such norms had been the code of conduct for thousands of years. Believing in a good relationship with the establishment, the Parchamis preferred to work within it rather than to oppose it from the outside, whereas the Khalqis opposed it. Both Khalqis and Parchamis were educated, and through education the Marxist ideology bound them loosely, but they had acquired their dogmatic Marxism from the literature of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Tudeh Party of Iran, mainly in Russian, Pashto, and Persian. Daoud Malikyar has described the Parchamis as “characters”—that is, as marionettes who have no independence of their own but are directed by others behind the scene. The characterization is a reference to the uprooted and opportunistic urban Parchamis, who adopted the Leninist tactics of achieving the end by any possible means.
As a socially baseless political group, the Parchamis could not be expected to be influential in society, but they did influence the state framework in the city of Kabul. There, too, they could exercise influence only in times of stability; in times of disturbance they could not play a decisive role. The significance of this statement can be appreciated when it is borne in mind that so far in Afghan history the rural Afghans have been, in times of disturbance, more decisive than the urban Afghans in shaping events. In such times the urban Afghans have been at the mercy of the rural people, except when foreign powers protected the urban centers. The urban-rural dynamic has always been a distinctive feature of Afghan society.
Relations between the Khalqi and Parcham factions were inharmonious and ill disposed. In their short history they were more disunited than united, and even when they were united, they were distinct from each other. They never integrated. The Parcham faction was smaller, particularly in the army, than the Khalqi faction.
In 1967, eighteen months after its founding, the PDPA split into the Khalq (people) and Parcham (banner) factions. The split continued until 1977, when the Kremlin masters pressured them to reunite. But the decade-long split hardened the attitude of their members toward each other, since during its course they were more acrimonious and less than comradely. In documents that leaders of both factions addressed to their Kremlin comrades, they accused each other on points of theory. The Parchamis charged the Khalqis with adhering to the cult of individualism; with promoting the notion of alliance of the revolutionaries with only two classes of workers and peasants; and with calling for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Parchamis described themselves as revolutionaries opposed to the cult of individualism and in favor of alliance not only with workers and peasants but also with national patriotic forces. During the initial stage of the revolution they claimed they stood for democratic change, not the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Khalqis, by contrast, denounced the Parchamis as collaborators and conciliators with the wealthy, the upper crust of the ruling regimes, and described themselves as opposed to the “suppressing regimes of Zahir Shah and Daoud.” Referring to themselves as communists imbued with the spirit of class struggle and close to the poor people, the Khalqis elsewhere called the Parchamis “royalist pseudocommunists.” In the same document addressed to the Soviets, the Khalqis also announced themselves “devoted to everything associated with the Soviet Union” and doubted the sincerity of the Parchami leaders toward the Soviet leaders.
After the split, both the Khalqis and the Parchamis found themselves unable to make headway in society. Thus, Parchami leaders tried to court a closer relationship with the former premier Mohammad Daoud and, during the constitutional decade, with Premier Nur Ahmad E’temadi, who, of the five prime ministers of the decade, served longest (1967-71). In this period the Parcham made noteworthy progress, particularly through its periodical, Parcham (1968-70), whereas the Khalq faction was barred from publishing another periodical. The purpose of this political marriage was to disrupt the nascent democratic system that helped Mohammad Daoud to overthrow the monarchy.
The Parcham faction became a partner in the new republic. Half of the cabinet ministers were Parchamis, and hundreds more entered the government as junior officials and rural district officers. In this euphoria Karmal went so far as to dissolve his faction, hoping that by forging an alliance with the aged President Daoud (1910-78) he would succeed in raising his faction to power. In the names of the republic and the president, the Parchami officials, through the police forces that they controlled, instituted a reign of terror, imprisoning and torturing hundreds of their Islamist and other opponents. President Daoud was either unwilling or unable to curb his Parchami partners. This failure led him to be associated with the Parchami communists. However, once Daoud felt secure in his position, he removed the Parchamis one by one from their cabinet posts and declared that he was opposed to any party that served the interest of “foreigners.” But by then the Parchamis had succeeded in alienating President Daoud from the Islamic movement. They had also endeared themselves to the Soviets by passing on official secrets. Colonel Alexander Morozov, a KGB officer in Kabul at the time, writes, “Almost all Parchamis mentioned in Amin’s document as members of Daoud’s Central Committee shared information with Soviet secret agencies.” And he adds that their “participation in the Daoud’s administration…had been sanctioned by Soviet intelligence.”
Because of their pro-Soviet activities, and their institution of the reign of terror, the Parchamis made themselves unpopular. Their junior officials in the rural areas became corrupt. In losing the patronage of Mohammad Daoud, the Parchamis lost one of their two sources of support, the other being the Soviet Union. While the Khalqi leaders supported the republic and while their military officers took part in instituting it, they themselves did not join it. By allying himself with the Parchamis, President Daoud alienated the Khalqis. In addition to underestimating the Khalqis, President Daoud, like Karmal, suspected Taraki of being “a spy of the United States of America.” Having gotten rid of the Parchamis, President Daoud thought he would also suppress the Khalqis. But having concentrated on the army, the Khalqis instead toppled him. When the Khalqis usurped power, the discredited Parchamis were no match for them.
The Parchamis during the Khalq Rule
Twice during their rule the Khalqis suppressed the Parchamis. Why the Khalqis suppressed the Parchamis the first time, after a short-lived honeymoon between them following the coup, is unknown. The outer signs of the rift were obvious. For a few weeks following the coup, the Parchamis served in the government, apparently on an equal basis with the Khalqis but actually as their junior partners. Then Amin and Watanjar, in a meeting at the Institute of Polytechnic, gave out that the revolution was the work of Khalqis and that the Parchamis had no part in it. In an official pamphlet detailing this statement, it was further alleged that on the day of the coup Karmal, not knowing what was happening, did not want to be released from prison. He had asked whether or not it was safe to be out.
The Parchamis, in particular Karmal, were active on another level, establishing a special relationship with the Soviet ambassador, Alexander Puzanov. Puzanov was so fond of Karmal that he believed the revolution was due to his statesmanship. In June 1978 Amin told the Soviet leaders that the Khalqis, not the Parchamis, had made the revolution. At the time Amin had stopped in Moscow on the way home from a trip to Havana. It was said that Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko, deeply impressed by Amin, told him that if he wished he might remove Puzanov from Kabul. But Amin replied that he could get along with him.
The issue that revealed the difference between Amin and Karmal was that of military officers, as noted before. After the coup Amin introduced some military officers to the membership of the central committee. Sensing danger to his faction, Karmal opposed this movement on the ground that the army officers were unable to absorb Marxism-Leninism. This opposition was unacceptable to Amin, since the officers were his bastion of support.
At some point Amin decided to send the Parchami leaders abroad as ambassadors. In one of the politburo meetings he put forward this suggestion. Karmal at first said that he wished to give up politics. Already he had complained in vain to Taraki that “since no one seemed to accept his authority as the nation’s second in command” he wished to resign and “devote himself to development of modifications of the PDPA’s strategy and tactics to suit the present condition.” Amin’s response was prompt. Addressing Karmal, he said, “Dear Babrak, you have got a number of followers. When you stay at home they might make some trouble, and the trouble might be traced to your door in which case you will find it difficult to exonerate yourself.” Karmal accepted the proposal, which was passed by a majority of the votes cast. Indeed, Karmal had no choice. As already noted, he had spent a night at the villa of the TASS correspondent to meet with the Soviet ambassador, but the latter had declined. On this point Amin had even ignored the advice of the International Affairs Department of the Soviet Central Committee, which had counseled that “Lenin emphasized that a revolution could be worth anything [only] if it knew how to protect itself.” According to the advice, “This great mission can be fulfilled only if the PDPA acts as a united and closely-knit political organization held together by one will and a common goal.” In the aforementioned document, entitled “Preliminary Proposals Concerning Changes in the Organizational Structure of the PDPA,” Amin told his Soviet comrades that the Parchamis had made themselves “notorious for their participation in the work of the Daoud administration.” But Amin did not know that the Parchamis had done so on instruction from the Soviets. In any case, six Parchami leaders, including Karmal, soon left for their ambassadorial posts. This marked the beginning of the second split of the PDPA into Parcham and Khalq factions. The scene was now set for events with serious consequences.
In early September the government announced that it had foiled a Parchami plot to overthrow it. The government either arrested or dismissed the remaining Parchami ministers in the cabinet, accusing them of holding rallies to promote a coup. The rallies were alleged to have been scheduled in collaboration with the Sitam-e-Milli, who were to disturb Badakhshan. According to the plan, when the government dispatched forces to that remote province, Kabul’s defenses would have been weakened and the way paved for the success of the plotters. Handwritten “confessions” made by Sultan Ali Kishtmand, minister of planning, and Mohammad Rafi, minister of public works, appeared in the press along with their photos; although the confessions confirmed these allegations, they were useless, having been obtained under torture.
The Parchami ambassadors were dismissed from their posts and deprived of Afghan citizenship. Except for Mahmud Baryalay, the rest, including Karmal, took with them the cash assets of the embassies. At home the crackdown on the Parchamis began. Since Amin had earlier obtained a list of Parchami military officers through Sayyed Daoud Tarun, the suppression of the Parchami officers might have been complete. Their known officers were imprisoned, and overzealous Khalqi interrogators in the provinces eliminated a considerable number of them. In Kabul only a few were eliminated, among them the junior university professors Khanabad, Amier Mohammad, and Abdur Razaq. Soviet advisers were against their elimination. None of the leading Parchamis was executed. Of the “conspirators,” only the military chief of staff, Shahpur Ahmadzay, and the physician Mier Akbar were executed. The former was executed on the advice of Soviet advisers not because he had plotted but because he was an influential person in his locality. The remaining Parchamis “began to form underground organizations to resist the regime.”
The authorities meanwhile started an anti-Parchami campaign in the mass media. For the anti-Parchami Afghans, it was a golden chance. Even unsuspected Parchamis and their sympathizers, out of fear of losing jobs, took part in the crusade. Opportunistic Parchamis and those who had been associated with them also joined the chorus. They made Karmal the special target of attack. In a televised meeting of party and government officials, an eloquent member of the politburo denounced Karmal as a traitor who had abandoned his fatherland in return for life under the “dark umbrella of imperialism.” For an impartial spectator, all this was amusing and distressing. It was amusing because skill in oratory, writing, drama, and art was demonstrated. It was depressing because the whole episode was a reflection of opportunism and lack of integrity. Anyone for whom politics was a profession of decent people was a misfit.
A second wave of arrests engulfed the Parchamis following the Karmal-Taraki meeting in Moscow, as already noted. The Parchamis had been suppressed but not eliminated. As a faction they were still organized. Since Kabul was their stronghold, it was impossible for the rural Khalqis to trace them, despite their wide networks of intelligence. From October onward the Parchamis became active once again, but their distribution of propaganda leaflets helped the government to trace and arrest them. Around six hundred Parchamis were arrested. By the time of the invasion the Parchamis had been impoverished as never before. I myself saw clear evidence of their impoverishment. On the second day of the invasion, I toured Kabul in the company of my university colleagues Sayd Bahauddin Majruh, Rasul Amin, and Hakeem Taniwal and a friend, Farouq Safay. As revolutionary guards the Parchamis were patrolling the streets as lean figures in shabby garb with rifles behind their backs. Karmal was now destined to rule the country with their help.
Babrak Karmal was popular with his followers, particularly the urbanized Parchamis, some of whom were emotionally attached to him. To them he was the symbol of defiance to social injustice and absolutism as well as a comrade of the downtrodden and the impoverished. His followers looked on him as the leader of the new-style pioneers who felt they had liberated themselves from the shackles of religion, tribe, region, and social customs, which restricted individuals in every corner of life. Karmal’s career of political struggle, his years of imprisonment, his perseverance in the hard profession of politics, his polished manners and convincing reasoning—all these endeared him still further to his followers. It was the force of their attachment that twice won for him seats in parliament in the constitutional decade. But all this is an incomplete picture of his personality and his social standing.
Karmal’s loyalty to the Soviet Union was well known. He would say even in the presence of non-Parchamis that he wished to make Afghanistan the sixteenth republic of the Soviet Union. He was in the pay of the Soviet Union. He had been accused of this by Soraya Baha, a Parchami woman activist who had become disillusioned and who was therefore under investigation by some members of the central committee, including Karmal. She told him to his face that he was paid 35,000 rubles a month in the name of the party.
Karmal was widely believed to be a man without scruples. Following the death of his mother, he left home and lived with his widowed maternal aunt. He was said to be living in disregard of the society’s moral values. Karmal’s father, a general in the Afghan army, had disowned him, apparently for his leftist views. In his mature life, too, there was talk about Karmal’s debauchery. To his critics Karmal would say, “Among us these issues have been resolved.” Karmal resembled Mulla Zakki, whose licentious views permeated the court of Shah Mahmud Sadozay in the early years of the nineteenth century. Zakki’s actions led to a commotion that resulted in the overthrow of the monarch. Afghan society was no longer as rigid as it had been during the previous century, but it was not so liberal as to accept as its ruler a commoner with such a record.
Karmal’s behavior created a problem for his faction, despite the fact that some urban Parchamis were “loose.” Karmal’s behavior intensified a rift between himself and Mier Akbar Khybar, the number two man in the faction. Khybar once slapped Karmal in his face because Karmal had tried to seduce the unwilling wife of their host comrade. Khybar said to him, “You aspire for Afghan rulership, but do such base things.” The incident had wider—and, for Khybar, fatal—implications. All this lowered the status of the Parchamis in the public eye.
The incident had wider consequences for Karmal as well. All peoples want to know the identity of their rulers, and that desire is particularly strong among the genealogy-conscious Afghans. When Karmal was raised to power, his background became a subject of inquiry. Karmal was born in 1929 in the village of Kamari to the east of the city of Kabul. He had graduated from the College of Law and Political Sciences of Kabul University. Karmal’s family was believed to be Tajik, the second main ethnic group after the Pashtuns, because linguistically and culturally the family was Tajik and was integrated into the urban community of Kabul. But Karmal’s father did not say so and “would skillfully conceal his Tajik identity.” In 1986 Karmal announced that he and his full brother, Mahmud Baryalay, were Pashtuns. He said so because they were the sons of a linguistically Persianized Pashtun mother of the Mullakhel section of the Ghilzays. But in the patriarchal society of Afghanistan, descent is traced only through the patriarchal line. Karmal should have stated that he was a Tajik if he was a Tajik. Karmal’s announcement was political in that he wanted to attach himself to the Pashtuns, but it confounded the issue of his identity. Karmal’s forefathers had immigrated from Kashmir to Kabul, as many Kashmiris had settled there over a long period of time. Kashmir was a part of the Afghan Durrani empire until its dissolution in 1818. This descent is reinforced by the fact that Karmal and his brother’s original names resemble the names of Indian Muslims. Karmal’s first full name was Sultan Hussayn, and his brother’s name was Sultan Mahmud; their father was named Mohammad Hussayn. The brothers changed their names to sound more like Afghan names.
The fact that Karmal’s ancestors had immigrated to Kabul, Karmal’s statement that he was a Pashtun, the fact that his father was not a Pashtun, and his father’s reluctance to admit that he was a Tajik—all these make it doubtful that the family was Tajik originally, although they were integrated into that group. It is a custom in Afghanistan for a person of no ethnic significance to relate himself to the ethnic group into which he has been integrated. Not all Pashto-speaking Afghans are Pashtuns, and not all Persian-speaking Afghans are Tajiks. Karmal went against the custom. This means that, ethnically speaking, the family was insignificant. Among the educated Afghans this was not so damaging to the social standing of Karmal and Baryalay. More damaging was the view that they were the descendants of Hindu ancestors.
Some claimed that Karmal was descended from Hindu ancestors, but no evidence has substantiated the claim. However, it was said that Karmal and his two younger brothers looked like Hindus. Another supportive point can be traced in Karmal’s relationship with the government of India. Before the coup the Indian embassy in Kabul used to invite Karmal to its receptions, whereas it did not invite Taraki, although he, unlike Karmal, had spent some time in India. When Karmal was raised to power, India was, of all the nonaligned countries, the only one to establish full diplomatic relations with the Kabul regime. This is not to suggest that India did so for personal reasons. In maintaining a relationship with Kabul, India intended to promote its own regional interests. But in these relationships Karmal’s personal role was striking.
For the first time in Kabul, the small Hindu and Sikh communities were officially encouraged to hold religious ceremonies openly. Senior officials participated in televised ceremonies. It might have been in line with their communist creed to encourage religious minorities. The Soviet advisers might also have instructed them to please India, their ally in the region. But the fanfare that they made on these occasions irritated the Afghans. In addition to being known as a self-indulgent communist, Karmal was said to be a promoter of Hinduism. Even if nothing else counted against Karmal, these labels were enough for the Afghans to distrust him.
Karmal as a Ruler
Karmal’s immediate problems were within the party. He was the chosen man of the Kremlin, and no one within the party could openly oppose him. However, scheming men devise ways to oppose even under the strictest of circumstances. Within the closed frame of government, the opposition, in order to seize power, may resort to whatever means available to it. After the fall of Amin and the suppression of his faction, Karmal had new rivals in the persons of Sarwari and Gulabzoy, the heads of the Taraki faction that called itself the “principled Khalqis.” Sarwari and Gulabzoy had endeared themselves to the Soviets by helping them in the invasion. They had done so not for the sake of Karmal but for their own agenda, which was to get rid of Karmal and his faction.
The scheme was to dispose of the Parchami leaders in their offices by a synchronized action. Since the Parchamis were few in number, since they were not as bold as the Khalqis were, and since the Khalqis had battered them twice before, they did not think much of them. This was what Sarwari thought. He was, however, so naive as to disregard the Soviet factor. In June 1980, before Sarwari was able to put his scheme into operation, he was sent as ambassador to Mongolia. This still did not mean that Karmal became the general secretary of a unified party, as he claimed.
The Soviet Union, by overthrowing the Khalq government and raising the Parcham faction to its place, had split the PDPA into irreconcilable factions. The KGB’s view that the removal of Amin would ensure unity in the PDPA remained dominant in Moscow. But as minister of interior and a leader of the Taraki faction, Gulabzoy acted as if he were the head of a state within a state. He acted on the view that both he and Karmal had gotten their posts from Moscow, thus claiming himself Karmal’s equal.
Because of all these problems, Karmal was raised to the position of head of state without ceremony to legitimize his rule. But in Afghanistan the head of state must gain legitimacy either directly from the constituencies or through their representatives, in accord with social conventions. This approach becomes a necessity when a dynasty is replaced. In the case of Karmal, though, such legitimation was impossible. No attempt was made to convene an assembly of the notables to bestow on him the position of the head of state. Instead, the government in its mass media reported that people from various walks of life had expressed their allegiance to their leader, Karmal. Except for some messages from party cadres and some government employees, these messages were fabrications. No attempt was made to televise the process by which, even within the official party and the Revolutionary Council, Karmal was elected head of the party and of the state. Only official communiqués were issued to the effect that the central committee of the party and the Revolutionary Council “almost unanimously” agreed to elect Karmal as head of the party and the state.
After the Afghans demonstrated in opposition to Karmal, and when other governments, except for those of the Soviet bloc countries, declined to recognize the regime, Karmal invented stories that he hoped would legitimize his rule. According to one of these stories, he entered Afghanistan “through revolutionary pathways” and along with the true members of the party organized opposition with whose help he overthrew the government of Amin. By the phrase “through revolutionary pathways,” Karmal meant his two secret flights aboard Soviet military aircraft to the Bagram military airport. The Soviets first flew him in on 13 December 1979, when they expected opponents would topple Amin by a coup. “But when the operation to kill Amin failed, Babrak [Karmal] was hurriedly brought back…to the Soviet Union.” The Soviets again flew him in after the invasion. So to Karmal the Soviet interference in Afghan affairs, its invasion of Afghanistan, and his becoming a tool of its policy were a “revolution”—but this view could not help him legitimize his rule.
Karmal’s poor performance in interviews with foreign journalists also failed to help his public image. In the first and last televised interview of his life, held before a large number of foreign and Afghan journalists after he was raised to power, Karmal divided the journalists on the basis of the cold war line distinguishing between “the imperialist bloc of the West” and the “socialist bloc countries.” In this interview his answer to a question put by a BBC correspondent showed that he lived in the past. Instead of answering the question he was asked, he adopted a confrontational attitude, lecturing the BBC reporter, “We know each other in history because our forefathers had defeated your forefathers in numerous battlefields in Afghanistan.” People expected that since Karmal had served twice in parliament and since he had been abroad for over a year, he would now act as a statesman. Instead, he proved himself to be an exhibitionist. It was one thing for him to recite composed statements as an actor; it was quite another for him to answer questions that touched the lives of millions of men and women. He almost never spoke extemporaneously. After this interview the impression became widespread that Karmal, in addition to being a stooge, had no qualities of a statesman.
From the moment Karmal was raised to power, he faced tremendous problems. Whatever weight he had he lost after the invasion. An Afghan author has summed up Afghan feelings about Karmal by stating, “His presence alongside the Red Army is so small that it attracts no attention. People don’t think of him, but evaluate the long-range consequences of this political move [the invasion].” Karmal’s Soviet supporters reduced him as a person and a ruler. Thus, “by the close of 1979 the PDPA no longer ruled Afghanistan; the CPSU [the Communist Party of the Soviet Union] did.”
From the moment Karmal was flown in to Kabul, he was no longer his own master, still less the Afghan ruler. His Soviet cooks, waiters, and waitresses, the Soviet driver of his black limousine, and his Soviet advisers took care of him around the clock. Behind the curtain in his office were a Soviet adviser and an interpreter; his conversations were taped. Contingents of Soviet guards patrolled the palace in the city where Karmal lived. Afghan guards surrounded him, but their weapons were without ammunition. The Karmal of the old days, when he roamed freely, suddenly became a pearl. The Soviets were so kind to him that he had no need to meet with members of his family, or at least to meet them without their presence. Karmal’s wife, Mahbuba—a courteous woman who was once one of my students—spent most of her time in the Soviet Union. Karmal no longer needed his mistress, Anahita Ratebzad, since young Russian women gave him, as well as a select number of the politburo members, intimate company. Everything that the Soviets could provide for Karmal’s personal comfort was made available to him. Under Soviet supervision Karmal found himself in surroundings he had never been in before. But then he had to live the life of an unfree ruler, and this is clear from his own words to a friend and the words of one of his friends about him. To an old leftist friend, Asif Ahang, who met him under strictly supervised conditions, the embarrassed Karmal said, “The Soviet comrades love me boundlessly, and for the sake of my personal safety, they don’t obey even my own orders.” Another friend, Zia Majid, said of Karmal after meeting with him, “The hands, feet and tongue of the poor Sultan had been tied, and he had no right to speak [without permission] with his personal friends.”
The Invisible Ruling Circle
Like Karmal, others in the politburo, the central committee, and the Revolutionary Council did not have to trouble to formulate policies or make decisions. These matters were handled for them. Whatever the guidelines of the Kremlin rulers, they were handed over to the regime’s appropriate agencies. This was done through an invisible body or council, composed of the Soviet ambassador, the local head of the KGB, and the commander of the Soviet army, and headed by the Soviet supreme commander, Marshall Sergei Sokolov. The council met regularly. As the actual ruler behind the scene, Sokolov issued directives to agents of the party and the government. He received Karmal in his presence in his own headquarters. Through his own agents Sokolov likewise supervised how the directives were implemented. In particular, policies on security matters emanated from this body, and they were handed over through its advisers to the regime’s intelligence department (KhAD) for implementation.
The number of Soviet advisers was on the increase. In the first month after the invasion their numbers more than doubled, surpassing total PDPA members at the time. By early 1984 they were believed to total over ten thousand. They worked not only as advisers but also as executives in all the military and civilian departments to which they were assigned. Bureaucrats of the regime found that even routine orders had to be approved and countersigned by the Soviets. In fact, “no minister [could] make a single decision, even a minor one, without consulting his omnipresent shadow.” As noted, even Karmal was not permitted to make decisions. “Slowly his power was confined to approving dismissals or appointments which, under instructions from Soviet advisers, the Intelligence Department or his comrades in the politburo would propose. He would neither postpone nor reject such proposals.” But as a Persian saying has it, “Alive, the hero is happy.” To comrades who complained of the domineering attitude of Soviet advisers, Karmal said, “The Soviets have enough experience in implementing socialism and social justice in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. They will never make mistakes in their accomplishments. Be patient. They have come here to develop our country as a model in the region.” During his stay in Czechoslovakia, Karmal’s belief in the Soviet Union had become total. The Czechoslovak leaders had impressed on him that the world’s progress was due to the invincible Red Army. That was why “he did not think he had made a mistake to have come [to Afghanistan] along with the Soviet army.”
Promotions became a source of profit for corrupt advisers. An adviser in Herat, in return for a golden necklace for his wife, released a member of the Afghan Millat Party who had been sentenced to death. A few Parchami officers were said to have obtained promotion by offering women to their Soviet comrades. Similarly, a Soviet adviser who wished to remain longer in his post sent his own wife to the arms of a senior Afghan official to obtain his recommendation. Not all advisers were qualified. When a non-PDPA official informed Karmal that the advisers attached to his ministry were unqualified, Karmal ignored him and, holding to the party line, told him that “the Soviet advisers were most qualified in their fields, and…Afghanistan should take advantage of their expertise.”
Soviet advisers composed statements in the Russian and Tajiki languages for party members and government officials to read on official occasions. Party and government experts paraphrased the Tajiki texts into Afghan Persian (Dari). Under Soviet supervision government officials also composed statements. Soviet advisers did not allow government and party officials—even Karmal or his brother Baryalay—to make statements of their own, particularly on issues relating to foreign affairs. Karmal and Baryalay were admonished after making unauthorized statements. However, within the framework of the guidelines, party members and government officials had a wide range in which to demonstrate their talents and to win over the public.
In his first radio broadcasts Karmal gave hopeful promises. He said that henceforth there would be no executions and that a new constitution would be drawn up providing for the democratic election of national and local assemblies. He also promised that political parties would function freely and that both personal property and individual freedom would be safeguarded. In particular, he stressed that soon a government representing a united national front would be set up and that it would not pursue socialism. He also promised a general amnesty for prisoners. In normal circumstances these promises would have aroused expectations, but now they sounded dreadful. As noted before, Karmal announced at the same time that his government had asked the Soviet Union to give economic, political, and military assistance, a request that, he said, had been accepted and rendered. Since he had become an agent for inflicting the calamity of Soviet troops on the Afghans, Karmal had no choice but to give the promises of a democratic government. But in this he went so far as to give promises that he could not fulfill even if he wished to.
These promises were nothing but the Leninist tactical move of two steps backward and one step forward. For a Brezhnevian protégé such as Karmal, it was impossible to go ahead with a platform that his masters saw as bourgeois. Also, the Afghans had seen that the same Karmal following the communist coup had, with others, promised that private as well as personal property would remain safe, a promise that they violated. The fact was that he could not become a ruler without the military might of the Soviet Union. Karmal, with a view to taking revenge on Amin and making himself the ruler of Afghanistan, had let himself become an instrument in the hands of foreign masters with no regard for the rights of his compatriots to sovereignty, their dignity as free men and, above all, their lives. To reach his goal, this most slavish of puppet rulers let himself be entangled in a dilemma that was beyond his powers to solve and that brought untold suffering to millions of men, women, and children.
Among the measures promised by Karmal, the most important were the release of prisoners; the promulgation of the Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan; the change of the red, Soviet-style banner of the Khalq period to the more orthodox one of black, red, and green; the granting of concessions to religious leaders; and the conditional restoration of confiscated property. Some concessions were also granted to landowners whose lands had been confiscated in the land reform program implemented by Karmal’s predecessors. Except for the release of prisoners, all these measures were taken gradually. What lessened the bitterness of the people was the release of prisoners on 6 January 1980. The Parchami prisoners, numbering about 600, had been released in the early hours of the invasion; the bulk of the prisoners, released on 6 January, numbered 2,000; and about 100 prisoners were not released. Thus, the total number of prisoners before the invasion was around 2,700. Much fanfare was made of the occasion of the release of prisoners. People from the outside were brought in to mingle with the prisoners to make their number appear higher. But the day turned into a day of wailing for thousands of families who were now convinced that they would never again see their imprisoned relatives. After Amin came to power, he had made public a list of those already executed; according to this list, 12,000 prisoners had been executed, but people still hoped that since the actual number of prisoners was higher, their imprisoned relatives might be alive. They were disappointed. (Amin had released 850 prisoners after he became the ruler and intended to release the rest by 1 January to coincide with the sixteenth anniversary of the party.)
After the Khalqis came to power, they ran the country by issuing a series of eight edicts. They suspended all laws except those on civil matters. Another exception was the criminal law of the Daoud period, which the Parchamis, like the Khalqis, retained as a repressive instrument.
In April 1980 the Karmal regime adopted a temporary constitution, the Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which had been drafted while Amin was in power. The new constitution guaranteed certain democratic rights of individuals, including the right to “security and life,” the right of “free expression,” and the right “to form peaceful associations and demonstrations.” It also declared that “no one would be accused of crime but in accord with the provisions of law,” that the “accused is innocent unless the court declares him guilty,” and that “crime was a personal affair, and no one else would be punished for it.” It likewise declared that “torture, persecution, and punishment, contrary to human dignity, are not permissible.”
Envisaged for the country was “a new-style state of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan,” guided by the PDPA. It was the only legal party, and the Revolutionary Council, as the supreme state power, was to convene twice a year to approve measures already taken by the Presidium, which was composed mostly of the politburo members of the PDPA. The state was to safeguard three forms of property: state property, cooperative property, and private property. The constitution declared that the state had the right to exploit all underground property and other resources considered state property. The constitution also declared that the state had the power to develop the economy toward the creation of a society free of the exploitation of man by man. The state was likewise empowered to take families, both parents and children, under its supervision.
The constitution was inherently contradictory. On paper it was a perfectly democratic constitution, at least as far as the rights of the individuals were concerned; in reality it was a document granting a monopoly of power, since the state that it envisaged was to be steered only by the official party. More important, the way it was implemented was arbitrary. It relied on clauses in favor of the state while ignoring those in favor of individuals. The guaranteed rights of individuals were meaningless words. It was, in brief, a legal instrument of suppression in the hands of the regime. But its impact was limited. By the time it was promulgated, the mujahideen had confined the regime to cities.
Among the palliative measures that Karmal was to take, the most important was the one intended to have an immediate effect on the current situation. This was the question of forming a government representing a united national front, which Karmal had promised. By definition, such a government would be composed of those groups or individuals having the power to influence national politics. Karmal had neither the desire nor the power to form such a government. The government he did form was composed of the Parchamis, Khalqis (Taraki group), and three persons of no national significance. A number of well-known noncommunist Afghans were also appointed to various ministries. But these collaborators, who set the precedent of cooperation with the regime, found that they had been given posts without authority. Besides, by then it had become a fact of Afghan politics that any one who collaborated with the regime was no longer socially significant.
The next step toward the formation of the government of national front was the appointment of a large number of junior bureaucrats in various ministries. The regime made a big fanfare of this, but these officials were ordinary civil employees, not politicians. This was what Karmal and his Soviet advisers meant when they spoke of a government representing a united national front. As has been pointed out, “no totalitarian regime can afford to share real power with any group outside its own immediate control.” Karmal had failed to unite the party, although calling it a unified democratic party. He had also failed to form a truly national government. Yet he and his associates called their regime “a new evolutionary phase of the glorious April Revolution.”
All this time armed opposition was mounting. Within weeks of the invasion the mujahideen had wrested the rural areas from the control of the regime. The regime ruled the city of Kabul, the provincial capitals, and those strategic areas where the Soviets and the regime had stationed military contingents and militia units. Even cities were unsafe for PDPA members. Worse still, the mujahideen killed Soviet soldiers in large numbers. All this was a spectacular feat for the mujahideen. (The situation remained the same until the Soviets withdrew their army in 1989.) Opponents of the regime spread rumors to the effect that the Kremlin rulers had decided to replace Karmal. But luckily for him, no one else within the party had even his meager standing.
Years later, when Karmal’s inability to consolidate his government had become obvious, Mikhail Gorbachev, then general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, said, “The main reason that there has been no national consolidation so far is that Comrade Karmal is hoping to continue sitting in Kabul with our help.” Colonel Nikolai Ivanov, a Soviet military writer, even wrote that “he [Karmal] was a nobody.” Both statements reflect the failure of Soviet foreign policy. It was because of this policy that Karmal was unable to achieve “national consolidation,” that he had become “a nobody.” Prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Karmal not only was not “a nobody” but was an important somebody. Twice the people had elected him to parliament. When his Kremlin comrades used Karmal as a tool of their policy, they turned him into a nobody. Then this “nobody” was unable to achieve “national consolidation.” He even had to plead with his Soviet comrades: “You brought me here [to Afghanistan], you protect me.” The Soviet invasion had generated forces of resistance beyond the control of even the strongest ruler with the best mind—let alone a puppet such as Karmal. In addition, Karmal was inexperienced in running the country, a particularly severe weakness at a time when the nation had turned against him. The truth of this statement Gorbachev accepted when in a politburo meeting he told his peers, “If we don’t change approaches [to evacuate Afghanistan], we will be fighting there for another 20 or 30 years.” To make Karmal a scapegoat for the Soviet failure is wrong, but doing so was standard practice for the Soviet leaders. At any rate, the Soviet leaders stuck with him for six years. Hoping to prop him up, they received him and his delegation with pomp in October 1980 in the Kremlin, where they lectured him on how to run the country. What was needed was a lecture to the Kremlin leaders themselves on why they had blundered in invading Afghanistan and raising to power a person whom their own historian called “a nobody.”
1. Ivanov, “Revelations,” 18. [BACK]
2. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 181. [BACK]
3. An Afghan cabinet minister, personal communication, Kabul, August 1968. [BACK]
4. Kakar, Afghans in the Spring of 1987, 91. [BACK]
5. Roy, “Origin,” 41. [BACK]
6. Zaki-Ullah, Russo-Afghan Friendship, 44. Haqshinas, Russia’s Intrigues and Crimes, 311. [BACK]
7. Zurmulwal, “Khalqi and Parchami Factions,” 3. [BACK]
8. Zaki-Ullah Khan, Russo-Afghan Friendship, 40. [BACK]
9. A. R. Safay (former member of parliament), personal communication, Los Angeles, April 1991. [BACK]
10. Farhang, Afghanistan 1:514. [BACK]
11. Zurmulwal, “Khalqi and Parchami Factions,” 3. [BACK]
12. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 99. [BACK]
13. Sharq, Memoirs, 216. [BACK]
14. For details about the PDPA, see Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism; Arnold and Klass, “Afghanistan’s Divided Communist Party”; Kushkaki, Constitutional Decade; Haqshinas, Russia’s Intrigues and Crimes; Roy, “Origin”; Rubin, “Political Elites.” [BACK]
15. Kushkaki, Constitutional Decade, 147; Morozov, “Between Amin and Karmal,” 36-38. [BACK]
16. Kushkaki, Constitutional Decade, 58, 141, 149; Farhang, Afghanistan 1:514. [BACK]
17. Zurmulwal, “Khalqi and Parchami Factions,” 4; Farhang, Afghanistan 2:8. [BACK]
18. Morozov, “Between Amin and Karmal,” 39. [BACK]
19. Kushkaki, Constitutional Decade, 149. [BACK]
20. Mansur Hashemi, the former Khalqi minister of water and power, personal communication, Sadarat prison, July 1982. [BACK]
21. Morozov, “Night Visit,” 32. [BACK]
22. Morozov, “Betweeen Amin and Karmal,” 39. [BACK]
23. Ibid. [BACK]
24. A former Khalqi cabinet minister, personal communication, Pul-e-Charkhi prison, July 1986; Sharq, Memoirs, 164. [BACK]
25. Morozov, “Night Visit,” 33. [BACK]
26. Zahir Ghazi Alam, personal communication, San Diego, 1991. [BACK]
27. Baha, “Cruel Executions,” 79, 81. Baha’s source of information wasN. Dooryankov, a Soviet specialist on Afghanistan whom she met in Moscow when she was sent there by the party for medical treatment. [BACK]
28. Gharzay, Memoirs, 89. [BACK]
29. A former senior government official, personal communication, Kabul, August 1987. [BACK]
30. Farhang, Afghanistan 1:498. [BACK]
31. A. Tufan, a former Khalqi governor, personal communication, Sadarat prison, Kabul, August 1982. [BACK]
32. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 101. [BACK]
33. Ivanov, “Revelations,” 19. [BACK]
34. Fazili, Days as Dark as Nights, 72. [BACK]
35. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 99. [BACK]
36. Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 808. [BACK]
37. Quoted in Sharq, Memoirs, 239. [BACK]
38. Ibid., 240. [BACK]
39. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 99; Anwar, Tragedy, 223. [BACK]
40. Girardet, Afghanistan, 136. [BACK]
41. Ibid., 138. [BACK]
42. Sharq, Memoirs, 236. [BACK]
43. Ibid., 236. [BACK]
44. Ibid., 235, 237. [BACK]
45. A former cabinet minister, personal communication, Kabul, July, 1987. [BACK]
46. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 108. [BACK]
47. The appointment of these well-known Afghans—Abd al-Hay Habibi; a prolific author, writer, poet, and former member of parliament; Abdur Raof Benawa, a poet, former cabinet minister, and former member of parliament; Mier Mohammad Siddiq Farhang, an author, former member of parliament, and cofounder of the Fatherland Party; and Rawan Farhadi, a scholar and diplomat—was a shock to many. They had good reputations, particularly among the intellectuals who expected them at least to stay away from the client regime. But they entered its service without being able to influence its policy. They cooperated with it at a time when the Soviets had occupied their homeland and were killing Afghans by the thousands.
Except for Habibi, who died later in Kabul, I met the others and raised the subject of their accepting the posts. Abdur Raof Benawa said that he was in the hospital when he heard the news of his appointment. When I suggested to him that he had then an excuse to decline the offer, he cautioned me to be careful in these critical times. Subsequently, the efforts of his more intimate friends to achieve the same end also failed. In 1980 the regime appointed him ambassador to Libya. Later he developed bone cancer and went to the United States for treatment; he died there in 1985.
Mier Mohammad Siddiq Farhang had accepted the post as a matter of policy. Karmal had, he said, assured him that he wanted to honor the promises that he had made, while serving in parliament, to set up a national democratic government. Farhang argued that since politics is the art of the possible, he accepted the post to pave the way for the return home of the Soviet troops. Apparently he was sympathetic to the regime. Over the years, together with Mohammad Omar the Pilot, Karim Nazihi, and Asif Ahang he had worked to promote the leftist views of the Moscow line. While in prison in the 1950s he introduced Karmal and Khybar, who were also in prison at the time, to these views. (A., personal communication, United States, 1990.)
When Farhang served as an adviser in the Ministry of Mines and Industry, he also introduced Karmal to the royal court. Encouraged by it, Farhang, along with Karmal, played a role in spreading communism among the youth (Sharq, Memoirs, 234). I told Farhang that the Soviets had introduced their troops into Afghanistan not for the sake of Karmal or against Amin but for their own purposes, and that the introduction of the troops was likely to result in disasters; he remained silent. Disillusioned, Farhang later left for the United States, where he became mildly critical of Karmal. Nevertheless, Karmal arranged that Farhang’s valuable antiques, which he had left in his home in Kabul, be safeguarded. He gave instructions in this regard to the Parchami who was then residing in Farhang’s home; later, though, after Najibullah replaced Karmal, another Parchami who lived in Farhang’s home took possession of the artifacts. (A., personal communication, United States, 1990) Farhang died of a heart attack in 1990. [BACK]
48. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 106. [BACK]
49. Dobbs, “Dramatic Politburo Meeting.” [BACK]
50. Ivanov, “Revelations,” 19. [BACK]
51. Ibid., 18. [BACK]
52. Dobbs, “Dramatic Politburo Meeting.” [BACK]
53. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 227. [BACK]