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.