Taraki, Nur Mohammad (1917-79)
Nur Mohammad Taraki was a Shabikhel Taraki Ghilzay Pashtun from the Sur Kelay village in the Nawa Valley in the Muqur District of Ghazni Province. In 1965, Taraki was elected general secretary of the PDPA in its founding congress. Thirteen years later, in 1978, he became the president and prime minister of Afghanistan after a coup that toppled the centuries-old Durrani rule. It is therefore necessary to describe his biography in detail, particularly because of incorrect but widely reported information about him.
Taraki had no formal education except for a few classes he attended in a school in Quetta in British India, where he learned English. It was customary for members of his family to go there for work. When he returned home, his knowledge of English brought him a job as clerk with the Pashtun Trading Company of Musa Jan (Tokhay), first in Kandahar and later in its Bombay branch. On arrival in Kabul in 1937 Taraki was appointed a member of the editorial board of a periodical of the Ministry of Finance, a post that helped him learn the art of writing. An influential patron, Mohammad Zaman Taraki, helped him get the job (A.M. Karzay, personal communication, March 1993). During World War II Abdul Majid Zabuli (Taraki), an influential businessman and president of the National Bank, appointed him director general in the State Monopoly Department. Zabuli also commissioned Taraki to supervise the construction of his house. But Taraki misappropriated construction material as well as money to build a house for himself; for this he was tried and dismissed (Zabuli, personal communication, Boston, 1975).
Afterward Abdur Raof Benawa, director general of the Pashto Academy, helped Taraki find a job in the Press Department, where in 1952 he became assistant director of the Bakhtar News Agency. This was during the democratic interlude, when a free press and political parties had emerged and the government had become impatient with them. Among the parties was the Awakened Youth (Weesh Zalmyan), founded in 1945 in Kabul by known nationalist contitutionalists—Qazi Bahram, Abdul Hadi Tokhay, Mohammad Rasul Pashtun, Fayz Mohammad Angar, Gul Pacha Ulfat, Qiamuddin Khadem, Ghulam Hassan Safay, Ghulam Mohayuddin Zurmulwal, Abur Raof Benawa, Nur Mohammad Taraki, and others. This was the major political party of the time (Zurmulwal, “Weesh Zalmyan,” 17).
Fearful of being arrested, Taraki and Benawa resigned from the party and followed the government line; for this service, in 1953 Premier Shah Mahmud appointed them press attachés to Washington and Delhi, respectively. Taraki remained at his new Washington post only a short time, however. Mohammad Na’eem, foreign minister in the new government of Premier Mohammad Daoud, recalled Taraki because of his poor knowledge of English (G. M. Zurmulwal, personal communication, 1993). Taraki declined to obey the order, and instead tried to claim political asylum in the United States. When this was denied him, he held a press conference in which he declared his opposition to Daoud.…Five weeks later, in Karachi, he disavowed his press conference and said he was returning to Afghanistan (A. Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 17). His return was made possible by the intercession of Benawa and Mohammad Akbar Parwani with Premier Daoud. The former was then a press attaché in the Afghan embassy in New Delhi (Karzay, personal communication, March 1993). In Kabul, Taraki was unemployed, and toward the end of the premiership of Mohammad Daoud, he made a trip to the Soviet Union, where the KGB is believed to have recruited him. In the early 1960s he applied to the American embassy in Kabul to work as a translator but failed to get the job. When asked why he was not there, Taraki replied, “I was not employed because I have eyes as green as those of Khruschev” (Haroun, “Daoud Khan,” 183). He then opened the Noor Translation House, apparently to make a living but, in fact, to organize like-minded Afghans into a political organization. His command of English did not enable him to do the difficult translation work. His clients were few, but the house served as an avenue of contact, especially with the Soviet agents (Karzay, personal communication, March 1993). Later Taraki gave up the translation work to devote his full time to organizational activities. On 1 January 1965 he was able to assemble twenty-eight young, educated Afghans in a secret meeting in his residence in Karta-e-Char in the city of Kabul. There they founded the PDPA.
On returning from the United States, Taraki read Marxist literature in both English and Persian, the latter the work of the writers of the Tudeh communist party of Iran. Before his departure to the United States, Taraki showed no sign of being a Marxist (Karzay, personal communication, March 1993). In 1957, though, he published his first novel, The Journey of Bang, an imitation in Pashto of the works of the Soviet novelist Maxim Gorky (Zurmulwal, personal communication, May 1993). Though a mediocre piece of literary work, The Journey of Bang is the first novel of its kind in Pashto that paints issues in rural society in terms of the Marxist notion of the exploitation of agrarian laborers by landlords, spiritual leaders, and government officials. This means that some time before 1957 Taraki had turned communist. A year or two earlier, when Taraki and I held a discusssion, he did not give me the impression of being a communist. Rather, he sounded like a discontented leftist. When in power, Taraki published two more novels similar to The Journey of Bang, but the book published under his new surname, Nazarzad, is a standard Marxist sociological and philosophical treatise that his comrades in the Soviet Union wrote for him.
Although Taraki took part with others in compiling the first English-Pashto Dictionary, which the Pashto Academy published in 1975, he was neither a historian nor a sociologist but an orthodox Marxist-Leninist. He was also unsophisticated, and friends used to make fun of him. The more he believed in communism, the more dogmatic he became. In 1968 I returned home from higher studies in England and told Taraki of my research thesis; he replied, “Any work based on the sources of imperialism we reject.” Yet this Taraki organized hundreds of educated men around socialism, and after the April coup he allayed the fears of his countrymen with the simple words of the country folk, lecturing group after group of their elders that those who had overthrown the rule of the Mohammadzay tyrants were their sons, determined to do them good by providing them “home, clothes, and food,” the epitome of Bang’s dreams. But the ephemeral allaying of fear was the only service of note he rendered his “revolution.” When he was rejected by the peasants for whose emancipation he claimed he was toiling, Taraki did not hesitate to ask the then unwilling Soviet Union to suppress them by the army. When in the game of power politics his own “loyal disciple,” Hafizullah Amin, asserted himself, Taraki did not hesitate to suppress him either. On 9 October 1979 Amin managed to suffocate Taraki after removing him from power on 14 September. His other opponents then blew up his grave with dynamite. All this prompted the Kremlin decision makers to order their army to invade Afghanistan. So ended the life of “the genius of the East” and “the soul and body of the party” who was without issue and often drunk, but affable with a good sence of humor. During his short rule Taraki, in imitation of the Mughal emperors of India, watched dancing girls and enjoyed a good life (Haroun, “Daoud Khan,” 186).