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.