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Military and Administrative Measures for Consolidation of the Government
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10. Military and Administrative Measures for Consolidation of the Government

Since the Soviet policy was to consolidate the regime, it tried to suppress resistance. For this purpose, among other things, the Soviets tried to build a new army. The Soviets, distrusting the Khalqi-dominated army, began to weaken the hold of the Khalqis over it, first by wresting control of weapons stores from the Khalqi officers. By late March 1980 the Soviet advisers had made the weapons, including tanks, inoperable in all the units that they controlled. Next they collected antitank weapons, antiaircraft rockets, and other heavy weapons from the army. By January 1981 the army in and around Kabul had been disarmed, and the armored units numbers four and fifteen, the pride of the Khalqis, had been removed from their headquarters near Kabul and sent to Muqur and Herat. By March 1980 about three thousand soldiers were left in the city of Kabul. The capital city was thus almost denuded of the army from which the regime felt danger. Only units of the invading army were stationed in and around the city, patrolling it at night.

The regime now set for itself the task of building a new army. But its new policy of recruitment not only failed but also created social tensions of a new kind. The regime reemployed those former officers whom the Khalqi government had dismissed. It also set up short-term courses for training new officers, enrolling its own supporters even if they lacked the proper qualifications. Known to the public as “instant officers” (mansabdar ha-e-mashini), they made the army inefficient. But the basic problem was the shortage of soldiers. It was difficult to recruit new soldiers to compensate for the desertions. As early as April 1980 the regime began taking the recruitment problem in earnest. Unsuccessful in its initial efforts, the regime then called to military service university graduates who had either been exempt or whose recruitment had been postponed. The call-up was accompanied by concessions and bonuses. New enticements were also devised, among them granting university entrance to high school graduates who had passed only a nominal examination; Kabul University suffered academically as a result. Also contained in the new policy of recruitment was the call-up of university professors and government employees under twenty years of age. The age of enlistment was reduced from twenty-one years to twenty, but in practice younger men were also recruited.

The method of recruitment resembled more a system of kidnapping. Since the draftees were unwilling to join, the authorities dispatched army units to search houses for them. Units of the army roamed the cities for that purpose. Conscription also became a purpose of the military expeditions in the countryside. Draft dodgers (askar guraiz) were on the watch, and as soon as word passed to them of an impending expedition, they would head toward the upper parts of the valleys or the nearby hills. This became a source of public concern, the more so since those draft dodgers who were caught were sent directly to the battlefields. It was said that the regime was out to kill young men. The claim was not without foundation, since the regime had authorized its military units to fire on men fleeing conscription. In the summer of 1981 a number of young men, while fleeing from the press gangs, were shot dead in front of the public in the city of Kabul. Fear spread, and senior students in high schools and in the military school in Kabul boycotted classes in August 1981 for a time until the regime assured them that students were by law exempt from military service. Nevertheless, the program of recruitment and conscription failed to work, and the regime called reservists to duties.

Recall of the Reserve Army

The story of the Kabul regime is a story of a regime stubbornly holding on to power in the face of popular opposition. Worse still, it is a story of subordination to the Kremlin masters. Afghan history knows of no such regime in the past. Instead of drawing lessons from the failed policy of recruitment, the rulers embarked on a more unworkable policy of recruitment because their Soviet masters had undertaken such a measure in Russia following the October Revolution.

On 8 September 1981 the regime announced that those Afghans who had completed military service between 1968 and 1978 and who were under fifty years of age should present themselves to the centers of recruitment. Chief of Staff General Baba Jan stated that since the number of “rebels” had increased, it had become necessary to take this measure to make the “revolution” a success and to ensure the security of the country. He also stated that in this way “regional reaction” and “world imperialism” led by “American imperialism” would be defeated.

If the summons had been honored, the total number of the reserve army during that ten-year period would have run well over half a million men. The regime could not have provided supplies for such a number. The Afghan regular army numbered less than 100,000. The authorities knew that because theirs was an unpopular regime, and because the reservists had to support their families in this troubled time, only a fraction of this number would be available. To get that fraction, they were willing to make their regime still more unpopular. To lessen that unpopularity, though, the regime promised the reservists not only various bonuses but also 3,000 afghanis per month, an amount of money far larger than that ever before paid to Afghan soldiers.

Reaction to the recall was swift. On the day after the announcement reservists started leaving cities, and people in Kabul denounced the measures. If they now could not oppose the regime openly, they opposed it by spreading rumors calling for a boycott of the recall. Following the announcement, students either took to the streets or held rallies inside their besieged school compounds, shouting, “You have killed our brothers, and now you want to kill our fathers.” The demonstration was an act of courage because the regime had authorized security men to suppress all opposition, no matter its source.

Armed party activists entered schools, beating the striking students with rifle barrels and dragging them into waiting vans for imprisonment. About two hundred were imprisoned on that day. Students repeated their strikes the next day in the compounds of their besieged schools. Army personnel refrained from molesting the youngsters, but armed Parchamis fired at the legs of the demonstrating students. In the Jamhooriyat Hospital six students were treated for the loss of their legs. A few were killed. The city’s residents were outraged, and resistance groups distributed leaflets urging them to rise against the regime. The next day shopkeepers closed their shops in protest, but later security men forced them to reopen. The regime modified the recall by exempting university and school teachers as well as students. Subsequently, other groups whose work the regime considered essential—such as drivers of state-owned trucks and government officials—were also exempted from the recall.

The regime also released most of the imprisoned students on bail. Meanwhile, it sent delegations of women to students in schools to mollify them, but without success. A student of the Jamhooriyat high school told a delegation that the present situation would continue if the Russian army did not leave. When she was told that the army had come to suppress the “rebels,” her answer was brisk. She said that they were not rebels, that they were real patriots, that “we are also mujahideen, and that we are not afraid of death, and that the government is not a legal government.” Among the imprisoned female students was Miss Kobra, whose courage won for her the admiration of her fellow students when she surprised everyone by answering the interrogator with courageous words. She told him that her name was “War,” that her father’s name was “Pul-e-Charkhi,” and that her aim was “Death.” The full weight of such answers can be appreciated when it is borne in mind that the interrogators could inflict terrible harm without being accountable. A student from the Zarghoona high school, Miss Kobra was fifteen years of age. Palwasha Safi, an imprisoned fellow student, said that Miss Kobra was the most undaunted girl she had ever seen. Her only fear was that of being raped.

The impact of the recall was felt among those who were ordered to present themselves to the recruitment centers. They did not. They had to be summoned, but most of them had fled. Although security forces had blocked the two main routes leading from Kabul to Logar and Ningrahar, during the three days preceding the deadline of the summons, far more than 100,000 men fled the city, either joining the mujahideen or taking refuge in Pakistan. On Friday morning, the market day on the eve of the deadline, the bazaars of Kabul filled with men hurriedly shopping; by midday the bazaars were almost empty. After the reservists fled, Kabul no longer looked like the capital city of a country. I had never seen Kabul like this before. The city had lost nearly 20 percent of its population, and it continued to lose inhabitants fleeing conscription. Meanwhile, the mujahideen increased their activities inside the city, kidnapping party members at night. In certain areas of the city the regime’s men could not go out at night. But during the day the regime’s military units were ubiquitous, searching houses for draft dodgers. The city looked as though it had a dual system of government, one for the day and one for the night. By recalling the reserves, the regime created serious security problems that it had to resolve if it wished to be a government. Once again it used weapons. For over a week near the end of September, government forces furiously shelled the hilly districts from which the mujahideen were penetrating the city.

Contrary to the intention of the regime, the recall of the reserves strengthened the mujahideen. Not far from the city they set up centers to receive the fleeing reserves, who were taken in buses to Pakistan. Moreover, this measure, like many previous measures, discredited the regime. Rumors soon circulated that because of the regime’s unpopularity, the Soviets had decided to replace Karmal through a coup. To combat such rumors, the dispirited party activists gave out that the Soviets had decided to withdraw their forces, but before that could happen the government must have a strong army of its own. This was, however, not possible. Despite nearly desperate exertions, by mid-October the regime had recruited perhaps five thousand men. Only in Herat did many reservists present themselves to the recruitment centers. They did so to obtain weapons; when they had the weapons in hand, they defected, a practice that had become common.

Military Posts

Along with the efforts to build up the regular army, the regime tried to establish military posts and organize militias. The regime followed this policy after its efforts to build up the army failed. In this it was successful. Since the calling of tribal militias was a tradition, the governments in the past had made extensive use of it. Since the Afghans are good marksmen, the militias were equal, if not superior, to the regular army. But the success of the policy depended on the standing of the rulers. The Karmal regime could not count on the loyalty of the militia. It had to buy it for money.

The regime set up military posts first around provincial capitals and then in areas of military significance in the countryside. The military posts were manned by mercenaries whom the regime recruited from among the poor people. Each was paid 3,000 afghanis and additional bonuses. When these mercenaries searched houses, they also took away valuables. By the standard of the time and by comparison with the pay of government employees, the incomes of the mercenaries were high. Some were even given government posts. The militiamen were equipped with sufficient weapons, including long-range guns. They fought better than did the unreliable soldiers, who sympathized with the mujahideen. The militiamen were safe in their posts, which were surrounded by barbed wire and minefields. But the posts were defensive. The increase in their number meant the mining of more areas, which, along with mines planted around military garrisons or dropped from the air, long remained a deadly legacy of the Soviet invasion.

The mujahideen were unable to overcome the military posts by frontal assault. They had to infiltrate them to effect their surrender. In this way they would dismantle the posts, but the regime would replace them with new ones. Since the militiamen in the posts were unable to move about, the regime supplied them by either helicopters or armored units. The militia posts were also unable to influence the districts where they were stationed. Their presence in the midst of the hostile rural people was merely an odious symbol of the regime. When the mujahideen attacked that symbol, the militiamen played havoc with their guns on the villages. They were so accurate in shelling that they could hit a small target miles away. I will never forget the wailing of a father, Ali Mohammad, whose only son was hit fatally when he was going shopping from the village of Deva to the town of Alishang in Laghman. Farming and other activities—weddings, funerals, and the like—became hazardous. In the villages and towns around Mihtarlam, the provincial capital of Laghman, villagers could neither put on the lights at night nor go from village to village for fear of being fired at from the nearby posts. They begged the mujahideen to leave their villages or not to fire at the posts. A rift was thus created between the villagers and the mujahideen. This was a victory for the regime. A network of military posts throughout the country would have enabled the regime to pacify the land, but the government was, of course, unable to create such a system.

Relations with Frontier Tribes

Unable to overcome by force the frontier tribes bordering on Pakistan, the regime tried to penetrate them by negotiating with them on security matters and setting up militia posts in their territories, giving them weapons and money in return. Had the policy been successful, it would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for the Peshawar-based resistance groups to use these territories as conduits for mujahideen and weapons.

In the frontier province of Paktia the regime encountered a difficulty in connection with the military posts. Before September 1980 it had set up in the frontier areas a number of military posts garrisoned by men from different tribes but officered and supervised by the Khalqis of the same area. The Parchamis could not continue this system. Being opposed to the Parchami regime, the Khalqis acted independently, although the regime gave them money and weapons. Finding this intolerable, the regime stopped paying the posts and demanded that their weapons be returned. The militiamen, as well as the Khalqis, declined, arguing that by taking up arms against their own tribes, they had made them their enemies, and now they had to have the weapons to protect themselves.

The regime commissioned Fayz Mohammad, minister of tribal affairs, to implement the new policy with the frontier tribes of the province of Paktia. Well-versed in tribal customs, he was suited for the task. A Massed Pashtun from across the border in Pakistan and educated in Kabul and the Soviet Union, Mohammad had served the interests of the Paktia tribes when he was minister of interior in the government of President Daoud. Daoud had raised Fayz Mohammad to high state positions for his leading role in helping to overthrow the monarchy. Now, having achieved some success with the tribes of Sayyed Karam and Khost, Fayz Mohammad tried to negotiate a settlement with the tribe of Zadran, which had, since spring 1979, blocked the Sitta Kandow Pass between the garrisons of Khost and Gardez. Had the regime been successful in negotiating with this tribe, it might have achieved further successes in the region, but on one of the missions a tribal police force, the arobaki, killed Mohammad in the Mizzi territory after he had negotiated a settlement with elders of the Zadran tribe. The regime ignored the killing of its minister. However, it scattered leaflets over Paktia calling the act a disgrace, a direct contravention of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of behavior. But in the tribe’s view Fayz Mohammad had abandoned Pashtunwali when he sided with the invaders and distributed money. Also, Fayz Mohammad had neither been invited nor sought admittance or asylum (ninawatay) to the Mizzi section where he was killed. The code therefore did not apply.[1]

As among other tribes of Paktia, so among the Zadrans the arobaki, made up of young men of important families (kahole), is authorized to undo a settlement that it believes its elders have negotiated against the interests of the tribe. As it maintains other service groups—mullas, shepherds, and millers—the tribe maintains the arobaki to enforce the decisions of jirgas and a host of other decisions affecting the community. Supported by the community, the arobaki is a force against disorder. Among these groups, membership in the arobaki is prestigious, and its members sometimes rise to higher positions; for instance, Babrak Zadran became elder of the whole tribe and military general in the reign of King Mohammad Nadir.[2] In the present case, the “interest” of the tribe was to fight the invaders and their client regime, a decision reached by a tribal jirga after the Soviet invasion. It also had decided “to bury their differences” until the invaders had been pushed back. However, by offering money and weapons Fayz Mohammad had persuaded the heads of the tribe to maintain security in their region and to leave the Sitta Kandow Pass open. Had this agreement been implemented, the regime would probably have influenced the whole region. These terms were to be regarded as a model of negotiations with other tribes as well.

A similar deal had been made with a certain Haji Kandahari (Ahmadkhel), who had retained a large number of the militia of the Zazay tribe. Through him, the regime had distributed money among his tribe, as it had among the major Mangal tribe. By September 1981 the regime had made “peace” with the “tribes” of Paktia. It is not known which tribes these were. Presumably they were Zazays and Mangal, since they had provided the regime with a militia that had taken part in operations against the Wardak tribe. In addition, the regime was successful with these tribes in part because of their estrangement from the mawlawis of the Islamic Revolution, who had caused the execution of some of their kinsmen on the grounds that they had become renegade and had collaborated with the regime. The regime had paid them money in return for their remaining quiet, an arrangement that enabled the regime to send troops to other areas. The mujahideen and the people of Kabul grumbled about this point. But peace or no peace, as soon as military units of the Soviets or of the regime appeared in Paktia, the tribes turned against them. Haji Kandahari turned against the regime when such forces appeared in the region in November 1981. The Soviets and the regime undertook the expedition to control this area, through which passed the shortest route from the border to Kabul. This strategy clashed with the interests of the tribe—hence the estrangement of Haji Kandahari.

Toward the east of the Zazay tribal territory is the territory of the Khugianay tribe in the province of Ningrahar, divided among the three main divisions of Wazir, Kharbun, and Sherzad. The latter group (the most important division of the tribe) suffered from internal conflict between the two principal families, that of Malik Qays (who died at the age of 120 before 1978) and Mohammad Jan; this conflict had resulted in the killing of more than 150 persons from both sides. The Kabul regime tried to capitalize on this difference by resorting to the same tactics as it had with the Zadrans. It succeeded in persuading the Malik Qays faction to rule over the district as district governor (uluswal) in return for money and weapons, but the ploy did not work. The Malik Qays faction was interested in weapons and money with a view to opposing the regime later. Realizing this, the regime declined to meet the terms of the bargain. This move of the Malik Qays faction, led at the time by Aman Beg, was tactical: during a meeting in Peshawar, the two rival factions had already agreed to leave their enmity aside and fight the invaders. The opposition of Malik Mohammad Jan to the communists was a known fact. The Khalqi regime had imprisoned some of his sons and nephews who were serving the government as military officers and had bombed his locality; he then took refuge in the mountains and threatened retaliation unless the prisoners were released and compensation (nagha) paid for the damage wrought by the bombing. Unwilling to provoke the Khugianays further, Hafizullah Amin acquiesced to his demands. He also paid 50,000 afghanis as a compensation for Mohammad Jan’s dog, which had been killed in the bombing—an exorbitant sum for a dog, especially since the government’s hands were stained with the blood of thousands of human beings.

The relationship of the regime with the Khugianays is further explained by a story concerning Malik Khair Mohammad and others, who had conspired in the killing of seventy-two KhAD personnel from the provincial capital of Jalalabad. Apparently the KhAD personnel had been invited for the purpose of winning over the recalcitrant tribe, but when they arrived in the Khugianay territory, the Khugianays killed them. Only their chief managed to escape alive. The date is not known, but it falls within the scope of this study. In 1985 certain men posing as representatives of the Khugianay tribe attended the jirgas that the regime held in Kabul, but they carried no influence with the tribe and could not even live with their own tribesmen. They lived in the city of Jalalabad, as did many others like them. The Khugianays were also under the influence of Afghan Millat and of the Islamic Hizb, led by Mawlawi Mohammad Yunus Khalis, himself a Khugianay.

The significance of the Shinwar tribe can be understood from the fact that one of its four main divisions, Ali Sher Khan Khel, lives across the border in Pakistan. For the Shinwar tribesmen the border is not a border, because many routes pass through their territory to Pakistan. Among the Shinwars almost the whole Sangokhel (also Sunkhel) section had turned Khalqi. The man responsible for this conversion was Hafizullah Amin, who, as principal of the boarding schools of Teachers’ Training and Ibn-e-Sena in Kabul, had influenced the students who had come from that valley. Throughout the district (uluswali) of Shinwar, Nazyan alone had a high school, which the government had opened in the 1950s to influence the major Afriday tribe beyond the border in Pakistan. The Nazyan Valley stretches over to the Afriday land in Pakistan. During the Khalqi period, the educated elements of Nazyan, whether in the military or civilian departments, were given high government positions. Any educated and skilled person from among the inhabitants of Nazyan could benefit from the regime. Most inhabitants of the infertile valley of Nazyan became well off. They pretended to be more communist than the communists themselves. This their tribesmen could not tolerate.

After the invasion the tribe held consultations. The mujahideen also participated, but they were obliged to act within the tribal code. The gathering passed a resolution condemning the Sangokhel section to death. Led by the noncommunist Sangokhel, the Shinwar tribesmen massacred the communists, looted their property, and burned their houses. Although the mob could not massacre all, no communist remained in Nazyan. A considerable number fled to Jalalabad and informed Shamladar, the Khalqi governor, of the incident. The governor—who was from Nazyan and who was at one time a teacher of the school and responsible for the spread of communism there—retaliated. For days many villages in Shinwar were bombed and many people killed. The Nazyan communists became refugees in their own land. Those among them who were fit for duty were enlisted in the militia to maintain the security of Jalalabad. Others settled in Ghani Khel or were employed in the Ningrahar Valley project. From time to time some of them acted as if they were the representatives of the tribe, giving proregime interviews, especially on television.

Among the major Mohmand tribe the institution of eldership (khani) has developed to a high degree, partly because of the issue of Pashtunistan, which brought the elders subsidies, and also because of the large tracts of land certain families possessed. The growing of opium poppies there had also enriched some of the tribespeople. This is not to suggest that all in the tribe were well off or that the tribe had retained its traditional significance. The bulk of the tribespeople lying on both sides of the Durand Line were poor. In the period under discussion, three groups of elders were important among the Mohmands: the khans of Ghoshta, the khans of Atamarkhel, and the descendants of the late Haji Mohammad Hassan Khan of Kama. The khans of Girdab and of Lalpura were no longer significant. To block the routes that pass through Mohmand to Peshawar, military units of the invading army as well as of the Kabul regime descended on their territory and, after some setbacks, established military posts there. The khans crossed the border and, living either with their kin in the border area or in Peshawar itself, took up the cause of resistance. Among them, particularly among the descendants of Haji Hassan Khan, many are educated, and Kama had been a town with a number of public libraries confiscated by the Khalqis. One khan, Pir Dost Atamarkhel, finding life in Peshawar difficult because of the association of his rival peers (turboors) with the resistance groups, went over to the side of the regime and in 1985 attended the jirgas in Kabul. But he could not organize either a militia or live with his kinsmen in Afghanistan. In the past Afghan rulers exploited the traditional rivalry (turboori) that existed (and still exists) among elders of the Pashtun tribes to their advantage. Even the British exploited this situation with some success after they invaded Afghanistan twice in the last century. But the Kabul regime could not make headway among the Mohmand or other tribes, although Karmal gave one of his daughters in marriage to an Afriday tribesman apparently for that purpose.

Administrative Measures

In the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, no clear line divided the government and the PDPA. Both had elaborate structures, and the party was supreme. Officially this was the only legal party; hence, there was no room for opposition to work for change without bloodshed. Like any other Leninist party, the PDPA was hierarchical in structure, organized on the principle of “democratic centralism,” a contradictory expression for a system that was, in practice, centralist but not democratic. Local decisions were made (often the party merely implemented instructions it received from Moscow) in the party politburo, which was composed of eleven leading members and headed by the general secretary, who, in the period under discussion, was Babrak Karmal. This office, the highest in the party, in theory was elective. In fact, it was not.

As noted, Babrak Karmal was raised to this position not by members of the politburo, as he should have been, but by the Kremlin rulers. Also, the term of the office of the general secretary was not fixed or limited, depending instead on the goodwill of the Kremlin rulers. Likewise, the term of membership in the politburo and the central committee was not fixed. Members could stay on so long as they enjoyed the support of the authorities. Membership was then the result more of partisanship than of qualification. The decisions of the politburo, which acted as the governing body of the party, were discussed in the central committee, which acted as parliament of the party. A much fuller assembly of the central committee, the plenum, met from time to time to discuss issues of special significance. The decisions reached in these assemblies were channeled to the lower cells of the party. The reverse was rarely the case. The supremacy of the PDPA over the government, state, and society was laid down by the constitution, which called it “the leading and guiding force of society and the state.” If these words were meant seriously, then the party was assigned an impossible task.

Until June 1981, Babrak Karmal was the general secretary of the party, president of the Revolutionary Council, president of the Council of Ministers, and commander-in-chief of the army, thus officially wielding the highest party and government positions. He appeared to be all-powerful, but in fact he was a yes man. In June 1981 the sixth plenum of the party relieved him of the post of prime minister, conferring it on Sultan Ali Kishtmand, a member of the politburo. Seen in the context of the rivalry between the two factions, Kishtmand’s promotion also strengthened Karmal’s position, but it created problems for the regime. Although he had a faction of his own, Kishtmand was pro-Karmal, and this was considered more important in view of the intraparty squabble, which had made it difficult for Karmal to run the administration. Before this point is discussed, it is necessary to say why Kishtmand was promoted to the post and to discuss its implications.

Kishtmand, one of Moscow’s yes men, had established a special relationship with Soviet advisers. Subsequently, two of his daughters married Russians in Moscow. Kishtmand was a graduate of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Kabul and experienced in administrative and planning affairs. He was known to be a Hazara, the third largest ethnic group. As a member of a minority group, he was sympathetic to minorities as well as to Sitam-e-Milli, whose founder, Tahir Badakhshi, was his brother-in-law.

More important, Kishtmand’s promotion reflected a new policy. The Soviet authorities and party leaders were worried about the success of the mujahideen and the failure of their own pacification programs. In particular, politburo members worried about their future, especially if they lost the shield of the Soviet army. They then embarked on a new policy, the essence of which was to embroil ethnic groups among themselves: the war of the people against the PDPA and the invaders would be transformed into a war of the people against the people. The shift was intended to weaken the basis of the resistance, that is, national solidarity, and prepare the ground for socialism. The Soviet ambassador Ahmad Fikrat J. Tabeyev reportedly initiated the policy. Kishtmand was to work with politburo comrades, each of whom was assigned a task in making the policy work. In Samara-e-Dosti (Fruit of Friendship), a booklet issued for the benefit of party comrades, Kishtmand had dwelt on the issue. He had stated how the non-Pashtun ethnic minorities could be made oversensitive to each other and how, at the same time, they could be persuaded to form an anti-Pashtun front. Politburo members and others were made responsible for the affairs of ethnic groups. Each was also to supervise contingents of militias of the ethnic group assigned to him. To implement the policy, they earmarked billions of afghanis free from state audit. In the name of “international socialism,” Pashtun and non-Pashtun members of politburo alike undertook to make the policy a success. It was to be implemented through the new Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Nationalities, which replaced the former Ministry of Frontiers.[3] These persons deafened the Afghans by preaching that they toiled for the welfare of toilers, but in actuality, and on instruction from the Soviets, they devised ways and means to embroil the toilers in wars of hatred among themselves so that they themselves could stay in power. Having already sacrificed national sovereignty, they now showed that they were more loyal to socialism than to their own people or the land of their birth.

Kishtmand was known for his opposition to the Khalqis, who had tortured him while he was imprisoned in 1978. His family also shared Kishtmand’s views, and one of his brothers, Asadullah Kishtmand, a newspaper editor, let a remark be published about Taraki that likened him to Dracula. The paper also called the Pashtuns “the uncultured majority” (aksaryat-e-bayfarhang). Although Asadullah Kishtmand was demoted because of these remarks, the Khalqis and Pashtuns were not satisfied. The remark was, of course, not valid, since every group of people has a culture, since “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by men as a member of society.”[4] As the creators of Pashtunwali, their complex social code, the Pashtuns are conspicuous among their ethnic neighbors in having a distinctive culture. But as a pretext for an anti-Amin campaign, and under the shadow of Soviet might, the Kishtmands and others had started an anti-Pashtun campaign. They frequently called Amin and his cohort “fascists.” The promotion of Kishtmand was also important because it would placate the Shi’ite Hazaras and improve relations with the Khomeini government of Iran. It was hoped that both would be pleased to see an Afghan Shi’a as prime minister of the country for the first time in its history. But Kishtmand had liabilities, and these outweighed his assets.

Although it was not generally known, Kishtmand was not a full-fledged Hazara, although for political reasons he had associated himself with them. He was in fact a Gadee, a mixture of the Hazaras and other low-ranking people of unknown origin; he was born in the Qala-e-Sultan village close to Unchi-e-Bagbanan in the Chardihi basin. Whether his ancestors lived in the Hazarajat proper is unknown, but the Gadees themselves, a small group, lived in the villages of Chardi. Their neighbors held the Gadees in low esteem. The Gadees were Isma’ili Shi’as, or the Seveners, as distinct from the main group of the Shi’as, or the Twelvers, who regarded the former as Ghalis or Ghalatis, that is, those who either “exaggerate” in the matter of religion or are on the “wrong” pathway. At no time had the Gadees played a role in national politics. The Isma’ilis of the northeastern part of the country in Badakhshan, as well as in Kahmard and Saighan, were also a minority living in areas surrounded by their Sunni neighbors. Under these circumstances, it was unlikely that Kishtmand could play an important role.

Kishtmand’s promotion to the office of prime minister provoked the conservative, traditionalist Sunni Muslims: contrary to traditional and religious practices, an Isma’ili Gadee had become prime minister. In addition, Kishtmand and others were known to be atheists and communists, although they behaved as if they were Muslims. During the constitutional monarchy, when Kishtmand campaigned for a seat in parliament, he omitted the word “Ali” from his name in the election brochures. He did so because “Ali” represented Shi’ism, and he was concerned that, if he were so identified, the Sunnis of the Chardihi constituency would not elect him; and, indeed, he was not elected. While he was prime minister, even his own Gadees boycotted him.

Kishtmand’s promotion alarmed educated Afghans for a different reason. They were alarmed because of the Soviet design on northern Afghanistan, a relatively underpopulated region but potentially rich both agriculturally and industrially. Strategically it is also significant, because it is separated from the rest of the country by the Hindu Kush and also because it is close to Central Asia. The alarm was not unfounded. In 1987 the scheme for northern and southern Afghanistan was implemented: under this plan a deputy prime minister, along with sixteen deputy ministers for the nine provinces in northern Afghanistan, began to work in Mazar, the capital city of the province of Balkh.[5] Before that, Kabul had allowed the provincial governments as well as businessmen of the area to deal with the Soviet Central Asian Republics directly, a unique concession. Among the educated minority groups of this region, the sectarian tendency was strong; for instance, the Sitamis come from this area.

The Afghans feared that an increase in the number of central Asians in Kabul, the stress of the ethnic minority issue, and the promotion of Kishtmand meant the revival of Russia’s design on northern Afghanistan. They feared that through the importation of central Asians and the cooperation of Parchamis and Afghan sectarians, the Soviet Union intended to carve out a state in northern Afghanistan with a view to making it part of its empire. They also feared that with the presence of such surrogates the Soviets now intended to implement their design, as they had invaded the country when the Parcham faction provided them a pretext. Thus, the promotion of Kishtmand made the regime more unpopular, despite the view that the Soviet model of nationalities, even if applied, would not work in Afghanistan since the Afghans were socially and linguistically more integrated than were the inhabitants of the neighboring lands. Besides, the Soviet nationalities of the Central Asian Republics had been more oppressed than their brethren in Afghanistan. The émigrés from these republics had spread stories of Soviet atrocities in northern Afghanistan. This was why the central Asians who worked in Afghanistan sympathized with the mujahideen. For this reason, the Soviets recalled the approximately 32,000 troops they had sent from the Central Asian Republics into Afghanistan.[6] Still, a scheme of such magnitude was bound to have some ugly consequences.

Karmal’s difficulty with the Khalqi-dominated army has already been described. His position in the civil administration was also unenviable. The source of the troubles was the party rift, which had been accentuated by the purges of the rival faction each time the other faction was dominant. Following the invasion, it was the turn of the Parchamis. The regime tried to disarm the Khalqis while it armed its own Parchamis. This made the Khalqis vulnerable to terroristic attacks by mujahideen. Also, the Khalqis were dismissed from party and government positions or demoted. Since there is no civil service system in Afghanistan, each time a new regime comes to power new officials are employed in place of the old ones. After the communist coup, the overhaul became more general than at any time before. Party members had to have government positions even if it was at the expense of expertise. This attitude was further reinforced by the view that since the state was an instrument in the hands of the ruling class, the vanguard of the workers—that is, party members—must steer it to their own benefit: hence the justification of the view that the state should be in the hands of party members. The state was then considered sacrosanct, a monopoly of the communists. In practice this attitude meant the holding of official positions by unqualified party members.

After its rise to power, the regime tried to promote Parchamis to government positions and to remove the Khalqi officials from their posts. This proved difficult because qualified personnel were in short supply and because the regime needed unity in the party. Amin’s associates were dismissed following the invasion. But the regime needed to promote its own trusted Parchamis to high positions. In September 1980 the regime ordered the removal of about eighty government officials, among them a number of departmental chiefs, judges, and the mayor of Kabul; almost all were Khalqis. But the regime could not make such changes on a large scale. The Khalqis complained to the Soviet ambassador that the move was intended to undermine the unity of the party. They carried on their duties as usual, turning away the new officials who had come to occupy their posts. On instruction from the ambassador, the regime acquiesced. However, the regime removed the Khalqi officials one by one. But the Khalqis had to have a haven in this game of survival.

Since the invasion the Ministry of Internal Affairs, headed by Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoy, had become a haven for those Khalqi officials whom the regime had dismissed from other departments. The ministry assumed a feature distinct from all other ministries. Its top civil officials, as well as police officers and ordinary police, were almost all Khalqis, and almost all were from Paktia, the stronghold of the Khalqis. In addition, they were almost all Pashtuns and opposed to the Parchamis. The ministry functioned as a counterweight to KhAD, in which the Dari-speaking elements, mainly from the city of Kabul and Parwan, outnumbered all others. The two ministries were more rivals than cohesive organs of the regime.

In 1981 I observed that the Khalqi officials in the Ministry of Interior criticized Karmal and the Parchamis to the point of diatribe, even in the presence of strangers. Since KhAD was ruthless to the opponents of the regime, the Khalqis’ attitude was amazing. But they felt safe since Gulabzoy, until then, had opposed KhAD setting up its committees in that ministry, whereas in all other government departments it had set up a network of committees. In addition, the ministry had a strong police force (Sarindoy) of its own, armed with tanks, helicopters, and other sophisticated weapons, which enabled it to take part in military operations. Finally, the ministry was financed by Moscow. All this meant that it had such an independent status that even Karmal could not influence it. It was more like a state within a state. Gulabzoy reportedly called it “the ministry of Gulabzoy.” Since the Khalqis dominated the army and Sarindoy, and since the Khalqis, although divided, were more numerous than the Parchamis, Gulabzoy considered himself equal to Karmal.

A Zadran Pashtun from Paktia, Gulabzoy was by profession a tank commander. Before the communist coup he was a noncommissioned officer. His part in the communist coup was inconspicuous, since at a critical moment he had failed to perform his duty. He had been recruited to the party by Hafizullah Amin, of whom he was an associate until the latter’s relation with Taraki became strained. He then turned against Amin and became one of the Gang of Four described earlier; together with Asadullah Sarwari and Aslam Watanjar, he played a part in the downfall of Amin as part of the invading forces: hence his endearment to the Soviets, and hence also his rivalry with Karmal. Confident that the latter could not harm him, Gulabzoy acted independently, building a stronghold for himself as Karmal had built a stronghold in KhAD. Being a daring person, Gulabzoy patrolled the city at night, often without bodyguards. No other leader of either the Parchami or the Khalqi factions had the courage to do so.

Gulabzoy said that since Moscow had appointed both himself and Karmal to their posts, Karmal could not remove him. Gulabzoy thus acted without reference to Karmal, especially after Sarwari had been banished to Mongolia as ambassador. Gulabzoy looked on himself as his successor, organizing the human resources at his disposal. He proved to be skillful in this job. Since the Khalqis had to struggle against so many odds, this organizational task was massive. Gulabzoy made a significant contribution to his faction since KhAD had the power and the means to suppress the Khalqis much as the Khalqis had suppressed the Parchamis in 1978. In the tradition of the Afghans, he was ambitious, hoping to fill the vacuum at the top when Karmal had failed to do so. But such an outcome was unlikely. Barely literate, Gulabzoy had no knowledge of ideology. Often drunk, like General Abdul Qadir, Gulabzoy was impolitic, more at home using muscle than brain. Also, within his own Khalqi faction the Amin group thought little of him, looking instead on Shah Wali and Abdul Karim Meesaq as its leaders.


1. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 263. [BACK]

2. Ibid., 93, 98, 146, 151, 159. [BACK]

3. For details, see Sharq, Memoirs, 211-19. To make sure that the scheme was real, on 3 March 1993 I held a telephone conversation with the author, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sharq, who now lives in Laguna Hills, California. He stuck to the words in his book on the subject and, further, disclosed for the first time the names of those “who, to defeat the mujahideen, split Afghanistan, and consolidate the Soviet order in Afghanistan, had undertaken to implement the scheme.” He named the following:

Najibullah and Sulaiman Laweq, for the Pashtun “nationality”;
Babrak Karmal, Najmuddin Kawyani, and Farid Mazdak, for the Tajik ``nationality'';
Sultan Ali Kishtmand and Nabi Zadah, for the Hazara ``nationality'';
Sayyed Ikram Paigeer and Abdur Rashid Dostum, for the Uzbek and Turkomen ``nationality'';
Sattar Purduli, for the Baluch “nationality.”

Under the Ministry of Tribes, Ministry of Nationalities, and later under a separate administration for northern Afghanistan, the Central Council for the Hazara Nationality, and the Central Council for Nomads, these men spent billions of afghanis free of state audit “to embroil the Pashtuns with the Tajiks, and the Uzbeks and the Hazaras with the Pashtuns.” They had a similar program for embroiling the Sunnis with the Shi’as. Sharq, Memoirs, 212. [BACK]

4. E. B. Taylor, quoted in Schusky and Culbert, Understanding Culture, 35. [BACK]

5. Sharq, Memoirs, 233. This reference is in the errata to the volume. [BACK]

6. Seeing no foreign soldiers fighting them but only the Afghans defending their land, the Central Asian soldiers of the Soviet Union not only did not war with the mujahideen but joined them. A group that had done so told them, “Since you fight well, go on fighting. We are with you. You should be grateful that you are free. Our fathers were also free. The Russians who invaded your land, had also invaded our fatherland. If you didn’t fight, your fatherland would become like our fatherland, and you would become as slaves as we have become. The Russians are in great difficulty; don’t shun resisting them” (Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 709-12). [BACK]

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