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The Afghans Against the Invaders and the Client Government
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2. The Afghans Against the Invaders and the Client Government

4. Islamic Resistance Organizations

The resistance to the Soviet invasion was nationwide. But in contrast with past resistance movements, which were headed by traditional leaders, in the present resistance leaders emerged from among the modern, educated members of Afghan society. They had been organized in political parties set up in the 1960s, a by-product of the transition from a traditional to a modern society. The process of modernization on a major scale started in 1956, when Premier Daoud launched the first five-year economic development plan. Thereafter, a state-controlled mixed economy based on five-year plans became the model for development. Among other things, modernization policy led to the expansion of education and an increase in the number of students. Their total number rose from 667,500 in 1970 to 888,800 in 1976. Among them were students of both sexes in institutions of higher education; these students numbered 7,400 in 1970 and 15,000 in 1976. In 1970 there were 910 teachers of higher education and 18,138 teachers in primary and high schools.[1] There were similar numbers of military students and students enrolled abroad. By 1975 there were 115,125 Afghans with at least twelve years of formal education.[2]

In the constitutional decade, when secularization was a main current, the morphology of Afghan politics began to change. A feature of this change was the emergence of educated Afghans in the forefront of politics. No longer were traditional leaders the only actors on the political stage. Political parties composed of the intelligentsia were set up. Since the parties were not legal, their leaders employed the free press as a vehicle for their views and chose students to be their activists. The 1960s was a decade of student unrest throughout the free world. In Kabul, too, higher educational institutes—particularly Kabul University—became politicized. In the 1960s it was closed for weeks, even months, because of such activities. Following the overthrow of the monarchy and during the Khalqi rule, the parties inside the country were suppressed. Some carried on activities from Pakistan. The Soviet invasion prompted the parties to become active once again. New resistance groups also mushroomed. Following the exodus in 1980 of Afghans to Pakistan, eighty-four small and large resistance groups were set up in Peshawar. Inside Afghanistan about twenty groups and regional unions were active by July 1981.[3] They fell within a spectrum including Islamic, nationalist, and leftist tendencies. Some groups were regional. Only the groups that opposed the invasion and had platforms for ruling the country are described here.

Islamic Radicalism

The Islamic groups constituted the backbone of the resistance movement. Among them, some were traditional and others novel in composition, ideology, or platform. The novel groups were fundamentalist and revolutionary. They aimed not only to oppose the invasion but also to reorganize the state and society. They intended to do so on the basis of Islamic ideology, which they had acquired from the radical thinkers of the modern Islamic world. That was why their story did not end with the repulsion of the invasion.

In Afghanistan as elsewhere in the Islamic world, Islamic fundamentalism (or Islamism or Islamic radicalism)[4] is the story of response to a society in transition from the traditional to the modern that sets the state on the road to secularization. The overriding concern of the Afghan Islamists was to defend Islam from the encroachment of atheism, which permeated the educated population after the country became dependent on the Soviet Union for schemes of modernization in the late 1950s. As a by-product of this dependence, there emerged a group of leftists influenced by the literature of the Tudeh Party of Iran, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the Communist Party of China. Supporting the Soviet-assisted schemes of modernization, the pro-Moscow leftists did not oppose the government as strongly as leftists usually do. They chose feudalism, capitalism, imperialism, and to some extent Islam as their targets to prepare the atmosphere for intellectual change.

To undermine Islam, the leftists questioned the existence of God. Because of these efforts to spread atheism, some Afghans saw official atheism as the leftists’ goal. Leftist students at the Kabul educational centers became active in this endeavor, which also touched provincial high schools. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar notes that, while a student in his hometown in the province of Qunduz, he felt the need to set up an Islamic organization to combat the atheists.[5] Students and professors of Kabul University started the Islamic movement in the 1960s and disseminated the views of Islamist thinkers through translations of their works. Since the Islamic groups were at the bottom of the resistance movement, and since the movement has deeply affected Afghan politics, it is necessary to describe first the views of the modern Islamic thinkers and then, in this and the following chapter, the Afghan resistance groups in general and their programs of resisting the invasion.

Features of Islamic Radicalism

The Islamic movement is composed of the views of three thinkers of Muslim India, Indo-Pakistan, and Egypt. They are Abul Hassan ’Ali Nadawi, Abul A’la Mawdudi (1903-79), and Sayyed Qutb (c. 1906-66), who wrote their main works in the mid-twentieth century. Based on the Quran, their views encompass aspects of society and the state. They have made the seizure of state power the main goal. The movement is political, and the Islamists are, like other revolutionaries, concerned with power. In their view, God is the source of sovereignty, and his commands are the laws of Islam. Secular concepts such as nationalism, liberalism, democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism, and the like are rejected. As Sayyed Qutb holds, Islam “has chosen its own unique and distinctive way and presented to humanity a complete cure for all its ills.” Their prescriptions for the ills of humanity are to be administered by professional revolutionaries without recourse to the masses of the people and with no room for accommodation with adversaries.[6]

The Islamists stress the need to introduce reform along Islamic fundamentalist lines. This is because, according to the thinkers, religious ignorance (jahiliyya) has prevailed in the world, as it had before the rise of Islam.[7] Like revolutionaries, the Islamists consider the state to be an instrument of reform. The state, Mawdudi has propounded, is universal to the extent that its “sphere of activity is coextensive with the whole of human life.” Also, the state is ideological: that is, its aim is to establish the ideology based on the fundamentals of Islam, which are the Quran and the Sunna (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad). In Mawdudi’s writings, this is called the Islamic state, whereas in Sayyed Qutb’s writings it is termed “an Islamic order.” Both are coextensive with the activities of humanity. In Sayyed Qutb’s view, “Religion in the Islamic understanding is synonymous with the term nizam [order] as found in modern usage, with the complete meaning of a creed in the heart, ethics in behavior, and law in society.”[8]

In Mawdudi’s view, the state “should be run only by those who believe in the ideology [of Islam] on which it is based and in the Divine Law which it is assigned to administer.” Mere belief in the ideology of Islam is not enough for a Muslim to run the state. “The administrators of the Islamic State,” Mawdudi avers, “must be those whose whole life is devoted to the observance and enforcement of this law, who not only agree with its reformatory program and fully believe in it but thoroughly comprehend its spirit and are acquainted with its details.” He further states that “whoever accepts this program, no matter to what race, nation or country he may belong, can join the community that runs the Islamic State. But those who do not accept it are not entitled to have any hand in shaping the fundamental policy of the State.”[9] The non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state are thus excluded from running the Islamic state but are entitled to all the rights and benefits of second-class citizens.

The Islamic state is yet more exclusive, for women, too, would be prohibited from administering it. In Mawdudi’s view, nature has made women unfit to play an active role in society, outside the home where they belong.[10] He holds this view although Muslim women, like Muslim men, are counted as first-class citizens on whose will alone the Islamic state is to be based. Among men, too, by definition only a small group of pious professionals thoroughly versed in Islamic law and the fundamentals of Islam are entitled to run the state. Thus, the Islamic state, which is to be universal in function, becomes exclusive in composition. Mawdudi calls this state a theo-democracy. He calls it so not because it offers political pluralism and equality of all citizens before the law, irrespective of religious or political beliefs; indeed, he holds these principles to be contrary to the essence of Islam. He calls the Islamic state theo-democratic because, in his view, “the entire Muslim population runs the state in accordance with the Book of God and the practice of His Prophet.” In his view a theo-democracy is “a divine democratic government, because under it the Muslims have been given a limited popular sovereignty under the suzerainty of God.”[11]

This limited sovereignty entitles the Muslims to constitute the government and also to depose it when it is found to be working contrary to Shari’a (Islamic law). In Mawdudi’s view, “Every Muslim who is capable and qualified to give a sound opinion on matters of law is entitled to interpret the law of God when such interpretation becomes necessary.” This sovereignty is further reinforced by the principle that “all questions about which no explicit injunction is to be found in the Shari’a are settled by the principle of consensus among the Muslims.”[12] But in practical life only professionals are able to express sound judgment on matters of law. Since the majority cannot become professionals, the field becomes restricted to a small portion of society. Also, when it comes to the question of the head of the state, the limited sovereignty is limited still further, since only a male Muslim is considered qualified for the post of amir, who is to be assisted by a consultative council. Although Mawdudi allows women the right to vote, he demarcates a permanent division of labor in accord with the Islamic law, in which women are assigned indoor duties.[13] On this point Sayyed Qutb is more explicit, stating that a woman fulfills her function by being a wife and mother, while the function of a man is to be the authority, the breadwinner, and the active member in public life.[14] Thus, the Islamic state becomes a prerogative of professional Muslim men only.

On the question of state power, the Islamists are more serious than the traditional reformist religious thinkers were. This is one of the points of their departure from the reformist thinkers of the past. Since the state has now become more important, its seizure has been made a goal. Toward this end jehad, which traditionally is religious in the sense that it is extreme exertion of self and property in the cause of God, is looked on as a “continuation of God’s politics by other means” not only against infidels but also against tyrannical rulers when the tenets and rules of Islam are neglected or violated. In this sense, jehad is a form of permanent political struggle designed, as Qutb argues, to disarm the enemy so that Islam is allowed to apply its Shari’a unhindered by the oppressive power of idolatrous tyrannies.[15]

Both Mawdudi and Qutb place jehad at the forefront of religious obligations, arguing that it is a duty incumbent on all Muslim men, particularly when their religion is under attack by the spread of jahiliyya. Mawdudi rejects the view that jehad is either a “holy war” waged by religious zealots in order to convert infidels by force of arms or an instrument of self-defense. There is a connection between the use of force and the nature of Islam as a dynamic movement, or “a revolutionary ideology” as Mawdudi calls it. The missionary side of Islam is relegated to this ideology. Because it is “a revolutionary ideology,” Islam has adherents who are an “international revolutionary party” that has as its main aim a worldwide revolution that transcends boundaries and national territories. The seizure of political power is thus the consummation of jehad and its raison d’être.[16]

The process by which political power is acquired is central to the Islamists, as it is to all revolutionaries. Since to the Islamists Islam is a “revolutionary ideology” and its adherents “revolutionaries,” it is logical to assume that their immediate goal is to seize the state. They have discarded gradualist and reformist approaches, including the holding of elections and the rest of the democratic procedures for attaining state power. They have done so not only because these approaches are the contribution of the Western world, for which Islam has no need, but also because in Sayyed Qutb’s view the common people are unreliable, easily swayed by demagogues, particularly in the age of mass media. In his view the seizure of power is the work of the “chosen elite,” the vanguard of professional revolutionaries who dedicate their life to one purpose. Well-disciplined, highly organized, and imbued with the spirit of a new era in the long march of Islam, they cannot fail to win.[17]

To ensure victory for the vanguards, Sayyed Qutb has left them some guidelines in their “long march” toward an Islamic state. In their daily confrontations with the state, they must dissociate themselves from it. Except for a studied and purposeful interaction, neither penetration of the existing political establishment nor cooperation and accommodation with the state are to be allowed. In his own words, “the summoners to God must be distinct and a community unto themselves.” As Youssef M. Choueiri points out, this attitude results in a society of the believers, represented by God’s select group, that is in a perpetual conflict with the unbelievers, whose earthly concern spans both society and the state.[18] The more important point of Sayyed Qutb’s views on the subject of direct struggle of the vanguards with the state has been summed up as follows: “First a small group of people accept the creed until it is firmly rooted in the hearts of its members; then this group begins to organize its life on the basis of this creed and encounters persecution from the surrounding jahili [ignorant] society, then it splits off from the surrounding jahili society and confronts it in an open struggle. Then it succeeds completely, or partially, or is defeated, as God wills.”[19] As a devout Muslim, Sayyed Qutb, with the cooperation of a network of militant underground cells, intended to offer a model to his followers by trying to overthrow the socialistic government of President Jamal Abdul Nasser by a swift armed action. But before he was able to do so, he was seized and condemned to death in August 1966. His teachings and methods, however, soon invigorated Islamists throughout the Muslim world, encouraging them to set up political organizations for the same purpose.

The Islamic Movement in Afghanistan

The story of the emergence of the Islamic movement in Afghanistan, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, is a story of reaction to modernization schemes that led to an increase in state activities from a minimum, as in traditional society, to a maximum in the period of transition to a modern society. As such, the movement is recent, a by-product of the modernization schemes that began in the late 1950s. It is also more dynamic since it was at the same time a response to the rise of communism associated with the modernization schemes financed mainly by the Soviet Union. In the process of modernization, people were drawn into greater participation in the modern sector through schools, courts, economic activity, communications, the army, and urban immigration. As Professor M. E. Yapp explains in the context of the Muslim societies in general, in Afghanistan this process also led to the politicization of religion when the state took over the functions formerly the domain of the religious classes and other institutions.[20]

In the process of modernization, the Afghan middle class, composed of the educated elements, increased in numbers from a few hundred to nearly a hundred thousand.[21] These educated persons were mainly from rural areas. The state-run free educational system had made it possible for industrious students of the rural areas to have access to institutions of higher education in Kabul, where they had been concentrated. The founding members of the Islamic movement were from rural areas associated with modern educational institutes, not traditional madrases. They were neither part of the political ruling circles nor dependent on the state, a point that may account for their militancy.

Professor Ghulam Mohammad Niazi and others were the founders of the Islamic movement in Afghanistan.[22] Hekmatyar, though, states that the founders were twelve university students, including himself.[23] He also states that the founding students invited the professors to join the movement, but most declined the invitation. He speaks specifically of the invitation to Professor Niazi, but he adds that all along, even from his prison cell, Niazi replied that while he supported the movement, he did not wish to take part in it as an official member.[24] Hekmatyar concludes that “as state employees they [the professors] did not wish to become members of a movement which opposed it.”[25]

The movement began in 1957, when Ghulam Mohammad Niazi established a small cell at the Abu Haneefa seminary in Paghman. He had just returned from Egypt, where, at University of al-Azhar, he had obtained a master’s degree in Islamic studies. On arriving in Paghman, he initiated a group of devout teachers to the cell and its numbers increased, especially after the fall of Premier Mohammad Daoud in 1963, when they regularly held clandestine meetings in Kabul.[26] By 1969 the Islamists had set up a political action group with Professor Niazi as its nominal leader (amir).[27] Hekmatyar’s comments above probably concern the students’ branch of this movement, which was founded in 1969 under the name of the Muslim Youth (jawanan-e-Musulman). He writes, “When Daoud staged a coup [in 1973] our party was very young. Only four years had passed of its founding.”[28] Others called them the Islamic Brethren (ikhwan al-Muslimin). Hekmatyar probably did not know of the secret association of the professors, described by Barnet Rubin:

At the beginning of 1973, the movement, which also included a more secret association of professors, began to register its members and formed a leadership shura (council). Burhanuddin Rabbani, a lecturer at the shar’ia faculty of Kabul University, was chosen as chairman of the council. Ghulam Mohammad Niazi, the dean of the faculty, was recognized as the ultimate leader, but, because of the sensitivity of his position, he did not formally join or attend the meetings. The council later selected the name Jam’iyyat-e-Islami [Islamic Association]…for the movement.[29]

In a pamphlet published by the Jam’iyyat, Who Are We and What Do We Want? it was stated that the movement was nothing but an attempt to liberate the people of Afghanistan from the clutches of tyranny and to bring about a renaissance in religion. In elaboration, Hekmatyar stated that the aim of the movement was “the overthrow of the ruling order, its replacement by the Islamic order [nizam], and the application of Islam in political, economic, and social spheres.”[30] Similarly, Rabbani states, “For us Islam is a driving force, which concerns every aspect of our life.”[31] In the view of an Islamist author, Gulzarak Zadran, the Islamic order is “the implementation by the Muslims of the laws of God on the creatures [human beings].”[32] While castigating liberal democracy and socialist democracy in line with the views of Sayyed Qutb, Zadran adds, “Every other kind of law, custom, tradition, procedure, and concept has no place in Islam, because Islam is a complete religion, and the introduction in the Islamic society of the above-mentioned democracies and other similar concepts is against the Islamic injunctions and fundamentals, and a contrariety and a rebellion.”[33] Reflecting Sayyed Qutb’s views in an even more negative form, Mohammad Yunus Khalis rejects not only “a republican form of government” but even “general elections.” In his view, the Council for Resolution and Settlement (shura-e-ahl-e-hal wa ’aqd), composed of pious and just Muslims, is to elect a Muslim as the leader of the community on the basis of competence and Islamic learning.[34] The Islamists had as their aim to set up the Islamic order, or “Islamic revolution,” not only in each separate country but also “in the Muslim world.”[35]

The views of Sayyed Qutb and other revolutionary thinkers of the Muslim world, especially leaders of the Muslim Brethren, influenced students of the colleges of law and theology of Kabul University as well as of the Madrasa of Abu Haneefa through foreign professors employed there. Also, the Afghan professors of the College of Theology who had studied at the University of al-Azhar in Cairo had disseminated these views through local journals, especially the weekly paper Gaheez, founded in 1968. Its editor, Minhajuddin Gaheez, had made it an anticommunist paper, but he was assassinated by a radical leftist in 1972. The Islamists also translated some works of Sayyed Qutb in vernacular languages. While most colleges of the university were affiliated with Western universities, the College of Theology was affiliated with the University of al-Azhar in Cairo.[36]

Outside the Islamist circles some traditional ’ulama and religious leaders had already founded associations such as Khuddam al-Furqan (Servants of the Quran), Jam’iyyat-e-’Ulama-e-Mohammadi (the Association of Mohammad’s ’Ulama), and Qiyam-e-Islami (the Islamic Uprising) to combat atheism, wage Jehad-e-Akbar (great jehad), and oppose the pro-Soviet stand of the government. Among their founders were Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, the pir (religious leader) of Tagao; the pir ofQala-e-Biland, Hafizji Sahib of Kapisa; and Mawlawi Fayzani.[37] On the strength of the support of such dignitaries, the ’ulama held demonstrations for over a month in Kabul until the government dispersed them, as already noted. When Daoud ruled as prime minister from 1953 to 1963, he did not tolerate opposition. Nevertheless, these associations did not achieve much.

The Islamists became active after they spread a clandestine leaflet, Tract of the Jehad, challenged the communists to debates, and held rallies on the campus. But their rallies were smaller than any of the rallies held by their opponents. This was evident to this author, who attended the rallies and was once beaten by the police when they attacked the university. Some Islamists called for “armed jehad,” but this call produced no response. Being latecomers in politics, the Islamists did not have many members until the end of the decade. Hekmatyar even states that until the Daoud coup in 1973 the Muslim Youth were engaged in cultural activities and that they became active as an organized group only afterward.[38]

The progress that leaders of the movement had made was unknown to Hekmatyar. The progress consisted of recruitments on a big scale and the preaching of the cause in the countryside as well as the city of Kabul. Premier Moosa Shafiq encouraged the Islamists to be more active.[39] During his short rule, Premier Shafiq also released Hekmatyar, who had been imprisoned for his alleged killing of a Maoist, Saidal Sukhandan. On the campus, too, the position of the Muslim Youth had improved. Hekmatyar states that “in the last years of the reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah we gained a majority of two-thirds of the seats of the Student Union.”[40] By then the balance in the forces of university students had changed in favor of the Muslim Youth. “At the beginning of the 1970s the Islamic movement was stronger than the Maoists among the students, but its penetration of the army remained weak.”[41] Because of the headway the Islamists had made, the leftist groups had gone on the defensive. The decline of the leftists was also evident in the results of the 1969 parliamentary election, in which only two of them were elected. The Islamic movement appeared to be on the way to becoming a party of the masses. Among other things, this threat prompted the communists to help Daoud to topple the monarchy in 1973.

Unsuccessful Uprising and Split

The Parchamis, as already noted, dominated the security forces of the new republic. When the constitution was suspended and President Daoud was dependent on the Parchamis, they began a reign of terror with a view to eliminating their opponents. They fabricated reports accusing their opponents of destroying the republic. Since President Daoud had usurped power in a coup and since his government was far from established, he accepted such reports. Suspicion led to official actions in this period. The first victims were former Prime Minister Mohammad Hashem Maiwandwal and about forty senior colleagues of his Progressive Democratic Party who served in the military and civilian departments of government. The Islamists were the next on the agenda. After President Daoud declined to accept Niazi and Rabbani’s offer of cooperation in return for his break with the communists, the suppression of the Islamists began.[42] Some were killed; others, including Niazi, were arrested. The rest, including Rabbani and Hekmatyar, fled to Pakistan, the traditional land of refuge for Afghan dissidents.

Afghan Islamists in Peshawar lived in hardship, financed by the Jama’at-e-Islami of Pakistan under the leadership of Mawlana Abul A’la Mawdudi. But after Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan deteriorated over the issue of Pashtunistan, both countries financed and incited each other’s dissidents. While Afghanistan harbored the Pashtun and Baluch dissidents of Pakistan, the latter incited Afghan Islamists. Olivier Roy states that Afghan Islamists decided to wage an armed struggle against the government of Daoud, but on this they were divided, and while the younger members stood for it with the support of Pakistan, Rabbani was against it. Roy further states that “the radicals, led by Hekmatyar, carried the day.”[43] He cites no source for his statement, which is contradicted by Rabbani’s account. According to Rabbani, “Among ourselves we decided that Daoud personally was not a communist, but a Muslim, surrounded by communists, who should be eliminated. For that purpose we prepared a list of eighty military and civilian communists and instructed our companions to carry it out.…Surprisingly news of the failure of the uprising in Laghman and other regions reached us in Peshawar.” Rabbani is further quoted as having said that “leaders of the operation groups, in response to our investigation, told us that they did so on a second instruction, which they received from Hekmatyar. But the latter denied having issued such an instruction.”[44] By waging the uprising, Afghan Islamists were now entangled in international politics, which affected their movement. Also, they had neither infiltrated the army nor enjoyed public support, and Pakistan had not given them a large quantity of weapons; instead, Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan intended simply to frighten President Daoud to change his policy toward Pakistan.

On 22 July 1975 armed Islamists attacked government headquarters in Badakhshan, Laghman, Logar, and Panjsher. Only in the districts of Panjsher were they able to occupy government headquarters for a short while. Elsewhere they were either defeated or arrested on arrival. Nowhere did the locals or the army support them. The failure became a disaster for the Islamists. Conversely, it provided an opportunity for the Parchamis in the security forces to arrest anyone who was suspected of being an Islamist. An unknown number of Islamists were arrested. Of the ninety-three brought to trial, three were executed and sixteen acquitted. The rest received sentences ranging from life imprisonment to a year in jail.[45] Serious also was the dissension that appeared among the Islamists who escaped to Pakistan. Recrimination became common and splits unavoidable. The establishment of relationships with “some authorities” of the government of Pakistan, the acquisition of financial assistance and other concessions, personal ambitions, and scores of other points all played a role in this split.[46] Among these other points was a split along sectarian lines between the Sunni and Shi’ite activists, “who suspected one another of the subversions that led to the uncovering of their various plots.”[47] Until then the two sects had been united.

Serious also was the division among the Sunni leaders. The Jam’iyyat split. Hekmatyar and Qazi Mohammad Amin Wiqad formed a new party, the Islamic Party (Hizb-e-Islami), but Rabbani stuck to the old name. In 1978 they reunited under a new name, the Movement of Islamic Revolution, with Qazi Wiqad as its leader, but it did not last. The failed attempt made leaders of both parties wary. While it influenced Rabbani to move toward moderation, it induced Hekmatyar to adopt a long-term strategy, organizing his party on rigid lines. The Aims of the Hizb states, “The reformation of government is the pre-requisite to the reformation of society as well as that of the individual.” The Aims also states that the Hizb “stands for the Islamic reorganization of the state [through] its program.”[48] Of all the parties, the Hizb is the most radical and Islamist. Some argue that from the onset Hekmatyar’s goal was to acquire power rather than to liberate Afghanistan. Over this issue Mohammad Yunus Khalis parted company with him and formed a party of his own under the same name, because in his view the liberation of Afghanistan was more important than the conquest of power.[49] Khalis considers lack of trust among leaders a factor for the multiplicity of resistance organizations.[50]

The split also revealed ethnic and regional tendencies. At the leadership level Pashtuns dominated the Hizb and Tajiks the Jam’iyyat, although both groups could be called mixed. In the latter group regional tendencies such as Panjsheri, Badakhshi, and Herati crystallized. The passage of time made the tendencies sharper. Regionalism and ethnicity thus made inroads at the expense of Islamic ideology, which disregards such parochial proclivities.

Another weakening factor was the Islamists’ loss of credit in the eyes of their patrons whose goodwill was essential for them, since they had to act from abroad inside Afghanistan. This point became serious when, following his victory over the Islamists, President Daoud took measures to distance Afghanistan from the Soviet bloc countries and to bring it closer to the Islamic world, in particular Pakistan and Iran.[51] The policy was detrimental to the Islamists, so much so that by the end of President Daoud’s reign they had “run out of money, because Saudi Arabia and Iran, who were pursuing a policy of support for Daoud, did not help them, and Pakistan did not wish for an open confrontation with Kabul.”[52] Until the invasion the Islamic parties were “more or less dormant.” Against the Khalqis, too, they did not receive any substantial support from outside. Only the Soviet invasion enabled them to come to the forefront of politics.

Part of the Islamic movement consisted of certain groups that took into account the actual situation of society. Loosely structured, they can hardly be called political parties in the modern sense, since they generally lacked sociopolitical platforms. Based on common traditional religious and secular notions, the organizations were open to persons with different shades of opinion. The ’ulama, community elders, the intelligentsia, army officers, and former government employees joined them in the spirit of jehad to expel the invaders. Their leaders were either members of religious families or religious scholars. A degree of tolerance, compromise, and democracy was also a feature of these organizations. Islamic, national, and to a certain extent democratic, they came to be known as traditionalist or moderate as distinct from Islamist. The emergence of the traditionalists weakened the hold of the Islamists over the Afghan refugees since the fold of the former was open to those whom the Islamists suspected.

The Islamic moderate organizations were set up in various times in 1979. They included the Front for National Liberation (Jabha-e-Nejat-e-Milli), the Revolutionary Islamic Movement (Harakat-e-Inqilab-e-Islami), and the National Islamic Front (Mahaz-e-Milli-e-Islami), led respectively by Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, and Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani. Mojaddidi and Gailani are heads of religious families as well as leaders of the Islamic mystic orders of Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya, respectively. They have many followers, particularly among Pashtuns. Whereas the Mojaddidi family in the past played a role in politics, it is the first time for the Gailani family to emerge in the forefront. Both families have a modern outlook on life. While the Mojaddidis are, as a mark of respect, known as Hazrats, the Gailanis are known as pirha or pirān (spiritual leaders; singular, pir). The Khalqis executed many Mojaddidis, some of whom were more influential than the present Mojaddidi. The religious scholar Mawlawi Mohammadi served as a member of parliament in the constitutional decade. For this as well as for his assault on Babrak Karmal in the House of Representatives in 1966, he became popular, particularly among the mullas in his own province, Logar.

Attempts at Unity

To make the jehad a success, a coalition of the resistance forces was necessary. This was what the public demanded, as the urban uprisings showed. The demand was raised by Afghan refugees who held meetings in Peshawar in 1980, at which they demanded a united front to coordinate military activities. (These meetings will be detailed in the next chapter.) The pressure these meetings produced persuaded leaders of the Islamic groups to form a coalition.[53] A coalition of the three Islamist and three moderate organizations, the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, was formed. Abd al-Rasool Sayyaf, a founder of the Islamic movement who had arrived in Peshawar after he had been released from prison in Kabul, was chosen to lead the coalition. But it was not destined to last. First Hekmatyar and later the three moderate groups seceded from it. These three set up the Union of the Three. In 1981 the Islamist groups formed a broader alliance, the Union of the Seven, made up of the three Islamist groups, the newly formed organization led by Sayyaf, and three splinter groups. In 1985, under pressure from the king of Saudi Arabia, a broad coalition, the Islamic Unity of Afghan Mujahideen, was set up, comprising the four main Islamist and three moderate groups.[54] This group was in existence until 1989, when, under the patronage of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Afghan Interim Government (Dawlat-e-Islami-e-Afghanistan) was set up in Rawalpindi to coincide with the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Not all resistance groups were included in the coalitions. The Tehran-based Shi’ite groups, nationalists, tribal unions, and the anti-Soviet leftists (including the pro-Chinese leftists) were excluded. The coalition was composed only of the Sunni Muslim groups approved by Pakistan. Pakistan’s support was crucial since, through its military Inter-Service Intelligence and Afghan Commissionerate, it distributed weapons, cash, and materiel received from donor countries. Pakistan supported the Afghan jehad, but it manipulated it to serve its own interests. An ardent supporter of the jehad, President General Zia al-Haq of Pakistan overruled the view of the majority of his inner council to come to a modus vivendi with the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.[55] But he manipulated the jehad with a view to raising a client government to power in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. For this purpose Pakistan opposed the emergence of a strong united leadership. “On the political level, the Pakistanis were obsessed with the fear that the resistance might develop in the same way as the Palestinians had done, enjoying the support of millions of refugees. It seemed to them that the best protection against this risk was a divided resistance. The Pakistanis granted the same facilities to each of the six groups and closed their eyes to the activities of minor groups, which they did not recognize. It was thus the Pakistanis who ensured the continuance of the major split in the movement, at least until 1984.”[56]

The patronized coalition did not prove effective in coordinating military activities. There were no coordinated military activities, nor did they make use of the expertise of the military officers of the Kabul regime who defected. Community and tribal elders and members of the intelligentsia were hindered from working for the jehad. The Islamist groups did this in the hope of monopolizing power and Islamizing the society. The host government left them free to deal with Afghan refugees even on its own soil. Having tighter organization and discipline, the Islamist parties treated the refugees as if they were their rulers. Some groups even had courts and prisons and opposed national identity, stating that “if in both countries [Pakistan and Afghanistan] there prevailed an Islamic order we prefer that the common boundaries between us be discarded and both countries united.”[57] Others wished to substitute the name Islamistan (land of Islam) for Afghanistan. In past resistance movements, the combination of such groups constituted a national force that met the emergency although they were not as widespread as they were in the present movement. Had the resistance not been strong at the grass-roots level, one wonders whether it would have made any headway. A specialist on guerrilla warfare wrote, “A visit with the rebels in Afghanistan suggests two broad conclusions about the resistance there. The first is that it is an extremely popular movement that has arisen spontaneously among many different kinds of people with varying motives. The second is that in its leadership, organization, coordination, and strategy, the Afghan movement is one of the weakest liberation struggles in the world today.”[58]

Shi’ite Resistance Groups

The Afghan Shi’ite minority of Hazaras and Qizilbashes were for the first time as active as the Sunnis against an invasion. Among their educated, however, a considerable number sided with the Kabul regime. The Shi’ite leaders were more divided than the Sunnis. As Shi’as, their loyalty to Iran was a major reason for disunity. Some followed the Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran as a political as well as a religious leader, while others followed him only as a religious leader. With the rise of Khomeini the Afghan Shi’as became more militant. The Shi’ite faith obliges every Shi’a to follow a mujtahid (an authority in the interpretation of the faith), wherever he may be, an injunction not in line with principles on which a nation-state is based.

The Ayatullah Sayyed Ali Bihishti had in 1979 set up in Waras in Hazarajat the United Islamic Council (Shura-e-Ittifaq-e-Islami), comprising traditional, secular, and religious Hazaras. Through the efforts of its commander, Sayyed Mohammad Jagran, the council liberated Hazarajat from the regime following the invasion. The Islamic Movement (Harakat-e-Islami) led by Ayatullah Shaykh Mohammad Asif Muhsini was another significant organization set up in 1978. It centered around followers in Kandahar and Kabul. From the outset Muhsini’s relations with Iran were strained. In 1980 Iran expelled Muhsini’s followers because he followed Khomeini only in religious affairs. By contrast, the first pro-Iranian organization, the Organization of Islamic Victory (Sazman-e-Nasr-e-Islami), was set up in 1979 and received financial and military assistance from Iran. Nasr was the continuation of the New Mughal group, founded as early as 1966, which was subsequently renamed the Youth of the Hazaras (Shabab al-Hazara). Nasr has served as a mother organization from which smaller groups have sprung. Under the leadership of Karim Khalili, Mier Sadiqi Turkmani, and Abdul Ali Mazari, it was composed of ideologically committed fundamentalists. Khalili says of himself, “I do not know what part of Afghanistan I am from; my father and grandfather would tell us we are from Ghazni. I was born in Iran.”[59]

Another organization set up in late 1979 was Strength (Nairo), with Qazi Safa Karimi as its leader. They all were “very successful,”[60] but the Iranians did not think so. According to one observer,

The Iranians consider the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the most favorable situation for the consolidation and extension of their influence in the country. In the beginning they decided to help all the Hazara groups without discrimination. When it did not work according to their wishes, they changed their policy and decided to federate the groups under their umbrella of one organization, Nasr. But last year [1982] the Iranians sent a delegation to Hazarajat to investigate the activities of Nasr and to see how their military and financial help was being used. The Iranians were deeply disappointed and convinced that it was impossible to accomplish anything with the Afghan parties. Then they decided to operate through their own Iranian party inside Afghanistan, and [in 1983] created the Sipah-e-Pasdaran [under Shaykh Akbari]; it has the same structure and the same organization as the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Party, only the members are Afghans.[61]

Smaller and more rigid groups emerged from Nasr in Iran, among them Thunder, the New Generation of Hazaras, Organization of the Toiling People, and the Party of God (Hizb Allah), which was set up in Mashhad in 1981 under Qari Yakdist. Some of these attracted educated persons with conflicting extremist views, such as Maoism, racism, and religious fundamentalism. Another group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, was founded under the influence of Iran’s Mujahideen-e-Khalq. Afterward infighting became common, resulting in the death of about 26,000 Hazaras, a number higher than that the Hazaras lost in clashes with the Soviets. Hazarajat was not the scene of many clashes with the Soviets and the regime, which did not carry out major expeditions there. In the infighting the United Council was ousted from many areas, including its headquarters in Waras. Also, the Hazaras became disillusioned with Iran. Among the disillusioned ones, those who were forced to seek refuge chose Pakistan, not Iran.[62] Any hope of forging a united front among them became more unrealistic than among the Sunni organizations. However, in 1985, under the supervision of Iran, the Islamic Movement, the Islamic Victory Organization, the Revolutionary United Front, and Guards of the Islamic Jehad declared a cease-fire among themselves.[63]


1. Ministry of Planning, General Statistics, 113-22. I am grateful to Amanullah Mansury, a minister of the interior during the constitutional decade, for giving me his only copy of the book. Farhang, Afghanistan 2:41. Barnet Rubin writes about the expansion of modern education in Afghanistan: “In the last eight years of Daoud’s premiership…the number of primary and secondary school students nearly tripled, and the number of post-secondary students…increased more than fourfold; and in the period of political liberalization known as New Democracy (1963-73), the number of primary school students doubled, and secondary students increased more than sixfold, growing an average of one-fifth per year. University enrollment was 3.4 times larger at the end of the decade than it had been at the beginning; there were 11,000 students in Afghanistan and 1,500 per year sent abroad by 1974” (“Political Elites,” 80). On the eve of the communist coup in 1978 Kabul University and Polytechnic had a total of more than 13,000 mixed students, and 1,000 professors. Polytechnic had about 1,000 students and a small number of Afghan junior professors. The Soviet professors outnumbered the latter. Kabul University had more than 800 professors. A. S. Aziemi, personal communication, Peshawar, February 1989. Mr. Aziemi was chancellor of Kabul University before the communists took over. [BACK]

2. Newell and Newell, Struggle for Afghanistan, 45. [BACK]

3. The Front of Afghanistan’s Militant Mujahideen, Watan; M. N. Majruh, personal communication, Los Angeles, January 1991. About the resistance groups which the Afghans set up in Peshawar in 1980, an observer writes, “Anyone who entertained the idea of becoming the Afghan amir or king would rent a garage, a shop, or a house, and would distribute membership cards with his party’s name and his photo boldly engraved on them. In this way over 60 small and big Afghan parties were set up” (Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 795). [BACK]

4. Fundamentalism, in the words of Professor Bernard Lewis, refers to the maintenance, in opposition to modernism, of traditional orthodox beliefs, such as the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of Protestant Christianity. It is thus essentially a Christian term. The term fundamentalist is now also applied to a number of Islamic radical and militant groups. Muslim fundamentalists, however, base themselves not only on the Quran but also on the Traditions of the Prophet and on the corpus of transmitted theological and legal learning. Their aim is nothing less than the abrogation of all the imported and modernized legal codes and social norms and the installation in their place of the full panoply of the Shari’a—its rules and penalties, its jurisdiction, and its prescribed form of government. For details, see Lewis, Political Language of Islam, 118. [BACK]

5. Hekmatyar, Interview, 10; Haqshinas, Russia’s Intrigues and Crimes, 330. [BACK]

6. For details see, Choueirei, Islamic Fundamentalism, 94; Shepard, “Islam as a System,” 37. [BACK]

7. Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism, 94, 123. [BACK]

8. Shepard, “Islam as a System,” 32. [BACK]

9. Mawdudi, Political Theory of Islam, 31. I am grateful to Rahmat Zirakyar for giving me this and another book. [BACK]

10. Hyman, Muslim Fundamentalism, 20. [BACK]

11. Choueiri, Muslim Fundamentlism, 110. [BACK]

12. Mawdudi, Political Theory of Islam, 22. [BACK]

13. Choueiri, Muslim Fundamentalism, 111. [BACK]

14. Ibid., 127. [BACK]

15. Kakar, Government and Society, 177. Choueiri, Muslim Fundamentalism, 137. [BACK]

16. Choueiri, Muslim Fundamentalism, 138. [BACK]

17. Ibid., 135. [BACK]

18. Ibid., 136. [BACK]

19. Shepard, “Islam as a System,” 33. [BACK]

20. Professor M. E. Yapp has described the terms modernization,traditional society, and modern society as follows: “The attributes of a traditional society are: politically, a minimal role for government; economically, the predominance of agriculture or pastoralism, with little industry and the great bulk of the population living in the countryside; and socially, a system of organization based on birth, compartmentalized rather than hierarchic, with low mobility and little literacy, and in which the family, tribe, village, guild and religious community form the the principal units of social life, providing educational, legal and social services for their members and, frequently, economic organization and defence as well. The attributes of a modern society are the opposite of these: politically, there is a large role for the state; economically, it is predominantly industrial and urban; and socially, it is based upon contract, arranged horizontally with a high degree of mobility, and the older units of social life play a much reduced role, their major functions having been usurped by the state or other public organizations. Modernization denotes the passage from the first to the second” (Yapp, “Contemporary Islamic Revivalism,” 180). [BACK]

21. Newell and Newell, Struggle for Afghanistan, 45. [BACK]

22. Nangyal, Political Parties, 10; Haqshinas, Russia’s Intrigues and Crimes, 332-39; Naeem, Russian Program, 71; Khan, “Emergence of Religious Parties.” [BACK]

23. The founding students of the Islamic Movement, besides Hekmatyar, were Mawlawi Abdur Rahman, Engineer Habibur Rahman, Abdur Rahim Niazi, Engineer Sayfuddin Nasratyar, Abd al-Qadir Tawana, Ghulam Rabbani ’Ateesh, Sayyed Abdur Rahman, Abdul Habib, and Gul Mohammad. Except for Hekmatyar, all are now dead (Hekmatyar, Interview, 20). [BACK]

24. Ibid., 23. [BACK]

25. Ibid. [BACK]

26. Shahrani, “Saur Revolution,” 158. [BACK]

27. Ibid. [BACK]

28. Khan, “Emergence of Religious Parties,”; Hekmatyar, Interview, 24. [BACK]

29. Rubin, “Political Elites,” 81. [BACK]

30. Hekmatyar, Interview, 21 [BACK]

31. Quoted in Hyman, Muslim Fundamentalism, 4. [BACK]

32. Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 610. [BACK]

33. Ibid., 510. [BACK]

34. On rejecting general elections, the foundation of democracy, Khalis is categorical and uncompromising. He states: “General elections are the outcome of the ignorance of the East and West. That is why, as they are contrary to the Islamic justice, they are rejected and are unacceptable to us. The advocates of this voice can’t go with us along the same road.” Khalis, Message to the Mujahid Nation, 5, 12, 26; Khalis, Two Articles, 12, 13. [BACK]

35. The fundamentalists are not only opposed to those who have exercised political domination in the past in Afghanistan but are equally vehement in their denunciations of the traditional elite, who are, in their view, to be blamed for the moral degeneration that led to the present tragedy. See Ghani, “Afghanistan,” 92. [BACK]

36. Haqshinas, Russia’s Intrigues and Crimes, 331. [BACK]

37. Before his arrest in 1973, Mawlawi Habib al-Rahman Fayzani (Kakar), known as Mawlana Fayzani, dominated the soul and body of his followers, first as a schoolteacher and principal in Herat and later as a reformer, pir, and political leader. He gave up teaching to combat communism and create an Islamic movement. For this purpose he composed a number of books and traveled in the country before taking up residence in Kabul, where he opened a library and set up Madrasa-e-Quran, a seminary for the teaching of Quran; this program took on an active political dimension among his followers of traditional mullas and artisans. His teachings transcended the communal line of Sunni and Shi’a. To his followers of both sects he appeared as a messianic personality. He played a leading role in the anticommunist agitations of the traditional mullas in 1970. By the time of the Daoud coup in 1973 he had united a number of secret Islamic associations under the name of the School of Monotheism (Maktab-e-Tawheed), of which he was elected amir. Shortly after the coup he was arrested on a charge of plotting to overthrow the regime. During the Khalqi rule Fayzani along with more than one hundred Ikhwanis, including Professor Niazi, were executed. For details, see Edwards, “Shi’i Political Dissent,” 217-20; Haqshinas, Russia’s Intrigues and Crimes, 336; Gharzay, Memoirs, 49. [BACK]

38. Hekmatyar, Interview, 25. [BACK]

39. For details on organizational structure of the Islamic Association, see Roy, Islam and Resistance, 73. [BACK]

40. Hekmatyar, Interview, 20. [BACK]

41. Brigot and Roy, War in Afghanistan, 27. [BACK]

42. Roy, Islam and Resistance, 75. [BACK]

43. Ibid. [BACK]

44. Wolasmal, “Foreign Interference,” 3. [BACK]

45. Dupree, Afghanistan, 762; Haqshinas, Political Changes, 26-32; Roy, Islam and Resistance, 74-76. [BACK]

46. Haqshinas, Political Changes, 30. [BACK]

47. Edwards, “Shi’i Political Dissent,” 221. [BACK]

48. For details, see Jamiat-e-Islami, Aims and Goals; Hezb-e-Islami, Aims. I am grateful to Dr. Nazif Shahrani for providing me with both texts. [BACK]

49. Brigot and Roy, War in Afghanistan, 109. [BACK]

50. Khalis, Message, 2. [BACK]

51. For details, see Ghaus, Fall of Afghanistan. [BACK]

52. Roy, Islam and Resistance, 77. [BACK]

53. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 108-11. [BACK]

54. Nangyal, Political Parties, 30-36. The first coalition, the Covenant of the Islamic Unity, comprising Jam’iyyat, Harakat, Nejat, Mahaz, and Hizb (Khalis), was set up in August 1979, but it was no more than a name. Na’eem, Russian Program, 93-103; Roy, Islam and Resistance, 122-24. [BACK]

55. A senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, personal communication, Islamabad, December 1988. [BACK]

56. Roy, Islam and Resistance, 122. Bradsher may have been the first to observe Pakistan’s concern about a strong Afghan leadership. He states that Pakistan “had reason to be concerned that a strong single organization based on its territory might become the voice of a new form of Pashtunistan movement or comparable to the Palestine Liberation Organization in periods when the P.L.O. had defiantly extraterritorial power in Jordan and later Lebanon” (Afghanistan, 295). [BACK]

57. Hekmatyar, Interview, 59. [BACK]

58. Charliand, Report from Afghanistan, 47. [BACK]

59. Quoted in Wassil, “Opinion,” 26. [BACK]

60. Haqshinas, Political Changes, 36. [BACK]

61. Quoted in Emadi, State, Society, and Superpowers, 102. [BACK]

62. Shah Mohammad Nadir Alami, leader of the Islamic Unity of Central Afghanistan, personal communication, 1991. [BACK]

63. Edwards, “Shi’i Political Dissent,” 201-29; Haqshinas, Political Changes, 35-36; Roy, Islam and Resistance, 139-48. [BACK]

5. Nationalist Resistance Organizations

It is difficult to pinpoint which resistance groups were nationalist. Most might be called so, since they defended their homeland against the invasion and stood for the view that the people of Afghanistan alone had the right to set up the kind of state they wanted. Resistance to the invasion on this basis was the widest. The whole question centered on the point of sovereignty: whether it was to be actualized by the Afghans themselves or determined with the help of foreign might on the basis of universalist or internationalist notions. The point had never before been posed to the Afghans in such a stark form. Those Afghans who stood for the principle of popular sovereignty were never subjected to as much pressure as they now were. This is a distinguishing mark of the Afghan liberation movement. The weak point of the nationalists was the uncooperative attitude of Pakistan and their inability to unite in one organization.

Afghan Jirga in Peshawar

Following the invasion, a popular movement was set up whose purpose was to unite the Afghan nation, solidify the resistance organizations, liberate the land of foreign domination, topple the client regime, and establish a single political leadership. Contrary to the stand of the leftist internationalists and Islamic universalists, this movement’s stand was based on the notion of Afghan solidarity as a nation, and its leaders followed a path like that followed by Afghan elders in the past on similar occasions. Every day about one thousand Afghans, led by community elders, mujahid commanders, and former members of parliament, gathered first in the Madani Mosque and later in the Mahabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar. In Waziristan and Thal, too, Afghan refugees held similar jirgas. The meetings held in Peshawar, which lasted in intervals for three months until 13 May 1980, assumed the features of a loya jirga, a traditional way of resolving a crisis on the basis of consensus. This made it necessary for tribal and community elders to unite with leaders of the Islamic organizations. The jirga focused its efforts on this essential but difficult point.

Under the leadership of Qazi Mohammad Omar Babrakzay, the jirga made two decisions: to create conditions for the convening of a mumassila loya jirga (a jirga akin to the loya jirga) and to invite leaders of the Islamic organizations. In a proposal to the Revolutionary Islamic Council of the Islamic organizations it stated, “Since among you important talks are being held on the fate of Afghanistan, and since these talks are about our fatherland, religion, honor [namoas], and independence, we propose that on the question of determination of our fate all authoritative tribal elders should take part in decisions through such a loya jirga. Any decision made in our absence would have no validity with the Afghan nation.”[1] At first leaders of the Islamic organizations took the invitation lightly. However, when more than 150 tribal and community elders separated from them in protest and joined the jirga, the Islamist leaders agreed to take part.[2] At this time the Islamic organizations were not strong enough to ignore such a call. They had neither sufficient logistics nor weapons at their disposal. Also, the refugees, whose number was increasing, were more enthusiastic about the jirga than about the Islamic organizations. The clashes that the mujahid commanders—particularly the Hizb and Jam’iyyat commanders—had permitted to happen among them had disillusioned the Afghans. They wanted jehad, not internecine battles. Also, the Peshawar-based organizations had frustrated many of their mujahideen by their inability to provide arms.[3] The Islamic organizations then took part in the jirga, and their representatives supported its goals. Mohammad Hashim Mojaddidi, representative of the National Salvation Front, proposed that a united revolutionary council be set up. Its leader, Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, who alone of the leaders of the organizations participated, warned the jirga against sabotage by hypocrites and people in pursuit of self-interest.[4]

The jirga bore fruit on 21 February, when it passed a resolution of thirty-four clauses. The resolution consisted of guidelines covering all aspects of the jehad, the first of its kind to be laid down. One clause proposed setting up a revolutionary council, a government in exile. In another clause the Afghans in Kabul were asked to boycott the client regime. Well-to-do Afghans were called on to assist the mujahideen financially. In another clause the Afghans were asked, in accord with Islamic and Afghan codes, to desist from taking revenge until the jehad ended. Since the jirga was administered according to traditional codes, violators were considered subject to execution. Afghan tribes were, in line with the disciplinary codes of the jirga (nirkh), asked not to give asylum to perpetrators of personal revenge.[5]

Since the implementation of the resolution required the cooperation of the Islamic organizations, the jirga asked their leaders to forge unity among themselves and to allow representatives of tribes to take part in the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan. It also called on the Afghan nation to solidify its ranks. Sayyed Ahmad Gailani and Sibgatullah Mojaddidi declared their support for the resolution.[6] But some from within and without opposed the jirga. A number of its founding members seceded from it to set up a rival jirga, the Loya Jirga of the Tribes of Afghanistan. This threat was soon averted, however, and the seceders rejoined. The threat from the fundamentalists was more serious. Hekmatyar opposed membership of tribal elders in the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Unity, arguing that they wanted to snatch its leadership. He also accused certain elders of trying to destroy the Islamic Unity.[7] The Kabul regime was also quick in undermining its successes. Shaken by the February Uprising (described in the next chapter), it promulgated a new constitution and distributed conciliatory leaflets in the border regions whence many elders came. From time to time it also convened jirgas of its own.

The jirga’s last round of sessions lasted from 11 May to 13 May 1980, with 916 members from the administrative units of the country, including some from nomadic groups. In a new resolution it repeated its stated goals, proposing at the same time that an Islamic National Revolutionary Council (Islami Milli Inqilabi Jirga) be set up. The Council was to have an executive committee and a series of subcommittees, which would carry on practical affairs.[8] Leaders of the Islamic organizations could become its members provided that they supported the resolution.[9] In effect, the jirga outlined a government in exile. Headed by Mohammad Omar Babrakzay as the acting president of the jirga and Asadullah Safay, a former member of parliament, as chief of the Revolutionary Council, the structure was to remain in force until an elected government was instituted.[10] Believing in the principle of election as the foundation of state structure, the jirga declared, “It [the jirga] considers legitimate and legal only the state that is instituted in line with the national and Islamic spirit following [the restoration of] full independence, through free and impartial elections.” Affirming the principle of separation of the three branches of the state, it stood for the freedom of expression within the bounds of laws and declared its opposition to an absolute order.[11]

There were now two revolutionary councils: the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, composed of the six Islamic organizations, and the National and Islamic Revolutionary Council, composed of tribal and community elders. Both were for an “Islamic republic.” But the nature and composition of the two “Islamic republics” differed. While the former stood for an ideological Islamic republic, the latter stood for a national, Islamic, and democratic republic. This difference made cooperation between their supporters impossible. The Islamic Union branded the jirga “another enemy of the sacred Islamic revolution of Afghanistan.”[12] In response, the National Islamic Council stated that while representatives and leaders of the Islamic organizations supported the jirga, there were a few in the unity who, because of ignorance, denounced it. It also stated that the “real Islamic groups would never do something for which they would make themselves liable to the Muslim nation of Afghanistan.”[13] The jirga used such language against the Islamic Union because of its popularity with the refugees, who numbered more than 700,000 at the time. The Islamic Union withdrew its statement.[14]

Forging unity and procuring financial assistance were the two important issues to which the National Islamic Council addressed itself. But these issues sealed its doom. The council set up a commission to ensure membership of the Islamic organizations and procure financial assistance from friendly countries. Already Saudi Arabia and a few others had expressed their willingness to grant financial assistance. But they had made this assistance conditional on the creation of a unified center. The Islamic Union held that it had created such a center already, while the National Islamic Council intended to forge a larger unity. “At this juncture certain [Islamic] organizations, in order to procure [financial] assistance, tried to extend control over the National Islamic Revolutionary Council.”[15] Also, some leaders of the Islamic Union feared that, because of the success of the jirga, power was slipping from them. Although in principle in favor of the jirga, Gailani and Mojaddidi competed with each other in influencing it while the Islamists tried to undermine it.[16] The attitude shown toward the jirga by the authorities of the host country proved crucial. A number of times Pakistani police warned its participants to disperse for security reasons. Once they took away many of them in two trucks after a group from a fundamentalist organization had beaten them.[17] Pakistan did not want the Afghans to set up new organizations on its soil; this point had been decreed by the Consultative Board, a high-level commission concerned with Afghan affairs and headed by President Zia al-Haq.[18] The board persuaded Afghan refugees to join the Islamic party of Hekmatyar.[19] But the jirga’s coup de grâce came from within. Supported by his followers, a member of the Gailani family chaired the jirga in violation of its procedures, as a result of which the majority boycotted it.[20] Subsequent efforts aimed at creating regional unions for the same purpose also came to nothing. Thus failed the first attempt by Afghans to set up a political structure along traditional lines at a time of national crisis.

Afghan Jirga in Pishin

This was, however, not the end of the movement, nor could it be unless there was an alternative to it. In September 1981 elders from western Afghanistan, led by the former senator Abdul Quddos and the former deputy president of parliament Abdul Ahad Karzay, attempted to convene a loya jirga. They invited the ‘ulama, tribal elders, elder statesmen, and military officers to set up a political leadership. Pointing at the inability of leaders of the Islamic organizations to unite the Afghans, the initiators of the proposal stated that it was now incumbent on them to set up a council (shura) through which the representatives of the Muslims of Afghanistan could lay a foundation for the future. Specifically, they also stated that since party politics had disunited Afghans, they should abandon it in favor of the institution of the jirga, by which their forefathers had resolved national problems in critical times. They stated that under the leadership of an elected acting president and secretaries, the proposed jirga would adopt guidelines on the basis of which a shura and a political leadership would be set up and a government in exile formed.[21]

The response was overwhelming, despite warnings from fundamentalists to those who wished to attend the jirga. In their view the jirga was a suicidal attempt by “the enemies of Islam and leftist parties.”[22] More than three thousand influential persons from all over the country arrived at Quetta, but local authorities requested that they move to the smaller town of Pishin for security reasons. There, too, the meetings were postponed for a few days because of the arrival in the region of President Zia al-Haq. Against the opposition of the police, who argued that the jirga should not be held, the Afghans insisted that since it was an Afghan affair, others had nothing to do with it.[23] This time the moderate Islamic organizations boycotted the jirga, alleging that the Parchamis had infiltrated it. The jirga elders said that since the jirga did not intend to be an instrument in the hands of any organization, opposition to it was understandable.[24] But unlike Peshawar, where the Islamists could disrupt such meetings, Pishin was safe from such interferences. The meetings were held as scheduled in September 1981.

The question of the selection of a national leader (mille qa’id) dominated the meetings of the jirga. Ningrahar elders proposed the former king for the position; this motion was accepted after a debate in which the Kandahari proponents of the king argued against the advisability of the proposal at this juncture. A commission composed of five representatives from each province and major district, as well as from the nomads and Hazaras, was assigned the task of setting up local councils, provincial councils, and a central council, called the National Islamic Council.[25] But the former king was living in Rome: he could not come to landlocked Afghanistan, nor could he direct his followers there in the face of opposition from Pakistan as well as the Afghan Islamists. It is an irony of history that in 1929, under similar circumstances, the non-Muslim British government of India allowed Mohammad Nadir Khan to pass on to Afghanistan, where he founded his dynasty, while the Muslim rulers of Pakistan refused to allow his son (Mohammad Zahir) to do the same. Mohammad Zahir had neither organized support among his followers nor sympathetic listeners to his cause in the neighboring countries.

Likewise, the elders—who were the embodiment of social wisdom and experience but who, unlike their opponents, were neither organized nor supported by a foreign power—were alienated from the Islamic groups in general and the fundamentalist groups in particular. Because of that alienation, the liberation movement worked against itself, creating a situation that made it dependent on foreign powers and distanced it from its grass roots, thus leading to its weakness. At a time of struggle against foreign domination, when the neighboring supportive powers also intended to influence Afghan politics through their surrogates, those who acted on the principle of self-determination had little chance of success. But the Pishin jirga, by pinpointing the former king as an embodiment of Afghan nationalism, brought him to the focus of attention.

Mohammad Zahir

The former king responded to the Pishin jirga in words that reflected Afghan nationalism. In a communiqué issued on the occasion, he stated that traditional jirgas were the last resort for free debates and the adoption of resolutions in a democratic fashion about national problems in times of emergencies such as the present one. In the former king’s view, the resolutions of such jirgas must take into account the viewpoints and tendencies of all national groups who are engaged in the struggle for the realization of common goals—in this case, “independence, territorial integrity, restoration of the status of traditional nonalignment, the national and Islamic identity of our homeland, and the maintenance of the right to self-determination for the institution of the future government through free elections.”[26]

By the “state of emergency” the former king meant the lack of a legitimate government in the country and its occupation by the Soviet Union. The king responded to the situation by convening a loya jirga and pursuing a policy of waging armed jehad and holding political negotiations, depending on the circumstances. From the elaboration of these points, the features of Afghan nationalism as envisaged by the former king become clear.

In the king’s view, the jirga is a traditional institution in which all tribes and sectors of society (through their elders) take part on an equal basis to settle national problems. The jirga is convened in times of national emergency, especially when Afghanistan feels pressured by outside powers. King Amanullah even required participants of a jirga to “settle by consensus of votes all the vital problems and schemes for the uplift and progress of Afghanistan.”[27] The agenda fixed for the jirga covered the entire range of foreign and domestic affairs. In general, an elderly statesman presides over the jirga until someone else is appointed for the whole session. Whatever the issue, the participants resolve it by consensus after they discuss it in a democratic way. This is a description of a national jirga (loya jirga) attended by influential people from throughout the country and by selected government officials. The national jirga is then open to influence by governments, which have frequently held them in modern times and particularly in the twentieth century. But in a particular locality everyone concerned with the issue attends the jirga, along with elders and other persons (jirgamawr, marakchiyan) who have special knowledge of its rules and procedures. The mullas are invited to attend the jirga not to administer it but to provide advice, if needed. The jirga is solemnly convened after the usual Muslim prayer is offered, and a Pashto verse is recited: “Events are with God, but deliberation is allowed to man.” The more democratic the tribe, the larger the jirga. Part of Pashtunwali (the social and legal codes of the Pashtuns), the jirga is a Pashtun institution by which the Pashtuns resolve not only ordinary disputes but also issues, particularly criminal issues, that defy solutions through the Shari’a or civil courts. The decisions are enforced and, among some tribes, the violators punished by a special militia (the arobaki).

As noted, Mohammad Zahir held that such an assembly was to deliberate over ways and means to restore Afghan sovereignty and lay down the basis for a future government. But since the prospect for holding jirgas were dim, the former king also viewed armed jehad as a means of realizing the national goal. In his view, “Presently the people of Afghanistan are engaged in an armed jehad for the restoration of their rights and national honor. Other than that no way has been left open to them, and if this goal can be attained by a peaceful means they would consider it.” For the success of jehad, in December 1981 he proposed the formation of a “united front.” He appealed to his compatriots to set aside—in accord with the injunctions of Islam and the approved national traditions—whatever personal and tribal differences they might have and choose their representatives “so that if God wills through the institution of a great national assembly with the participation of the representatives of all tribes, existing unions, organizations, and associations the foundation for such a united front may be laid down which can represent all the people of Afghanistan for the purpose of waging the armed struggle, and legally representing the people in international councils and states.”[28] Realizing the difficulty of convening a loya jirga under the conditions of war, the former king proposed setting up a constituent assembly to pave the way for it. For this purpose a commission was set up.

Even opponents of “a united front” could not reject overnight the proposal for its formation. Afghans were disturbed by the disunity among the jehad organizations. That was why, according to the king, by October 1984 a number of “fronts and other groups from inside and outside Afghanistan as well as a large number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and the majority of Afghan associations in various parts of the world” supported the proposal. The three moderate groups, the Triple Alliance, also endorsed it, suggesting at the same time that the Muslim and other interested organizations and governments should be consulted about it.[29]

Nevertheless, the proposal remained in abeyance. In particular, Pakistan was against it. As already described, although Pakistan supported the jehad, it preferred a divided leadership even among the Islamic organizations. It was even more in favor of division in the case of a national front, especially the one propounded by the former king, who was considered a symbol of Afghan nationalism. Also, the rift between the two countries on the issue of Pashtunistan might have influenced Pakistan to oppose a movement that would have helped Afghan nationalists rise to leadership. The king had favored improved relations with Pakistan, offering “his pledge to Pakistan during her wars with India that Afghanistan would not move her troops nor create any disturbance on the Pak-Afghan border”;[30] even so, Pakistan did not trust him. For forty years he had been the sovereign of an independent land, and now, too, he stated, “I do not think I can become an instrument in the hands of anyone.”[31]

This may have been why Pakistan discouraged those groups and persons who supported the former king as well as the cause of the Afghan nation. Among the known nationalist Afghans was Abdur Rahman Pazhwak, a diplomat and former president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Social Democratic Party (Afghan Millat) is a case in point of a nationalist party that—although it had opposed the Khalqi government, and although the Parcham regime had imprisoned many of its leaders—was not allowed to work independently but only under the umbrella of the National Islamic Front. Azizulla Wasifi, an influential Alkozay elder from Kandahar and a former cabinet minister and president of the last loya jirga of the precommunist period, was the only one who was able to carry on his resistance activities in the spirit of nationalism. He could do so because as an elder of the Durrani tribal confederation he enjoyed the support of his refugee tribesmen in Quetta, where in 1980 he set up the Islamic National United Front (Islami Muttahida Mille Jabha).[32] Apparently, this scheme also called for the elimination by terrorists of leaders of emerging self-reliant Afghan groups and for the discouragement of others—community elders in particular—who might otherwise undertake resistance activities beyond the aegis of the Islamic groups. Many such persons took refuge in the West. Pakistan refused politely or deferred to an indefinite date the requests that the former king had made to visit it.[33] The Islamist organizations opposed both him and his proposals to set up a national front.

Under these circumstances it was not feasible for a united front to be formed through a jirga. It was so not because the jirga had become anachronistic, to be looked on as “a final attempt by an aristocracy in decline to oppose the rise of Islamists,”[34] but because the neighboring governments opposed the emergence of a national leadership since each followed an agenda of its own to dominate Afghanistan. For this purpose they supported the Islamist groups in their bid to restrict to themselves the right not only to wage jehad but also to be part of the future political leadership. But in the sociopolitical structure of Afghan society at the time, there was no alternative to the jirga of influential groups and magnates to set up a political leadership in accord with the social norms and conventions—unless, of course, one believed in the use of violence and the setting up of an undemocratic or client leadership.

The opposition deterred the former king from moving from Rome, where he met with foreign emissaries. Since he had neither an organization nor a dynasty nor independent financial or military means, he had no other choice. Contrary to the rumors his opponents had spread, the former king, while a ruler, was among the poorest monarchs in the world. In Rome he lived in a villa with financial assistance from the king of Saudi Arabia. A realist and unambitious, he said he would not try to restore the monarchy.[35] Like other Afghans, he was convinced that the Mohammadzay rule has become a part of history. But he was popular. In an opinion survey among the Afghan refugees in Peshawar in 1987, more than 72 percent favored him as their leader. He is, however, not the sort of person to accept risks as his father did in 1929. In his defense, he has been quoted as saying that if he became active, his followers might suffer at the hands of the opponents and he would not be able to help them.[36]

Such a statement is believable from a person who, during forty years of rule, did not sign a writ for the execution of any person for political reasons. He also used his royal influence to commute capital punishment for persons convicted in criminal cases. This is unusual for a king of the Afghans, who have in their history appreciated a strong ruler. Mohammad Zahir Shah was instead a mild ruler. A decade of his reign constituted the constitutional democracy, which had no precedent in Afghan history. He has also played an important role in demonstrating a spirit of nonpartisanship, stating that “during my reign I did not relate myself to a particular tribe or clan, but looked on the entire people of Afghanistan from the same angle.”[37] His unifying efforts in these turbulent times, when other contenders of power showed themselves willing to resort to any means available, reflect that view. In the period of divisiveness, violence, and anarchy the former king was steadfast in his stand for unity, accommodation, construction, and cooperation. Now, half a decade after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, it is unclear whether he will be able to play a role. He can do so only when the Islamic fundamentalists and the governments of Iran and Pakistan leave the Afghans to themselves to set up a political leadership in accord with their social conventions.

Leftist Resistance Groups

The leftists opposed to the invasion and the Kabul regime were the Marxist or Maoist group known as the Shu’lais. Radical revolutionaries, they were also called Left of the Left (Chap-e-Chap). The original name of their organization, which was set up in 1964, was the People’s New Democratic (Democratic-e-Naween-e-Khalq). Its prominent founding figures were Rahim Mahmudi, Hadi Mahmudi, and Mohammad Osman, known as Osman Landay.[38] The Mahmudis enjoyed prestige for being the brother and nephew, respectively, of Abdur Rahman Mahmudi, a revolutionary figure of the 1950s, and Landay, a teacher, was popular among students. No other teacher in Afghanistan has served the cause of modern education as much as Osman Landay. Teaching mathematics and physics in his private courses, he has trained thousands of students.

The People’s New Democratic served as a mother organization of the leftist movement. It aimed at socialism through revolutionary and violent means, rejecting parliamentary ways and conversely supporting armed struggle. It also supported the ideological and political line of the Communist Party of China on national and international issues. Nevertheless, “the organization could never rise to the level of a party and offer a policy program. Lacking this, the organization could not effectively combine legal and illegal methods of struggle and ended up engaging in nothing more than political adventurism.”[39] Still, it more than the PDPA concentrated its activities among peasants.

In the constitutional period the organization published a periodical, Shu’la-e-Jawid (The Eternal Flame), after which it came to be known. The periodical was closed shortly afterwards. In this decade of strained relations between Moscow and Beijing, both chose to spread ideological literature in Kabul. In the fervor of the Cultural Revolution, Beijing eagerly distributed Mao’s works in Pashto and Persian. When Prime Minister E’timadi observed the rapid growth of the pro-Moscow leftists, he left undisturbed the free distribution of Chinese literature, hoping to encourage the Shu’lais to counterpoise the pro-Moscow communists. But this myopic policy brought about the opposite result. In the 1960s, when the university campus was in turmoil and student processions common, the Shu’lais seemed more numerous and more dynamic than the PDPA. The Shu’lais, more than other leftists, became responsible for undermining the democratic system.

The Shu’lais became active in the rural areas, particularly in Herat and closer to Kabul in Kohistan and Parwan, where Chinese experts were also working with the government on a canal project for irrigation purposes. This may explain why the Shu’lais had infiltrated the peasants of the latter areas more than other parties had. But they, too, were not immune to the law of Afghan politics, and by the time of the invasion they had split into many subgroups over theoretical as well as tactical and practical issues. The new groups, in order of significance, were Surkha (later Rihayee), SAMA, Akhgar, Paikar, SAWO, and Khurasan.[40]

Among the pro-Chinese leftist groups SAMA, the most practical, was known to the public, while the rest were known primarily to their members. Majid Kalakani founded SAMA in late 1978. In 1979, in concert with other “nationalist groups,” SAMA forged a front, the National United Front of Afghanistan, or NUFA (Jabha-e-Mutahid-e-Milli-e-Afghanistan). Dominated by SAMA, NUFA was an urban guerrilla alliance. According to Khalid Duran,

[NUFA] outlined a clear program for the war of liberation as well as subsequent political and socioeconomic reconstruction. While NUFA declared itself free of any ideology, it defined itself as “national democratic.” The adherence to democracy was substantiated by a clear affirmation of universal suffrage and human rights, with full equality for women and minorities as well as freedom of worship, all within a federal state with far reaching autonomy for the various nationalities and language groups.[41]

Despite this proclamation, the public still heard the acronym SAMA, not NUFA.

SAMA’s significance was largely due to the adventurousness of its leader, Majid Kalakani, who was more of a social bandit than a leader of leftists. He was a teacher, and while a student he was alleged to have killed the principal of his school, for which he spent two years in prison. Known to his followers as Majid Agha and in the Western press as “the Afghan Robin Hood,” he had become active in his region as early as the first years of the 1970s. He came from the village of Kalakan, from where in the late 1920s the social bandit Habibullah captured the throne and became the ruler of the country for nine months. Majid Kalakani stood for armed as well as cultural and political struggle. He also valued constructive traditions, in particular the custom of opposing social injustice and observing the code of social morality by accepting risk with boldness and chivalry (’ayyari). This attitude, which distanced him from the dogmatic revolutionaries, brought him closer to the common people. An admirer of Kalakani writes, “Unlike the intellectual revolutionaries who look at the people from above, Majid Agha lived among them. The people felt him to be with them. He was knowable to the people. His language was the language of the people and his ideal the ideal of the people.”[42]

All the pro-Chinese leftist groups opposed the invading army and its client regime, and they were behind many uprisings. They also carried out terroristic attacks in daylight in Kabul, some of which were daring indeed. But their organized strength became ineffective in a short time. In cities the KGB, through the KhAD, hunted the pro-Chinese Afghan leftists more vigorously than they did the Islamic elements. Evidently it was the policy of the KGB to clear the country, particularly the city of Kabul, of pro-Chinese elements. It was a clear case of witch-hunting: a suspicion was enough for KhAD to push an educated Afghan into prison, where it would accuse him of being a pro-Chinese communist. Even I was accused of being a leading member of Rihayee, and on such an allegation the KhAD executed a well-known nuclear physicist, Professor Yunus Akbari.

In the rural areas the pro-Chinese communists were no more secure. Their partisan peasants disowned them when they found out that they were communists. Both the government forces and the Islamic opposition pursued them. When the Islamists pursued them, they surrendered to the government. Others joined the government in opposition to the Islamic resistance, while most, particularly their leaders, found their places in the Pul-e-Charkhi concentration camp, where I met many of them. Some disguised themselves and joined the moderate Islamic groups. Their fate became worse than the fate of the populists of Russia in the last part of the nineteenth century when the peasants whom they wanted to serve in their regions handed them over to the authorities. China, the distant patron of these Afghan leftists, was unable or unwilling to help them. The first group of prisoners whom the regime executed were leaders of SAWO. In June 1980 the regime also executed Majid Kalakani, who had been arrested in February of the same year. His brother, Qayyum Rahbar (b. 1942), replaced him as leader of NUFA. A graduate of the University of al-Azhar, Rahbar had specialized in Afghan constitutional development. Well-versed in five languages, including Arabic and German, he taught at the University of Kiel in Germany. A man of the pen rather than the gun, Rahbar led NUFA for ten years until he was gunned down in daylight in Peshawar in 1990.

The suppression of the pro-Chinese elements shows the fate of revolutionary leftists in Afghanistan when unsupported by the might of a foreign power.


1. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 222. This is an important book on the Afghan jirga system. Wajdi is particularly commendable on the jehad jirgas held in Peshawar, where he worked as chief of the Publication Department of the Islamic and National Revolutionary Councils. I am grateful to Masood Majruh for lending me his copy of the book. See also Hyman, “Afghan Politics of Exile.” [BACK]

2. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 220. [BACK]

3. Zamani, “Jirga in Peshawar,” 17, 22, 23. [BACK]

4. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 225. [BACK]

5. Ibid., 229-37. [BACK]

6. Ibid., 226. [BACK]

7. Ibid., 236. [BACK]

8. Ibid., 237. [BACK]

9. Ibid., 243. [BACK]

10. Ibid., 249. [BACK]

11. Ibid., 241. [BACK]

12. Ibid., 246. [BACK]

13. Ibid., 247. [BACK]

14. Ibid., 248. [BACK]

15. Ibid., 251. [BACK]

16. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 110. [BACK]

17. Zamani, “Jirga in Peshawar,” 31, 35. [BACK]

18. Ibid., 14. The Consultative Board had the following as its members: three senior military officers, Shahnawaz Khan of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the leader of the Jama’at-e-Islami of Pakistan. The latter was not a government official. [BACK]

19. Ibid., 14. [BACK]

20. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 111; Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 251. [BACK]

21. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 264-67. [BACK]

22. Ibid., 268. [BACK]

23. A. Wasifi, personal communication, Los Angeles, May 1991. [BACK]

24. Wajdi, Traditional Jirgas, 269. [BACK]

25. Ibid., 270-71. [BACK]

26. For details, see Mohammad Zahir, Messages, 21. I am grateful to Ibrahim Majid Seraj and Sultan Mahmud Ghazi for providing me with this rare book. [BACK]

27. Adamec, Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs, 81. [BACK]

28. Mohammad Zahir, Messages, 47, 22, 34. [BACK]

29. Ibid., 46, 47. [BACK]

30. Amin, “Future of Afghan Society,” 13. The authoritative biography of the former king states that “it was due to his statesmanship that on several critical occasions collisions between the two Muslim countries were averted” (Mohammad Zahir, Messages, 3). [BACK]

31. Mohammad Zahir, Messages, 142. [BACK]

32. A. Wasifi, personal communication, Los Angeles, May 1991. [BACK]

33. S. M. Ghazi, personal communication, Orange County, Calif., January 1991. [BACK]

34. Roy, Islam and Resistance, 124. [BACK]

35. Mohammad Zahir, Messages, 151. [BACK]

36. S. M. Ghazi, personal communication, January 1991. [BACK]

37. Mohammad Zahir, Messages, 151. [BACK]

38. Emadi, State, Society, and Superpowers, 104. [BACK]

39. Ibid. [BACK]

40. Surkha: Sazman-e-Rihayeebakhsh-e-Khalq-e-Afghanistan, (Organization for Liberation of the People of Afghanistan). [BACK]

41. Duran, “Setback for Peace,” 15. [BACK]

42. Kalakani’s father and grandfather also lost their lives for social causes. For details, see Anonymous, “Two Martyred and the Same Fate.” [BACK]

6. Urban Uprisings and Their Suppression

The Afghans are a dynamic and excitable people. When left to their ways, they go quietly about their own pursuits. When outraged, they may go to any extreme—and, like most people, they are outraged when their values are encroached on. Since the Afghans have a long history, and since in the course of it great religions such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Islam have spread in their land, their traditional and religious values are rooted in time. During the course of history Afghans have been molded by these religions as a set of commands and prohibitions and by their own traditions. They look on these social and religious codes as sacrosanct. Because of their experiences, they lead lives centered on religious values; on a code of honor that emphasizes family, ethnicity, and country; and on a code of conduct that governs relations between individuals and groups. Most important, they prefer to live within a framework that imposes the fewest restrictions on them.

Both religious and social conventions require Afghans to have a political structure. This is particularly true of tribal Afghans. The Pashtunwali of Pashtuns, governing their individual and social life, is a code of behavior for all, including their elders. In the past, even in times of war when the central political structure had disintegrated, the Afghans have lived within their social codes. Yet, contradictory as it may seem, the Afghans are not resistant to innovation and modernization. “Afghan cultural traits enable survival because the social structure, while strongly traditional, is, at the same time, surprisingly resilient, not rigid and intractable.”[1] A pragmatic people, the Afghans have shown appreciation for change when, in this period of rapid transformation elsewhere, they have become aware of their backwardness. They have, however, wanted change to happen within the framework of their value system. The Afghans can be coaxed to hell, but not forced to heaven. The truth of this saying was made clear in the constitutional decade, when governments ruled on consensus. In this period even rural Afghans demanded schemes of modernization, calling for them either directly or through their representatives. For this purpose they volunteered their services and offered contributions in cash and plots of land. Such was particularly the case with regard to schools for both boys and girls. The rapid increase in the number of schools in the 1950s and 1960s, when Ali Ahmad Popal and Abdul Kayeum were the cabinet ministers of education, was the result of such cooperation. But those who embarked on schemes of modernization after the constitutional period did not show this wisdom.

Twice in the 1970s the Afghans were outraged: in 1978 by the communist coup, and in 1979 by the Russian invasion. The Afghans regarded both as violations of their mores. Besides, the invasion occurred when a civil war was going on. The invasion turned the civil war into a war of liberation. It gave that war a new meaning, summed up in the word jehad, an expression particularly moving to Muslim Afghans in such times. There have been many periods of jehad before in Afghan life, such as those against the Sikhs and the British in the last century, but this was the most forceful of all. The Russians were godless communists, and their ruthless suppression of the Muslims of Central Asia had been related to the Afghans by the thousands of the Muslims of Bukhara who had taken refuge in Afghanistan.

The Afghans worried that if the Russians dominated their country, not only would they lose their independence, but their land might become a Soviet republic, as the Muslim Bukhara had become. This explains why, with the exception of pro-Moscow communists (and not all of those) and the small group of the Sitam-e-Milli, the bulk of Afghans opposed the invasion. The opposition was shown throughout the country in a form and to a degree that has not been shown before. Except for pockets of the regime’s supporters here and there, every group—religious, ethnic, and social—rose in protest. Even the religious minorities of Sikhs and Hindus covertly assisted the mujahideen.

Prelude to Urban Uprisings

The national opposition was marked by two stages: spontaneous, disorganized urban opposition, and rural guerrilla opposition. It soon became clear that the Soviet army could suppress the former but not the latter. The mobile mujahideen could fight almost indefinitely.

Following the invasion, the Soviet army contingent increased in number. Within a week it swelled to about 85,000 and subsequently to 120,000. Its materiel included varieties of modern weapons, both chemical and strategic, which were deployed temporarily against possible attack from the outside. In addition, Soviet warplanes from bases across the Oxus also took part in operations inside Afghanistan.

Army contingents were stationed in and around cities as well as along some main roads. Some were dispatched to frontier areas such as Kunar and Gardez. The bulk of them were stationed along the main roads leading to the Soviet border. A protective line was drawn around the city of Kabul, but the army did not immediately take part in operations. Until the uprising in Kabul in February 1980, the invading army acted in self-defense. The Soviets acted on the view that since resistance to their invincible army was futile, it would be a matter only of weeks or perhaps months before the country settled. They also held that since the invading army had rid the Afghans of the tyrant Khalqis, they would accept its presence. The promises of the new regime were likewise calculated to soothe the Afghans.

With that in mind, the authorities instructed provincial governors to establish a dialogue with those who had taken up arms. They were to persuade the militants to lay down their arms and enjoy the benefits of a peaceful life. This approach, on the contrary, emboldened the mujahideen, who soon appeared close to provincial capitals and roamed about in groups in villages surrounding the cities. There they either killed Communist Party members or drove them to cities. By 24 January the province of Laghman, for example, had been cleared of party members and their collaborators, while by mid-February the whole countryside had been wrested from government control. The mujahideen even controlled some main roads in the sense that they searched transport vehicles for party members and government officers. The Karmal government became confined to cities, and even there unparalleled opposition was shown to the invading power and its client government.

Herat and Kandahar in Turmoil

Individual acts of opposition were first shown by urban Afghans following the invasion when Russian soldiers walked here and there in the city of Kabul, acting as though Kabul were Moscow. Ordinary Afghans abhorred the very sight of the soldiers. In separate attacks, a butcher and a shopkeeper killed roaming soldiers in broad daylight on 3 January. The attackers also lost their lives. During the first week of January individual attacks became common in Kabul, particularly in quarters such as Khair Khana, Dasht-e-Barchi, Qala-e-Shada, and Pul-e-Sokhta. A particularly dramatic attack was made by a young villager of Qala-e-Abdullah in Kohistan in May 1980. Approaching as a peddler, he stabbed to death a patrolling Russian soldier when the latter became interested in his fanciful commodities. Dressed in the soldier’s uniform and armed with his weapons, the “peddler” shot dead seven Russian soldiers who were swimming in the nearby river.

Such attacks were an indication of the storm that was soon to come. The movement of contingents of the invading army into cities, in addition, made it clear to the ordinary Afghans that atheists had occupied their homeland. Their response to the invaders now came quicker than the response of their forefathers to the invading British army a hundred years earlier. Popular opposition in the city of Kandahar was even more dramatic. Five days after the invasion the people of the city of Kandahar, who numbered over 130,000 in 1970, rose against the Russian army. After they killed a few men, the invading army withdrew to the cantonment. The uprising was followed by closure of the shops as a form of protest. By the first week of February the demonstrations became general. Shopkeepers closed their shops while men and women called azans (calls for prayers) on their flat rooftops and recited passages from the Quran. Denouncing the Russians and their puppet regime, they headed toward public cemeteries in protest.

The inhabitants of the city of Herat, who numbered 73,700 in 1970, made an even stronger commotion. During the first week of January 1980, the men of the city, at the first sight of the Russian soldiers, left their homes for mosques and other open spaces and called for prayers. All shops, except those selling essential commodities, were closed. The city of Herat was the innovator of anticommunist commotions. Its inhabitants had been the first to arise en masse a year earlier against the Khalqi regime, as already noted. The cities of Mazar and Balkh were also disturbed, but not to the extent that Herat and Kandahar were. In Kandahar and Herat the commotion was continual. On 22 February 1980 the population of Kabul, which numbered 513,000 in 1970, also participated in the greatest uprising in its history.

The Great Uprising of Kabul

The commotion in Kabul was a reflection of the will of the people because it was the capital city of the country. Party activists tried to dissuade shopkeepers from closing their shops and stores, but to no effect. A day before the uprising security officials arrested about two hundred persons, including a number of Khalqis, for inciting the people. The closure of the shops had been preceded by the distribution of clandestine antigovernment leaflets (shabnamaha). To incite the people still further, a group of two or three young men would appear in front of each shopkeeper and warn him to close the shop. He was also told to repeat with them that “Karmal was a traitor, and the Russians should leave our fatherland.” It was also said that “under-ground groups had smuggled rifles into the city beforehand.”[2]

The next sign of the storm was shown in the moonlit evening, when the cry “Allah o Akbar!” (God is great) echoed and reechoed over the breadth and length of the city, something unheard before. This was said to have been ordered, but who had ordered it is not known.[3] The chanting was an extension of the practice in Herat and Kandahar, where two evenings earlier such azans had become intense. In Kabul only men, including myself and young children, called the azans. The azans sounded the whole night. Nearby villagers also took part in making them. Soon the sound and color of rockets fired into the sky accompanied the azans. The invaders from the military cantonments in the city fired the rockets to frighten the people. In response, the Afghans raised the volume of their calls. It was as if a competition was under way, and indeed it was. This protest coincided with a reception in the Soviet embassy commemorating the sixty-second anniversary of the foundation of the Soviet army. The reception was announced in the name of the military attaché of the embassy, yet Babrak Karmal had also attended as head of state. This further angered the Afghans, who saw it below the dignity of the office of the head of state, even though they now opposed that office.

Early the next morning (22 February 1980, or 3 Hoot 1358) thousands of Afghans consummated the uprising, beginning in the old part of the city. Almost simultaneously, groups of people by the thousands appeared in different quarters of the city: Dasht-e-Barchi, Pul-e-Khishti, Mohammad Jan Khan Watt, Salang Watt, Jamal Maina, Beni Hissar, and Qala-e-Fathullah.[4] Along the way thousands of others joined the march, which made it difficult even to estimate their total number. Except for the pro-Moscow communists, the people of the city either took part in the uprising or supported it, and Kabul was the first to oppose the invaders and the regime. The marchers were determined and undaunted. Those in the front ranks carried the green flag of Islam and chanted the slogan “Allah o Akbar!” Others incited them with fiery and evocative words. In the Haji Yaqub Square a group of women also chanted anti-Soviet slogans until they were dispersed.[5]

Soon armed units that had already taken positions in streets met the column marching along the Salang Watt in the central part of the city. Some Khalqis had declined to take action against the demonstrators. The demonstrators were unarmed, marching peacefully. Security forces, speaking through loudspeakers, asked them to disperse. They declined. After firing into the air, the security forces then fired at them at random. The marchers in the front lines fell to the ground. For a while, the flags were not allowed to remain on the ground with the fallen martyrs. They were picked up by men from the rear lines, who continued the march in the face of now sporadic firing.

The demonstrators could not continue their march in the face of the cutting force. After some time they ran for safety in the adjacent narrow lanes, only to join the main body later. It was then that they looted some shops and set some transport vehicles on fire. Their targets were state property, although private property was also looted. Finally they ran to the mosque of Pul-e-Khishti to take sanctuary, as is the custom of the land. But there, too, in some places they were fired on. After the dispersal of this uprising, security forces again began firing into the air, giving the impression that they had been doing so all along.

In the Dehburi Square in the Mier Wais Maidan, many groups of demonstrators converged, forming the biggest protest rally in the western part of the city. Those who started their protest from the town of Dasht-e-Barchi were the largest of all the groups. In their long march to the area, thousands of others joined them. When they reached Pul-e-Sokhta, the security men fired at them. Some protesters were lost, but the rest continued their march. The police of the Mier Wais Maidan headquarters also fired on them. This time they lost a larger number and dispersed. At about this time another column of protesters arrived from Qala-e-Shada and headed toward the government bakery through Dehburi, where the dispersed protesters of the Dasht-e-Barchi column joined them. The combined group occupied the headquarters of the police of the Khushal Maina. Here the police not only did not oppose them but even let them have weapons. The house of the fallen Amin was looted. An armored Russian contingent then appeared in the area, and helicopters flew low over the protesters, apparently passing on information about their movements to the armored units.

Toward midday the sounds of heavy bombs exploding elsewhere shook Khushal Maina. High in the sky warplanes roared. Rockets were fired from the low-flying helicopters. Armored units on the ground also began firing. Thus, both from the sky and the ground the Russians used their weapons for the first time against common Afghans in their own city. But these protesters, protected by modern buildings, did not lose as many as the protesters in the Salang Watt. The invaders apparently intended more to frighten than to kill. At this time I fled the area for safety, feeling a sense of appreciation for those journalists who cover the forefronts of battlefields. The sound of firing in Khushal Maina was heard until six o’clock in the evening.

Another column of protesters emerged in Chindawal near the center of the old city. After taking weapons from the area police headquarters, the protesters marched toward the main road of Jada-e-Maiwand in the middle of the crowded part of the city. This section had also been the scene of clashes in the preceding summer between the locals and the Khalqi government. Both uprisings were suppressed. The column of protesters in the Bagh-e-Ali Mardan part of the old city also succeeded in acquiring weapons from the local police headquarters. A determined column of these protesters managed to reach as far as the east gate of the presidential palace (often called the People’s House), but after suffering casualties they were forced to retreat and disperse. In the confrontation with the presidential guards about fifty soldiers were killed.

From the suburban interconnected villages of Deh Dana and Afshar close to Darulaman, people went out of their homes and, chanting “Allah o Akbar!” and anti-Soviet slogans, attacked a few nearby tanks. The tanks withdrew from the area, but shortly afterward a number of military jeeps containing armed men appeared at the scene. By that time the number of protesters had also increased. The men in the jeeps, speaking through loudspeakers, told the protesters that gatherings of more than four people had been declared unlawful under martial law; thus, they were required to disperse. When the people declined, they were fired on. About 120 fell dead, and the rest fled. Columns of protesters also appeared, as noted, in many other parts of the city, but information about them is not available. By nightfall calm prevailed over the city. About two thousand people were said to have been killed, but the actual number was probably about eight hundred. Four hundred bodies were seen in the morgue of the Four-Hundred-Bed Hospital.[6] Protests still continued for the next six days, but no longer in the streets. During this period shops and stores, except those for essential goods, were kept closed until the security men compelled shopkeepers to open them. Knowing in advance that the storm was coming, the authorities responded quickly. They took measures to suppress the marches, and they adopted other measures to forestall disturbances in the future. Around midday, in a special television broadcast, the government announced that martial law was in effect in the city. Declaring meetings unlawful, it forbade people to be seen in groups of more than four persons. It also declared the city to be under curfew at night and ordered people to surrender the unlicensed weapons in their possession. Further, it stated that agents of the governments of Pakistan, the United States, and China had tried to disturb security and destroy state property. “An unfortunate group of sixteen Pakistanis, with two Chinese, two Americans, and an Egyptian, were arrested in Kabul, accused of being agents to create bloody pogroms and murder.”[7] The government did not mention the name of Iran, although the Afghan Shi’ite followers of the Ayatullah Khomeini were active in the uprising and had chanted his name. In the uprisings during the Khalqi period, both Iran and Pakistan had been blamed. Later in the evening the regime announced that government offices were closed until further notice; they were reopened on 25 February. “Many more Kabulis were summarily shot from among 5000 arrested after the uprising.”[8] Among them were a number of pro-Amin Khalqis.

The measures opened a new stage of repression for the period when Karmal headed the regime. Common sense would have regarded the uprising as an indication of the will of the people. The policy of occupation should have been revised, as the British had done under similar circumstances about a hundred years earlier. Instead, the Soviets stressed violence in reaching the goals their rulers had set. To establish the regime, they abandoned a defensive posture in favor of offensive measures. The new posture became clear in other cities, where bands of armed agents of KhAD searched houses for suspects, while army units searched for draft evaders. During the curfew hours KhAD agents roamed the streets of Kabul. Not a night passed without shops being looted or houses searched and their inhabitants molested or insulted and their valuables taken. The Russian patrols also looted shops. In the name of security the regime created insecurity, and its measures to undo some of the repressive measures of its predecessor lost meaning. The regime became more isolated from the people and more dependent on the Soviet might.

In evaluating this uprising, we might note that no group of protesters was organized, although it has been claimed that “to oppose the Russians the whole city of Kabul had been organized to rise on 21 February.”[9] Only the column of Chindawal seemed organized. No prominent figure was seen among the marchers, who were ordinary citizen. In this respect, the protesters differed from those who had risen against the British during the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the last century. At the time such men as General Mohammad Jan Khan Wardak, General Ghulam Hayder Charkhi, Mier Bacha of Kohistan, and others led the uprising. The actions of the present protesters were not coordinated.

A conspicuous feature of the opposition was the participation of the Shi’as with their Sunni brothers; together, they constituted the great majority of the city’s population. The Shi’ite Qizilbashes and Hazaras dominated the columns of demonstrators emerging from the Dasht-e-Barchi, Qala-e-Shada, Deh Dana, Jamal Maina, Karta-e-Sakhi, and Chindawal. The significance of this can be understood when it is borne in mind that their role was reversed during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. A portion of the educated Qizilbashes were Parchamis, who were now called “the internal Russians.” In opposing the regime and the occupation army, the Sunni followers of the Islamic Party, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Shi’ite followers of the Islamic Movement, led by Ayatullah Shaykh Asif Muhsini, and thousands of others joined hands. The Maoist Shu’lais likewise incited the insurgents, particularly the Qizilbashes and the Hazaras. In this they were quite successful, working as if they were competing with the Islamic movement. A number of pro-Amin Khalqis also took part in the uprising, either by inciting the insurgents or by not performing their jobs in critical hours. It was because of the unwillingness of some Khalqi officers to go against the insurgents that the Russian forces were brought in. All Parchamis and most Khalqis joined hands with the occupation forces against their own compatriots.

Although rifles were smuggled into the city, they were apparently not used. The protesters, particularly those who were from the suburban areas, carried spades, clubs, a number of antiquated rifles, and swords. A lame, middle-aged villager with an antiquated sword in his hand was seen struggling toward the city to join the multitude, denouncing the infidel Russians as he went. The voices heard among the protesters were directed against the Soviets and infidelity (kufr) and showed concern for the country. Some said, “O Muslims, infidels have come and occupied our fatherland and endangered our religion,” while others cried, “O Russians, get out of our land!”

The number of the protesters cannot be determined. It is, however, not difficult to say to what segment of society they belonged. The areas from which they emerged are areas mainly of the lower professional middle class and unskilled laborers. They are also areas of shopkeepers and artisans of various professions. The Hazara coolies also come from these areas. Eight of them were found dead near Dehburi with their sacks on their backs.

This description might suggest that the protesters’ grievances were economic. Far from it. In the face of a ruthless enemy, prudence dictated that prominent persons remain behind, while thousands of anonymous persons—inspired by their religious values, which were now visibly threatened by atheists, and by the values of their country, now openly endangered by foreign occupants—confronted the occupying forces with empty hands, even going so far as to sacrifice their lives. They did so knowing that the army of one of the mightiest powers in the world patrolled their city. The Afghans showed an opposition to foreign intruders that transcended religious, linguistic, and ethnic boundaries. The ties that now bound them overshadowed their mutual differences. That the resistance groups in the opposition camp had not yet mul-tiplied, that the followers of the few existing ones had not aligned against each other on party lines, and that the traditional way of waging jehad in a collective spirit was strong may in part account for the solidarity. So against the Russian intruders the Afghans responded in unison, despite the intimidating odds. In the entire period of national resistance, it was the peak of Afghan solidarity.

Student Uprisings

Educational institutions were opened after the winter holiday in March 1980 in Kabul. Kabul has a large number of high schools and professional and higher educational institutions in proportion to its population. Most are located in the western part of the city, where the student population was conspicuous. Among these institutions is Kabul University, which before the communist coup had twelve thousand students and eight hundred professors.[10] A month after the start of the academic year, students demonstrated. Before that they had distributed antigovernment leaflets. In one of them, Falah (Salvation), they demanded the withdrawal of the invading army and proposed that until it had been withdrawn, ideological differences should be put aside and a united front formed. The underground periodical Jabha-e-Danish (The Front of Knowledge) called on the opposition organizations even more forcefully to set up a common front. In ordinary circumstances such activities may pass unnoticed, but under conditions of repression it can be a sign of an imminent storm.

One of the first waves of the storm came on 27 April 1980, when the regime commemorated the second anniversary of the coup in a strict ceremony attended by only a few select party members and government officials. This restriction gave the ceremony the aura more of a funeral than of a public festival. On the eve of the inauguration school students had disturbed the city. During the disturbances female students had been so agitated that they ridiculed police officers sent to silence them. Some girls called them “Russian slaves” while others put their scarves on the officers, telling them that now they had become “women,” an insulting word when uttered in such a manner to men in Afghanistan. Others snatched caps from the police and accused them of having accepted slavery in return for money. It was extraordinary for schoolgirls to be so brave, but the police were sympathetic to them. The police showed reluctance to harm them, but the Parchami youths who had accompanied them acted brutally. They had already shot dead four students at the Omar-e-Shaheed Lycée and one at the Habibiyya High School when the students had risen in defiance on 25 April.

On 29 April 1980 the peaceful procession that students held on the campus of the university turned even bloodier. They shouted anti-Soviet slogans and demanded that the Soviet army leave. When their procession, originating at the College of Engineering, reached the College of Pharmacy, armed Parchami youths, after firing first into the air, fired at them directly, killing three. The procession nevertheless continued until ten students were lost to the bullets of the Parchami youths in front of the nearby Teachers Training Institute. Among them was Miss Naheed, a high school student, who, while holding a wounded fellow student in her arms, was inciting others. She soon became a martyr and a symbol of patriotism. A Parchami from a nearby building had fired at her. Months later the assassin was also killed for the killing of Miss Naheed. At the institute the procession dispersed without reaching the center of the city. On that day, while the students of a number of schools had taken to the streets, other schools had been besieged. When a procession of the students of the Habibiyya High School reached the nearby Soviet embassy, armed Parchami youths fired at them, killing three.

Despite the repression, students were still inflamed. The majority of students continued to boycott classes. On 3 May 1980 a still greater number of university students took to the streets and headed toward the city, moving in a more organized fashion. This time they refrained from uttering provoking slogans and observed the spirit of the newly enunciated provisional constitution, the Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which guaranteed the right to peaceful demonstrations. I witnessed the beginning of this march, and, although I admired the students, I felt depressed at the thought of the fate awaiting them. When the procession reached Barikot, it was encircled by a contingent of mounted army instead of by the police. After initial hesitation, the contingent dashed at the students, beating them with clubs and using tear gas. More than five hundred were arrested. On that day security forces also besieged government offices in anticipation of the rumor that government officials intended to join the procession. On 22 May 1980 the fourth and last procession by students of the College of Engineering was suppressed immediately after it started. But high schools throughout the city remained disturbed. Students went on strike, and their schools were besieged by contingents of the police. Students, particularly female students, were loud in denouncing Lenin and Brezhnev in their slogans, in spite of the fact that their parents had cautioned them not to do so.

During the second week of June 1980 a melodrama of a different kind was played out in some schools. Ever since the communist coup, many events had taken the Afghans by surprise, but the poisoning of school students was the most surprising of all. For three consecutive days a large number of students of the Soriya High School (an academy for girls) and a number of other schools were poisoned. Thirty workers at a government printing press were also poisoned. A few days later (12 June) students at ten high schools were poisoned. On that day alone more than five hundred students were taken to hospitals for treatment. No one was fatally ill. It was said that the poison was released into the air from a small “cartridge.” Others said that drinking water had been poisoned. It is still unknown who did all this. The regime blamed the “agents of imperialism and reactionary forces,” that is, the ikhwanis or mujahideen, while the mujahid organizations in Peshawar blamed the Soviet Union and the Kabul regime. In Kabul it was said that KhAD was responsible. According to this theory, since the month-long student agitation had discredited the regime, KhAD, in order to forestall a repetition, decided to intimidate the students and their families. It was further argued that had other people committed the act, KhAD would have caught the perpetrators and made the case public. This theory is also reinforced by the fact that a proportionally larger number of students of the Soriya High School suffered in the tragedy, for they as well as their teachers were most active in the agitation. Following the agitation and the poisoning, Kabul schools were paralyzed, and many schoolboys fled abroad.

Unlike the city uprising, the student uprising was organized. By the time the students arose, seven student unions had become active on the university campus, among them the Council of the Revolutionary Youth of the University, the Union of Liberationists, Salvation, and the General Union of Professors and Students. With about six hundred members, the Council of the Revolutionary Youth was the biggest, with branches in city high schools. The council, like the Union of Professors and Students, was composed of noncommitted students, while others were branches of political groups such as the Maoist Rihayee, the Islamic Association, and the Islamic Party. But along with two more, the council did not favor open demonstrations on the ground that by holding rallies students exposed themselves. They stood instead for strikes and boycotts. The committed unions and others carried the day by persuading others to hold rallies, but, as described, KhAD suppressed them. For this purpose KhAD, through its secret agents, had set up its own union to persuade students to hold rallies.[11] It has well been said that “pro-Khalqi students opposed Parchamis, resenting the Soviet presence, and almost equally Parchami disparagement of Amin, together with his policies. Nationalists and anti-Marxists [joined] with Muslim fundamentalist sympathizers, girls as well as boys, in riot[s] and demonstrations, which were put down only after shootings and mass arrests.”[12] How many students were killed in this monthlong period of agitation is difficult to tell. Estimates have varied between seventy-two and one hundred; others put it as high as two hundred.[13] The number of those who were injured cannot be determined, because the injured students, fearful of being imprisoned, did not seek treatment in hospitals. But those arrested were said to number about two thousand. Subsequently, no more rallies were attempted, and the students concentrated on boycotts.

On 13 May the authorities released about five hundred students on certain conditions and further announced that the cases of “a few” imprisoned students were pending in the court. The “few” were many students who spent years in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison. The imprisoned students did not defend the rallies in the courts. An exception was Ashuk Kumar (a Hindu student from Kandahar), Abdul Widud, and one other. Not only did they defend the rallies, but they also opposed the Soviet invasion. Each was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment, the longest term for the imprisoned students.[14] Other measures included the dismissal and transfer of high school teachers, who were suspected of having incited their students. As for the university, no drastic measures were taken, but the regime speeded up the Sovietization program that it had already started. The program consisted of changing university curricula in line with Marxism-Leninism, of changing the administrative system to conform to that of the Soviet system and of stressing the spirit of friendship with the Soviet Union.[15] All of these changes required an increase in the number of instructors and advisers from the Soviet Union and communist bloc countries.

Although the student agitation was a minor problem, the regime feared that it might provoke the people of the city to yet another disturbance and tarnish its image in the Soviet Union. Since the students were their sons and daughters, the city’s residents abhorred the use of force against them. For the same reason, the regime also tried to suppress the student processions as quickly as possible. Coming as they did in the wake of the city uprising, the agitations revealed certain matters that damaged the regime politically and morally. The Karmal faction was predominantly a city group. Until the student demonstrations, the Parchamis had claimed that the intelligentsia supported them. This claim was convincing, since the intelligentsia had twice elected Karmal to parliament in the constitutional period. The uprisings proved otherwise: now his erstwhile supporters also rejected him. By becoming the man of the Soviets, he eroded the only support he had ever had.

From yet another angle, the Parchamis were also discredited. In the 1960s they held rallies as the present protesters did, taking to the streets when they thought a government had breached a democratic right. But now they suppressed rallies permitted by their own constitution. If the regime had had any moral basis, it now disappeared. The Parchamis were, however, acting on the instructions they were receiving from the Soviets. Ominously, the Soviets could impose their client regime on the Afghans only by subduing them by force; they could secure the country only by destroying it.


1. Farr and Merriam, Afghan Resistance, 2. [BACK]

2. Hyman, Afghanistan, 179. [BACK]

3. Zadran, History of Afghanistan 1:671. [BACK]

4. Haqshinas, Russia’s Crimes and Intrigues, 404. [BACK]

5. Anonymous, Uprising of the Muslims of Kabul, 17. I am grateful to Professor Sayyed Yusuf Ilmi for giving me this and a number of other pamphlets. See also Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 673. [BACK]

6. Anonymous, Uprising of the Muslims of Kabul, 22. [BACK]

7. Hyman, Afghanistan, 180. [BACK]

8. Ibid., 179. [BACK]

9. Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 671. [BACK]

10. A. S. Aziemi, personal communication, Peshawar, February 1989. Mr. Aziemi was chancellor of Kabul University before the communists took over. [BACK]

11. S. Sh. Ayyar, personal communication, San Diego, 1993. Ayyar and Mahfuz (Baryalay) Kakar were among the seven founding members of the Council of Students. [BACK]

12. Hyman, Afghanistan, 181. [BACK]

13. Ibid. [BACK]

14. S. Sh. Ayyar, personal communication, San Diego, 1993. [BACK]

15. For details see, Ilmi, Afghanistan; Ilmi and Majruh, Sovietization of Afghanistan; Shah, “Soviet Interferences.” [BACK]

7. Beginning of the Countrywide Armed Clashes

A true account of war is essential for understanding the policies as well as the degree of culture of the parties involved in it. To understand the war under discussion, we must examine the events on the battlefields, for it was on the battlefields that policies were exposed and tested. It was also on the battlefields that the participants revealed themselves as exemplars of their nations. Official documents on the present war are not generally available, but even when they are, one wonders whether one would be able to write the kind of work that the British historian John Kaye wrote on the First Anglo-Afghan War. That profound historian had available not only official documents but also private diaries of those who took part in the war. It seems unlikely that anyone will be able to gain access to such materials for the present war: the truth is distorted and suppressed by both the totalitarian state (or states) and the feeling of righteousness.

But the truth must be told if history is to describe the activities of men and women as they actually happened. Hoping to be exact and objective, I have described those armed confrontations of the initial stage of the war about which I have reliable information. This description, too, is unsatisfactory, since the authorities not only prevented journalists from covering the engagements but also fed the public misinformation. Also, many clashes occurred, and many of those happened virtually simultaneously in a country with an area of 250,000 square miles. Besides, while one side boasted a mobile modern army, the other consisted of a constellation of mobile human groups who were unable to confront the enemy in open battle but were well acquainted with the terrain of their land. When pressed, they would retreat to the upper parts of the long valleys, from which they could strike almost at will.

When the mujahideen were unwilling to encounter the enemy on the plains, they either hid in orchards and underground irrigation canals or spread out and mingled with the locals in villages or worked on the land as farmers. They waged a war of hit-and-run tactics until they were armed with antiaircraft weapons. Only then did they become a little more stable. An exception was in mountainous regions, where certain tribal communities known for their marksmanship, such as the Zadran, were able to repulse attacks made against them. Nevertheless, the resistance movement in the plains was as strong as that in the hilly regions. The view that the Afghans succeeded because of the mountainous nature of their land is simply not true.

A Government without Rural Territories

The Khalqi government was the government of Afghanistan in the sense that it ruled over it despite opposition. By the time of the invasion, except for the four districts of Gizao, Barak, Oaz, and one other and two subdistricts, which had been wrested from government control, all administrative units in the rural areas functioned. In certain rural areas where the opposition was strong, party members and collaborators were exposed to acts of terror. The government retaliated by sending troops there, and in the clashes that followed government forces compelled the recalcitrants to retreat to the upper parts of the valleys. They were thus safe from being crushed, but weakened. Some main roads were also unsafe, but once a week I and other university professors went to Jalalabad to teach, and we continued to do so right up to the invasion without observing any signs of insecurity. By contrast, the Parchami government was not a government even in this sense. It did not rule over the country. Within weeks of the invasion it was, as already noted, besieged in the cities. The greater part of the people lived in the countryside beyond the regime’s control or fled abroad. The regime was less than a state, since state refers to a government ruling despotically or constitutionally over a people living within internationally accepted boundaries and recognized as such by the world community. For want of a better term, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which the Parchamis stressed as the state (dawlat), is here referred to as the Parchami regime or the Kabul regime.

If the installment of the puppet regime was quick, so was the opposition to it. The Islamic groups were the first to descend on the plains from the upper parts of the valleys, surrounding the provincial capitals. The city of Baghlan, close to the Soviet Union, fell to them on 14 January. Soon the groups cleared the country’s rural areas of party members and collaborators. In the province of Laghman the mujahideen besieged its capital city, Mihtarlam, then eliminated those party members who had remained behind and set their houses on fire. Former collaborators were also forced to leave their homes for cities. By February the city of Jalalabad, close to Pakistan, was besieged. By mid-February, when all the rural areas had been wrested away, the Kabul regime became confined to cities. The Soviets and the regime set up military posts along the main roads, but in places along those very roads resistance groups searched transport vehicles for party members and took them away when they recognized them. It was no longer safe for party members and proregime Afghans to travel between cities. To escape unharmed, they traveled in disguise. By the second week of May 1980 the Khalqis and Parchamis were no longer to be found in the rural areas. They had either been killed or fled to cities.

Most uluswals (heads of districts) had either been killed or fled, and those few who remained guarded themselves with armored units. Alaqadaran (heads of subdistricts) were no longer to be found. Some provincial governors had to spend the nights in military cantonments. By the first week of March the main roads had become unsafe for traffic in spite of the military posts stationed along them. Accompanied by contingents of the army, transport buses and other vehicles had to go in caravans.

This success of the mujahideen indicated their support by the locals, who either opposed the regime or refused to cooperate with it. Only certain small sectors supported the regime—for instance, the residents of the Nazyan Valley in Shinwar, some Uzbeks in Takhar and Dawlatabad, and some Isma’ili Tajiks of Roashan and Shighnan. The opposition to the invasion was thus national, crossing regional, ethnic, and linguistic lines. Never before in Afghan history had so many people been as united as they now were in opposition to an invader. What polarized the society was political and ideological. Those who supported the regime and the Soviets were usually educated persons drawn from various ethnic groups, particularly the urban minorities.

After the invasion, Karmal sent deputations to the frontier provinces to obtain their allegiance, but the deputations could not reach their destinations. Provincial governors were then instructed to summon local notables and explain to them that the government had plans to promote their welfare. This also failed to impress the people. On Friday, 5 April 1980, for example, the governor of Laghman addressed a meeting of about fifteen hundred worshipers in a public mosque and asked for those who supported his government to raise their hands. No one raised a hand. The notables of the city of Baghlan were more open and demanding, telling the governor that they would accept the government provided the Russians left and elections were held. They also voiced their support for an Islamic republic. In June 1980 the notables of the province of Balkh told their governor that unless the foreign troops were withdrawn, they would be unwilling to pay taxes or furnish men for military service.

Mujahideen as Local Rulers

Even in this early stage the mujahideen acted as local rulers. They replaced government officials and also local elders who acted as go-betweens for the government and the people and who settled disputes in accord with the system of jirga or consultation. The mujahideen extended control over areas with mixed population and to some extent over tribal areas. By April 1980 the province of Laghman was divided into a number of precincts (houza), each led by a commandant. In each precinct Shari’a became supreme, and disputes were settled on its basis. Local usage and conventions were discarded. Judgment was swift, involving heavy fines on both sides of the dispute. Theft became rare. The new rudimentary system of administration established by the Islamic party was in essence the nucleus of the Islamic republic that the Islamists intended to set up.

The success of the mujahideen meant an increase in their numbers. Since not all of them were from the area where they operated, and since jehad required large expenditures, the locals provided them with shelter, food, and clothes. But even with the best of intentions people were unable to accommodate large numbers of mujahideen. Nevertheless, since jehad required the Muslims to contribute toward it with fighting men and other necessities, the mujahideen expected them to perform their Islamic duty. Landlords paid them the Islamic tithe, while merchants paid them taxes. Another source of income for the mujahideen was a percentage from the pay of government employees, including party members who were on government payroll but who had property in the area under the control of the mujahideen.

A tragic aspect of the situation was the destruction of schools, which were destroyed with no remorse. This was because the Khalqis had turned schools into centers of communist indoctrination, espionage, and immorality, not of knowledge and education. To the Khalqis and the Parchamis, educational institutions were means for promoting ideology. Also, since the educational system was a part of the government, party members—most of whom were also party secretaries—administered educational centers. Being powerful, they played a role in eliminating government opponents. Although before the communist coup people had requested governments to open schools, as already noted, throughout the land the mujahideen now destroyed village schools, primary schools, and high schools outside provincial capitals and cities. Agents of the regime also destroyed schools with the intention of defaming the resistance groups. To infiltrate the resistance groups, some of them became overzealous in this act of vandalism. Thus, the cooperative accomplishment of governments and people over a long period of time was destroyed overnight. This was the second time in this century when modern education suffered on a major scale as a victim of politics.

Public Concern

The locals showed concern on a number of points that assumed many dimensions discrediting the resistance movement. The locals looked with revulsion on the summary execution by the mujahideen of party members and their associates. The same was also the case when the mujahideen burned houses, confiscated property, and compelled suspected families to leave their homes for cities. Since social bonds were strong in the rural areas, such acts adversely affected the community. Such acts became common because not all mujahideen were disinterested. Those mujahideen who bore grudges against others or who were from among the lower ranks of society let themselves be motivated by personal interest. The biggest source of disillusionment for the common Afghans was the multiplicity of the resistance organizations and their lack of unity. The clashes that occurred among some of them pained the people. This dissension was caused partly by the disunity among their leaders and partly by the jealousy of the local commanders, who wished to extend the areas they controlled with little or no regard for jehad. The flight of local elders to cities and abroad created a vacuum which the commanders now tried to fill and over which they quarreled. The common Afghans, for whom the expulsion of the invaders was the overriding concern, did not understand why the resistance groups bickered among themselves. It was against this background that the Soviets embarked on military expeditions.

Features of Military Confrontations

Protected by an unmatchable air force, armored units of the invading army were able to carry out expeditions anywhere and drive the mujahideen to the inaccessible parts of the valleys, but it was too risky for the Soviets to remain there. Indeed, they could not stay even in the plains. The army of the regime was also unreliable and soldiers deserted. Since there were few Parchamis in the army and since the regime’s army had still not become reliable by recruitment, the invading army undertook expeditions alone, hoping to break the resistance as soon as possible: hence the intensification of confrontations, the high number of casualties, and the displacement of many Afghans. By the end of 1980, 1.4 million Afghans had fled to Pakistan alone; by the end of 1981, the number of Afghan refugees there had reached 2.3 million. Similar numbers fled to Iran.[1]

Since they could not differentiate the mujahideen from the locals and since they could not engage the mujahideen in battles, the invaders tried to detach them from their own people. Intending to destroy the rebels’ support among the civilian population, they also turned against the noncombatants, destroying their villages, their crops, and their irrigation systems and even killing them.[2] Indiscriminate destruction of property and human life, civilian as well as military, thus became a feature of Soviet military expeditions. This was particularly so when the mujahideen killed Russian soldiers. In such cases the invaders massacred civilians by the droves. By the force of circumstances the invaders found themselves in a situation in which they killed hundreds and thousands of those for whose protection they had purportedly come. Thus, the claim that they had come to save Afghanistan lost meaning, and Russia found itself in a quagmire that challenged the imagination of its military authorities more seriously than it had been challenged at any other time during its five centuries on the Asian mainland.

As noted earlier, until the February uprisings the invading army had a defensive posture. There was some fighting, notably in Paktia, Badakhshan, Logar, and both sides of the Salang Tunnel following the invasion, but the mujahideen initiated these conflicts. After the many uprisings, particularly during the summer of 1980, units of the invading army, accompanied by air power, carried on operations in many parts of the country. The main thrust of these operations was in the regions around Kabul such as Logar, Shamali (Kohdaman, Parwan, and Kohistan), Maidan, and Ghazni and also in regions such as Ningrahar, Laghman, and Kunar, as well as the northeastern regions, south of the Soviet border.

Among the border regions with Pakistan, the province of Kunar, through which the mujahideen brought weapons, was garrisoned first. The main highways, particularly those leading from Kabul to the Soviet borders in Hairatan (Mazar) and Torghundi (Herat), became the special concern of the invading army. The road leading to Hairatan through the long Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush massif, constructed by Soviet engineers in the 1960s, was also considered significant, especially since a large Soviet force was now stationed in Kelagai. Connecting the northern part of the country with the southern and eastern parts, the tunnel had shortened the distance between Kabul and the Soviet border more than sixty kilometers. With Kabul now only 399 kilometers from the Soviet border, the Salang Road (or the Mazar Road) is the shortest overland route from the Soviet border to the capital of the country. In this war the regions through which the Salang Road passed became for the first time strategically as significant as the eastern regions had been during the Anglo-Afghan wars.

The invading army used air power, particularly helicopter gunships. These war machines, which also flew from bases inside the Soviet Union, fired rockets on targets inside Afghanistan, particularly in the northeastern regions. Helicopter gunships also searched for the mujahideen on the ground. During the first years of the invasion, they were a frightening menace. After the invasion, helicopter gunships by the score became a familiar sight in the air space of the city of Kabul, whence they headed to various areas at short intervals every day. Every night the deafening sounds of guns, mortars, and rifles pierced the air, mingling with the ear-splitting noise of convoys of heavy tanks moving along the roads. Thus, even Kabul itself seemed like a war zone.

Attempts at Controlling the Strategic Frontier Posts

After the February uprising the armored units of the invading army and of the Kabul regime embarked on offensive operations in some of the provinces. The purpose of these spring operations was to block the main entrance routes before the snow melted along the mountain passes leading to Pakistan. It was hoped that the mujahideen then would not be able to enter the country from Pakistan. The frontier garrison of Asmar, situated in the upper part of the long Kunar Valley, became the center of attention, perhaps as a demonstration of the might of the Soviet Union.

Yet Asmar, along with its surrounding districts, proved to be beyond government control. In the previous year Abdur Rauf Safay, commander of the garrison, had waged a successful operation from there against the Khalqi government. The Soviets now intended to recover Asmar and at the same time to show their strength to the people of Kunar Province, who had risen against the Khalqi government a number of times.[3] First helicopter gunships and warplanes rocketed and bombed the surrounding districts of the garrison. Then a large force parachuted into the empty garrison. But when they withdrew the air force, the mujahideen of the surrounding hills poured into the garrison, wiping out all except a small number of its new Afghan occupants, who were taken alive. The invaders bombed and rocketed the surrounding districts of Asmar. According to some reports, they also used napalm bombs and chemical weapons. At the same time, they dispatched there a large force from Asadabad, the provincial capital. The people of Asmar fled to Pakistan. The invaders occupied Asmar as well as the garrison town of Barikot, but they still could not block the entrance routes along the border. The frontier district of Kama near the city of Jalalabad, after changing hands a number of times, was also occupied and military posts established there. But the southern frontier belt, beginning in the Jalalabad area, still remained open, despite the operations that the Soviet forces carried in the Surkhrud and Khugianay regions.

Meanwhile, by blanket bombing the Soviets destroyed more than 80 percent of the villages between the district of Ghazni and Muqur along the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. They did this to make the road safe for traffic that passed through the populated areas between Kabul and Kandahar. Kandahar was ultimately connected to the Soviet border by a concrete road that the Soviet engineers had constructed in 1965. In early April the mujahideen destroyed a large number of military planes stationed on the Bagram air base near Kabul, striking at them with rockets launched from hills. They had obtained these rockets and light and heavy weapons when the garrison of Hussaynkot near Kabul deserted in mid-March. In clashes between the invading forces and the mujahideen in the northeastern provinces of Qunduz, Baghlan, and Badakhshan, hundreds were killed. The high rate of Soviet losses in Badakhshan and other areas was attributed to the inability of their soldiers to maneuver on the battleground. After they had shelled an area from the air and the ground with rockets, the Soviet soldiers would then go straight to the spot, but this tactic made them easy targets for the mujahideen, who had hidden themselves in unsuspected places. For two years the Soviet soldiers went straight ahead in battlefields. Because of this approach, they lost about 350 men in a series of clashes with the mujahideen near the Dasht-e-Saqawa in Charasia close to Kabul. The date of the battle is not known.

The First Soviet Expedition in Laghman

The Soviet military expedition in the province of Laghman, with a mixed population of 229,100 living in attached mud houses in 340 villages and a number of towns, is known in some detail. Laghman is a long, fertile river valley of 7,600 square kilometers flanked by mountains. From the middle of the main valley branch off two narrow valleys, Alingar and Alishang, reaching as far as Kawun, a branch of the Hindu Kush. Along the way glens branch off from both valleys, so that their upper parts provide safe sanctuaries. Laghman can be considered typical of the many river valleys that lie between the mountains from the Hindu Kush to the plains of Peshawar. After the invasion mujahideen spread throughout Laghman, as already noted. The exception was Mihtarlam, the provincial capital, which they kept under pressure. The purpose of the Soviet operation now was to clear the region of the mujahideen.

Units of the invading army that had been stationed in Dasht-e-Gambiri at the foot of Laghman set out on 6 April 1980 accompanied by helicopter gunships. On the way they destroyed the two collections of settlements of Qarghaee and Zeranee. The latter settlement, which is still desolate, was destroyed because some of its inhabitants acted against the invaders along the nearby main Kabul-Jalalabad road. Seeing the convoys of tanks, the mujahideen fled into the glens; those who remained behind mixed with the people. Seeing no opposition, the invaders headed toward the upper parts, spreading out in small groups when they entered villages. When they exposed themselves to attack, the mujahideen in some places fired at them. What happened to a group of six Russians in my own village of Deva (also Palwata) and a few nearby hamlets of about a hundred houses in the Alishang Valley was typical.

Having crossed the river by a swinging bridge, the Russians entered the village and appeared before a shop, asking the inhabitants, “Dost ya dushman?” (Friend or enemy?). They had no interpreters and knew only this phrase by which they distinguished friends from enemies of the Soviet Union and the Kabul regime. The villagers naturally replied, “Dost.” At this time a mujahid stationed on a rooftop fired on the Soviets, killing one and injuring another. While retreating, the Russians reciprocated, taking their casualties with them. Meanwhile, they fired a signal shot into the air, after which the village was hit by long-range guns from the other side of the valley where a contingent of artillery had been stationed. The retreating Russians also killed two farmers working in a field.

The calamity descended the next day. Fearing reprisal, the villagers evacuated the village following the encounter, but since nothing happened after the shelling, a number of them returned later the same day. They were mistaken. The next day the village was shelled by long-range guns while a group of low-flying helicopter gunships fired rockets into its surroundings. Then a group of forty Russians in tanks besieged it. When the village was thus isolated, a group of six Russians entered the village, killing everyone in sight. Some were killed in lanes, others in mosques, and still others inside their houses. Women and children were spared.

Gul Mohammad, his newly married son, and two of his guests were killed as if in a game inside his courtyard in front of his womenfolk, apparently because the Russians had found an empty cartridge there. In the courtyard each victim was made to run to a fixed spot; when he reached it, he was shot dead. The wailing of the women of the household and their solicitation by gestures had no effect. Born into a blacksmith family, Gul Mohammad had taken to farming; he also kept a hunting hawk belonging to my father-in-law, Abdul Aziz Kakar. I had joined Gul Mohammad a number of times in hunting expeditions in the nearby hills. Always smiling and dressed in worn clothes, he was one of the finest persons I have ever known. In any case, had it not been for the sagacity of a villager, Sayyed Ahmad, who impressed the word “dost” on the assailants, the total number of those killed would have been higher than the nineteen who were slain that day. Eighteen houses were either completely or partly set on fire, and the rest were searched for weapons. Sweets, transistor radios, cash, and similar objects were looted.

The same thing happened to a few nearby villages and hamlets, which brought the total number of those killed to sixty. The nearby town of Maskura also lost twenty men on that day. As noted, what happened to the village of Deva and a few others may be taken as an example.

It is impossible to outline the events of that day in the whole valley, much less in both valleys. It is estimated that since all the villages up to the upper part of Alishang were searched in the same way as Deva, the invaders killed two thousand men. In Alingar only about sixty men lost their lives, since the mujahideen there had refrained from firing on the intruders. Three mujahideen were said to have been killed, while the loss of the Russians was said only to have been higher. The Soviet military units, after losing a few tanks at the hands of the mujahideen, evacuated Laghman and arrived in Jalalabad. The remaining mujahideen soon descended from the upper parts and spread throughout Laghman.

What can we learn from the expedition in Laghman? First, only Russians soldiers took part in the operation. The Kabul regime army was not seen with them, and the invaders did not have interpreters with them. In some places Parchamis acted as guides, but they were not with the Soviet soldiers all the time. The very appearance of the alien, armed, atheistic invaders in the midst of the rural Afghans was provocative, especially given the absence of the guides or interpreters. It was obviously unwise to send such troops among a people who had driven away government agents and were known to be fanatics. One wonders whether the purpose was to find a pretext for massacre. Still, the people remained quiet, and their militants preferred flight to encounter. Throughout the valley there was no group opposition, only occasional rifle shots. Yet many men were massacred in their own homes. This group homicide was neither made an issue nor lamented. It passed unnoticed, as did so many similar atrocities in the coming years.

The invaders perhaps thought that by eliminating the “dushman” they did their job. The Parchamis were glad that their Soviet comrades had cowed their opponents for them. Strangely, the Parchamis of the village supported the operations even though some lost relatives and one lost his father.[4] In support of the Soviets and of their party, some argued that if the mujahideen had not fired on “the forces of the comrades” (quwwaay dost), their term for the invading army, then the Soviets would not have fired on them. Zuhur Razimjo, a member of the central committee who was also from Laghman, said, “What we do is for the welfare of true toiling people.” The grip of the Soviets over the party and of the party over its members was complete. The operation was one of many that the invading army carried out during its stay. When such were the consequences of an unprovoked expedition, the reader can imagine the consequences of the contested major operations.

The victims of the operation, as noted, were civilians. This was true of all the operations throughout the occupation: hence the killing and displacement of the highest number of Afghans in their history. Except for killing of innocent men, the present operation did nothing else. It did not lead to the pacification of Laghman. Instead, it created problems of major dimensions with dire consequences. It demonstrated the might of the Soviet Union aimed at frightening the Afghans into submission. It was an affirmation of the view that the resistance must be suppressed within weeks or, at most, months if conciliatory measures failed to persuade the people to submit. But its outcome was the opposite of what had been intended. According to Abdul Rahim, a mujahid commander from Dawlat Shah in the upper part of the valley, after this incident his small group of mujahideen, armed with primitive weapons, increased in number as many young men joined him.

The Changed Role of the Afghan Army

The Afghan army did not initially oppose the invasion, but afterward it opted for a host of pro-mujahid, antigovernment, and anti-Russian activities, which upset the Soviets’ calculations concerning the force needed to pacify the country. The Afghan army’s changed attitude helped the resistance movement and affected the political situation despite (or because of) the presence of the invading army.

As noted earlier, the Parchamis in the army were not many. They also had no known officers in the army when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. No Parchami officer had taken part in the invasion. This is not to suggest that they did not want to cooperate with the Russians, but because the Khalqis had suppressed them, they were unable to do so. Not all Khalqi officers supported the invasion, despite their opposition to the radical Islamists. The noncommunist elements in the army, whether officers or ordinary soldiers, were against the invasion. All this suggests that the army was not prepared to help the Parchami regime enforce its authority.

Desertions, which were frequent, took two forms: individual and group. During the invasion the whole division of Baghlan had deserted. After the invasion smaller units deserted, notably those of Nahreen and Hussaynkot. More widespread were desertions by individual soldiers. Soldiers who had almost completed their terms deserted, particularly following the Kabul uprisings. By then the view had become widespread that the regime could not last long. By mid-March 1980, of the nearly two thousand troops of the brigade stationed in Maidan Shahr only about four hundred remained. By that time the whole army, which numbered under 100,000 before the communist coup, had been reduced to about 20,000. In May the number was said to have been further reduced to about 10,000.

A number of consequences followed. The regime was completely dependent on the invading army, which found itself involved not only in military operations but also in the internal politics of the country, despite the declarations of its masters that the Soviet army was sent to repulse foreign aggression. The building of a new army by the pursuance of a policy of recruitment through conscription as well as by the employment of mercenaries and others was stressed, no matter how unpopular the policy and how serious the consequences. Along with the official party, the Parchami regime had to build a power of its own: it therefore chose to enhance KhAD (the intelligence agency).

The regime also had strained relations with the Khalqis who dominated the army. The Khalqi officers had not resisted the invasion, but the regime could not count on them to serve as pliable instruments. Besides, Khalqi officers from rural areas were sometimes more patriotic than communist. Some were Muslims, and many of these officers secretly assisted the mujahideen. The early successes of the mujahideen were partly due to the assistance rendered them by nationalist officers.

A month after the invasion the army officers of the major division of Khost in the province of Paktia made it known to the regime that if either the Russian army or Parchami officers were sent there, they would join the mujahideen. Its commander declined a summons to Kabul on the grounds that his absence would lead to disturbances in the division. Closer to Kabul, the commander of the Qargha division warned that because of the presence of the Soviet army the division was on the brink of rebellion. The regime’s plan of replacing the Khalqi officers of the Kandahar division was rebuffed. Some Parchami officers who had gone there for that purpose in March were done away with. Officers of the two factions clashed, and the Parchami officers had the worst ofthe clashes. The situation deteriorated still further when, in June 1980, the regime executed first Amin’s brother and nephew and later three of his senior ministers and a few officers.


1. Ruiz, Left Out in the Cold, 3. [BACK]

2. At the end of the war, Wendy Batson, a consultant of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated, “Even those [Afghan] villages not directly affected by the conflict are often as devastated as those that were. The long years of war have left houses collapsed, roads and irrigation systems deteriorated to the point of uselessness, and fields long overgrown. The scale of destruction is enormous” (quoted in ibid., 5). [BACK]

3. Sahari, Jehad in the Kunars, 22. [BACK]

4. Not every village had as many Parchamis as Deva had. Deva was the only village throughout the land that had many Parchamis in proportion to the number of its educated elements of both sexes. School dropouts, high school graduates, and some college graduates had turned Parchami, while those holding higher degrees had not. (I myself am from Deva.) [BACK]

8. A New Type of War Leader

The Case of Logar

The Soviet invasion disturbed Afghan society greatly. Among other things, it led to a change of political leaders at the local level. In the course of resistance, traditional leaders were being phased out, and new Islamic leaders were taking their place. Jehad and the efforts to purge the society of non-Islamic elements helped to bring about this transformation. Here this transformation is studied in the province of Logar.


A feature of the people of Logar is their solidarity. Nowhere in Afghanistan is the leveling effect of Islam as conspicuous as it is among the people of Logar, where among the well-to-do it is a custom to give to the needy the Islamic zakat (one-fortieth of one’s property) and other donations on a regular basis. Bilingualism also influences solidarity, as does the similarity in physical appearances and clothes. Those who do not know the people may be unable to differentiate between the Dari-speaking Tajiks and the Pashto-speaking Pashtuns. The more numerous Pashtuns—Stanizays, Ahmadzays, Abdurrahimzays, Alozays, Mohmands, Gadaykhel, and Zhalozays—live in the hilly areas, and the Tajiks, Khwajas, and Sadat live in the plains together with Pashtuns, mainly in villages on both sides of the main road. In some areas of the plains the Pashtuns predominate, while in others the Tajiks predominate. Also, in Logar the Shi’ite minority and the Sunni majority are on good terms with each other. Neither the PDPA nor other leftist groups had made any significant inroads among them. The absence of disgruntled minorities has also contributed to solidarity among the people.

Before the disturbances, Logar had many madrasas (traditional religious seminaries) and mawlawiyan (religious scholars). As in the rest of the country, each of the regions’s 338 villages, which together contain more than 300,000 inhabitants, had (and still has) one or more mosques where mullas lead the Muslims in prayers and teach children the essentials of Islam. Logar also had four high schools and about one hundred secondary (through ninth grade) and primary schools.[1] Like the people of other regions, the people of Logar also cooperated with the government by volunteering labor, plots of land, and money for the construction of schools for both girls and boys. On this point the people pressured the government, but the latter was unable to meet the demand for financial reasons. Also, sons and daughters of the well-to-do studied in higher civilian and military schools in Kabul.

Because of improvements in transportation, the daily contact between Kabul and Logar had begun to change the lifestyle of the people. As in other districts around the city, the daily transport of cash crops from Logar into Kabul had brought them closer together. A number of individuals from some distinguished families from Logar had served the government in various periods as senior ministers and officers, while some had become famous as generals and leaders of the resistance movements in wars against the British.[2] Before the communist coup the people of Logar were adopting modern ways of life more rapidly than the peoples of the districts around Kabul. But the coup and the invasion changed this trend. The change was apparent in the attitude of the people in the domain of politics.

Following the coup, the people of Logar were disturbed, just as were the people of other regions. They feared the ascendance of atheists in the government. Some councils of elders and mullas decided that they should be the first to wage jehad against the communists, even if they had to oppose their own relatives. The Logari officers in the army in Kabul planned to rise against the government, but before they could do so many were executed or imprisoned.[3] Thus, the first planned but unsuccessful uprising in the army was the work of officers who were all or nearly all from the province of Logar. Then, in May 1979 the people of Logar rose and overthrew the provincial government.[4]

It was, however, the Soviet invasion and the policies of the new rulers that changed the attitude of the people. Their attitude was changed not only toward the regime but also toward modern education and local leaders. As one observer writes:

The Soviet interference and the Soviet invasion provided powerful incentives to the mullas in their opposition to modern education. The Soviets, through the Parchamis and Khalqis, deceived students in schools, and in the name of a revolutionary ideology spread atheism, a sense of obedience to foreigners [ajnabiparasti] and of treason to the fatherland [watanfiroshi]. They employed sons against fathers by sending them in tanks and warplanes to destroy their homes and villages. [Seeing this], the common people took spades and destroyed schools from the foundation. The educated persons became discredited, and the mullas became unrivaled rulers.[5]

On this point an elderly man from Zadran of the province of Paktia is more eloquent. According to him, during the reign of King Mohammad Zahir the government introduced two projects in the province of Paktia: roads and schools. At first the people of all the valleys of Zadran opposed the projects, but later they acquiesced. To continue the story in the words of the elderly man himself:

Advised by a great mulla, the people of our valley opposed the two projects of schools and roads. Thus, neither Khalqis nor Parchamis appeared among us. But from among the schools of other valleys there emerged Khalqis and Parchamis who later, as pilots, bombarded their own people and villages, while the Russian tanks, which arrived along the roads, did much the same. But the people of our valley were immune to such destruction. May God bless the great mulla. He was so right.[6]

Traditional Political Leadership

In previous resistance movements, leaders had usually been local magnates who could muster support and who had established either a feudal relationship as khans with the central government or who had served as military officers. Spiritual persons and the ’ulama provided them with religious blessing by issuing fatwas (rulings) and preaching for wars as sanctioned by Islam and tradition. The mullas incited the people. As charismatic leaders, some distinguished spiritual persons also led the faithful. But as a rule, in this combination of secular and spiritual forces the former led while the latter sanctioned, because the former had the labor and material means at its disposal, and the latter had the monopoly of spiritual power in a predominantly Sunni society, a society shaped more by traditional and conventional values than religious values. This is evident from the fact that Islamic Afghanistan had no theocracy. The anthropologist Fredrik Barth notes that “among the Afghans, Islam has never been the basis for a permanent, formal and hierarchical religious or political organization.” However, as Barth also states, in the time of resistance “Islam is needed as a unifying symbol and emotive force.”[7]

This situation changed, though, as the spread of communism, the Soviet invasion, the imposition of a client regime, and the Soviet massacres led to the rise of mullas and Islamists. These could not have risen to become leaders at the expense of traditional leaders had they not been part of the jehad organizations, supported by outside powers that provided weapons, logistics, and money. Traditional leaders did not have such support, nor was their bastion of power able to sustain them as it had in the past. With the disruption of the political system, they had also lost their influential position as intermediaries between the local government and the people. Having moved either to cities or Pakistan, they had been deprived of the produce of their land and of the support of local people, who had also moved out of most areas. It was beyond the means of traditional elders to obtain the weapons needed to oppose the army of a superpower. In the beginning a number of commanders rose from among the traditional leaders, but over time they either affiliated themselves with the jehad organizations or were forced out.[8]

Also important was the attitude of the Islamists, who disparaged traditional elders and tribal organizations. Another influence that worked against traditional leaders was the rise among their relatives of Khalqis and Parchamis, whom the mujahideen hunted down. In line with its dogma the regime issued propaganda attacking traditional elders as feudal, reactionary, and so on; nevertheless, it tried to win them over to its side. But ultimately the local leaders were reduced to insignificance because of the animosity showed them by the new leaders—the mullas, field commanders and Islamist organizations.

The Rise of Mullas as Leaders

Drawn from among the poorer elements of society, the mullas were religious functionaries with little or no education. As religious functionaries, they lived in communities away from their own localities, dependent on the believers for a living. Since they had no tribal or social standing, the mullas opposed social conventions, tribal codes, and nationalism.[9] Sayd Bahauddin Majruh states that “he [the mulla] was not involved in local socio-political affairs; he did not participate in the deliberations of the council of village elders—his only function on these occasions was to perform the opening and the concluding prayers of the jirga session. While respected, he still remained the favorite target of popular jokes.”[10]

The rise of the mullas to the position of political and military leaders in Logar is without parallel in modern Afghan history. Of the twenty-nine heads (awmer), judges, and military commanders in the Baraki Barak district (uluswali) of the Logar province, all were mullas. Of these, nineteen were members of the moderate Islamic Revolutionary Organization and six of the moderate National Islamic Front; the remaining four were members of the Islamic Party and Islamic Association. A number of other mullas and akhunds (traditional teachers, masters) also acted as “leaders of the jehad and rulers of the people.”[11]

The mullas rose to power in Logar because, as noted, many mullas rallied around Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Organization, who was also from Logar. However, the Islamists who surpassed them in organization, education, weapons and in making propaganda challenged them, as well as other groups. The two were radically different, as explained in chapter 5.

The resistance in Logar assumed many other dimensions as well. In the absence of government, the commanders vied not only with those outside their group but also with those within their own group. Personal rivalry and the desire to extend control played a part in this competition. The sociological composition of the Islamist and traditionalist organizations set their members at odds with each other. The mullas competed with members of the Islamic Party, who were drawn from among the Dari-speaking educated groups such as teachers, students, and government employees.[12] By comparison, the mullas were a different social group. Untouched by secular and modern ideas, concerned with their duties as religious functionaries, and looking on themselves as custodians of traditional Islamic values, the mullas were at variance with these “modernized” persons even though both groups were fighting the same enemy in the spirit of jehad. The mullas opposed modern ideas so much that they called “infidels” those who believed the earth was round.

The Islamists who were more organized and also had an ideology and a program for the transformation of society were a threat to the mullas.[13] Although the opposition among field commanders belonging to the various groups was usually personal rather than organizational or ideological,[14] the opposition between the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Movement and the Islamic Party was more serious. It often led to clashes even on such matters as opposing the enemy, not only in Logar but throughout the country.[15]

The mullas adopted an authoritarian style of leadership. Nominally, they settled claims and conflicts between individuals in accord with the Shari’a, while community elders, though weakened, settled cases through jirgas. In fact, however, in Logar the mulla commanders did not rule according to the Shari’a, which requires that evidence be presented and elaborate procedures be followed; rather, they ruled as they pleased. They would single out those whom they thought were collaborating with the enemy and dub such persons infidels. Once a man was so dubbed, he seldom lived long.[16] One observer writes:

Decisions were made in the absence of the accused. In the decisions the views of the secret agents of the mullas whom they had assigned duties in villages were considered decisive. Personal considerations, distrustfulness, and animosities could influence decisions and the execution of the accused. The mujahideen who enforced the decisions wore dark glasses and covered their faces. The accused were either taken at night from their homes or seized in daylight from roads. Others were picked up from public buses running along the main road between Kabul and Gardez. To escape such an ordeal, members of the party traveled in the guise of women. Some were still recognized and executed somewhere away from the public. The executioners were not recognized, nor did any group claim responsibility.[17]

In addition to these secret executions, those who were accused of spying for the regime were publicly executed.[18]

The public was divided about the executions, particularly since the Parchamis and Khalqis had already been driven into Kabul. While some argued that those who were executed deserved the punishment, others disagreed, insisting that evidence be brought forward. The mullas combated this attitude. Their agents would spread rumors in support of the judgments, saying that the decisions had indeed been based on evidence.[19] The number of persons executed cannot be determined. In Logar alone, in the two years after the invasion it is likely that more than one hundred persons were executed. It was commonly held that revenge and personal animosity, camouflaged as jehad, were the impulse behind many executions.[20]

The executions were the result of influences connected to the jehad but rooted in society. An atmosphere of distrust and rivalry prevailed, the result of disunity among leaders of the mujahid organizations based in faraway Peshawar and among local field commanders. Through the field commanders, this ambience of distrust spread far and wide. Some leaders of the mujahid groups persuaded their commanders to clash with their rivals, and some commanders and individual mujahideen found an opportunity to settle old scores and take revenge. They disrespected the traditional leaders. Some mujahideen who had been recruited from among the uprooted groups harmed the people in pursuit of personal interest with no regard for social norms. The Islamists were more intolerant of their opponents and even of those who were not sympathetic to them, labeling them heretics. In particular, many people were denounced as Wahhabis. (The Wahhabis were followers of Mohammad bin ’Abd al-Wahhab [1703-87], whose aim was to do away with innovations later than the third century of Islam.) Former government employees were especially vulnerable to such accusations. To be safe from such accusations, they grew beards as a sign of being religious.[21] Beards thus became common throughout the country.[22]

The mujahid organizations found it difficult to get rid of the undesirable elements in the ranks of the mujahideen, particularly when they were commanders. When such mujahideen were expelled from one group, the fold of another group was open for them. Another influence that created tension was infiltration by KhAD agents and leftist elements, who worked, among other things, to prepare the groundwork for clashes. The atmosphere of distrust and disunity was also exacerbated by the inability of the organizations to set up a council composed of their representatives and of the locals to work out programs for opposing the enemy and administering the province. The tendency among the commanders to monopolize power was too strong for such a council to be set up. The mullas who had obtained power and other benefits were also unwilling to cooperate.[23] Any one group would counterbalance the activities of the others. This created a form of equilibrium,[24] a situation that checked the dominance of one organization over the rest and the region as a whole.

The Force of Jehad

That the Afghans were in a state of jehad was obvious. Not only the Muslim Afghans but even the Hindu and Sikh minorities contributed to it. The tradition of jehad in Muslim Afghanistan has always been strong. The defense of country, of honor (namoas), and of cultural values—among which the demonstration of valor in a spirit of rivalry was conspicuous—turned jehad into a mighty force.[25] Added to this was the marksmanship of the Afghans, who, even in time of peace, led the world in numbers of rifles per person. When the state of jehad was believed to exist, the Muslim Afghans, in particular the patriotic believers, felt duty bound either to take part in person or to contribute otherwise. In times of jehad the number of combatant Afghans was higher than normal in proportion to the population. In such times the noncombatant Afghans, including widows, supported those fighting the invaders. The defense of the country and the faith was not the responsibility of the armed forces alone but of every adult Afghan capable of carrying weapons. Every time the country has been invaded, the regular army has disintegrated and the ranks of the irregulars strengthened in the spirit of jehad.

The jehad against the Russians was more comprehensive than any other in Afghan history. “What was at first an uncertainty about the new [Khalqi] regime became anger and frustration as unrealistic, insensitive, and oppressive policies were introduced. When the Sovi-ets invaded, these feelings turned into widespread outrage, amongtraditionalists and progressives alike.”[26] The combatant Afghans were determined to defend their values, while the noncombatant Afghans felt duty bound to support them. This meant that the noncombatant Afghans felt it to be their religious and patriotic duty to shelter, clothe, and feed the mujahideen, to meet their expenses for weapons, and to assist them in the problems that resulted from clashes with the enemy. The flight of the locals to Pakistan thinned this basis of support of the mujahideen.

True to their patriotic and Islamic duties, the Afghans supported the mujahideen despite the odds in fighting the army of a superpower. They paid the Islamic tithe (’ushr) on the produce of land and a number of other taxes to the mujahid commanders. But because of inexperience and the necessity of asserting their newly won power and of meeting the harsh requirements of jehad, the commanders often treated the locals in an authoritarian manner. Not all were harsh; some ruled in consultation with others. Nevertheless, authoritarianism generally marked their rule. There then began to develop between the commanders and the people the sour relationship that exists between the ruler and the ruled.

Like people of other areas, the Logaris were compelled to pay taxes to the financial heads not of one mujahid organization, but of all of them. Armed mujahideen would appear at the doors of the people and demand money.[27] Although the Islamic tithe was lighter than what landowners had formerly paid the government, now they paid more than before and, in addition, they paid under the threat of Kalashnikovs. Also, supported by bands of armed mujahideen, the new rulers imposed heavy fines on both sides of disputes without investigating them as required by Islamic laws.[28] Not surprisingly, the number of disputes and criminal cases dropped.[29]

Suppression of National Culture

Another set of measures adopted by the mujahideen were intended to suppress or replace customs, traditions, and social conventions with the injunctions of the Islamic Shari’a. Among other things, the new measures suppressed the tradition of singing and dancing at weddings and many other similar ceremonies; traditional games, entertainments, and racing events, including those that were militarily significant; and the custom of reciting not only lyric but also epic and mystic poetry from the classic literature in which Afghanistan is so rich, substituting for these the recitation of passages from the Quran. The measures also confined to their homes women who formerly labored in the fields, assisting their men. In addition, community elders, those who embodied traditional and social wisdom, were replaced by scholars of religion and Shari’a.[30]

These measures showed that the mujahideen’s program was intended to change and Islamize those aspects of the rural society that were considered to be un-Islamic. The new local rulers set for themselves a provocative task, since the many different groups composing the Afghan society were (and are) rich in alternative mores. Indeed, the Afghans are much attached to this legacy from the civilizations of their long history. The mores constituted the main ingredients of their identity. The efforts of the new rulers were a reminder of the unsuccessful efforts of the communists, who tried to reorganize the society along Marxist-Leninist lines. Never before had the Afghan national culture been under so much pressure: on the one hand, from the internationalist culture of communism; on the other, from the universalist culture of Islam. Recent developments are probably best explained in terms of the encounter among these three types of cultures. In particular, the implementation of the two hostile sets of measures—those of the communist rulers in the urban areas and those of the religiously oriented rulers in the countryside—widened still further the existing gaps between the cities and the countryside.

The Political Significance of Weapons

The new religious leaders set themselves above the locals and acted in an authoritarian manner because they had the ability to acquire weapons and thus to enforce their wills. The possession of weapons was, of course, necessary for waging jehad. The matter of weaponry was especially critical in this conflict. At no time before had the gap been so wide between the Afghans and the invaders in the quality, quantity, and range of weapons. In contrast with the past, when the Afghans provided large numbers of high-quality weapons to their combatants, they could now provide very few weapons, and those of poor quality. But to wage jehad the mujahideen must have weapons. They obtained weapons from two sources: from the army of the Kabul regime and through their own Peshawar-based organizations.

To acquire weapons, the mulla commanders of Logar, particularly of the Mohammad Agha front, would ambush enemy forces when they were in their locality. In addition, troops from the Kabul regime sometimes assisted them by defecting, bringing their advanced weapons with them. The commanders would submit such weapons to their headquarters as spoils, in contrast to the tribes of Paktia (Gurbuz, Tanay, Zadran, Mangal, and Zazay), who either quarreled over weapons or received some concessions from the regime in return for weapons.[31] The Logaris were successful in acquiring weapons from the regime forces. During the twenty months following the Soviet invasion the Kabul regime lost 25,000 Kalashnikovs to the mujahideen in Logar.[32]

The other source of weapons was beyond the border. From there weapons were sent to the mujahideen from two places: from the Darra-e-Adam Khel in the Afriday land where the Peshawar-based organizations made the purchase, and from Peshawar itself, to which the governments that supported the Afghan cause sent weapons. Jan Goodwin donned a disguised to visit this first place, a town forbidden to foreigners: “Of the 250 or so arms dealers in Darra, half that number are engaged in copying any kind of weapon from anywhere in the world you require.…In this dusty maze-like town, where the sound of gunfire is continuous as guns are tested and demonstrated for customers, it is possible to purchase light and heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket launchers in addition to ordinary rifles, all of which have been skillfully copied.”[33]

Of the foreign sources of weapons, the United States and Egypt were the major ones during the first two years of the invasion. The United States and some Muslim countries began to support the mujahideen, “cautiously channeling limited amounts of small arms and other military equipment to them.”[34] In January 1980, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Carter administration appropriated about $30 million to supply the resistance. In December 1982 President Reagan’s administration reportedly ordered the Central Intelligence Agency “to provide the Afghan insurgents for the first time with bazookas, mortars, grenade launchers, mines and recoilless rifles of Soviet origin, and possibly also shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles.”[35] But not all the aid reached the mujahideen: published estimates said between one-third and one-half of the aid was diverted by Pakistan or sold by representatives of the mujahid groups in Peshawar. Edward Girardet, who visited the mujahideen territory, wrote in September 1984 that the American military aid that was “seeping through.…tend[s] to be of poor quality or insufficient quantity” and that he and other visitors had not found published accounts of “a highly effective” CIA program to be true.[36] Although for many years the mujahid commanders did not receive enough weapons to fight the enemy, they still got enough to enable them to push out traditional elders from their areas and to rule over the territories under their control in an authoritarian manner. Emboldened by the moral force of the jehad that they were conducting against an atheist invader and strengthened by weapons, the new leaders acted like independent rulers, showing little or no regard for the people whom they ruled.

Public Concern

Logaris, like all people throughout the land, soon felt dissatisfied with the disunity of the jehad organizations, and particularly of the field commanders. This point has already been explained. People were worried about the consequences of the disunity in war against the forces of a superpower. Many people reiterated the adage that success lay in unity, but to no effect. By mid-1981 it was clear that rivalry, not cooperation, ruled the relations of the six mujahid organizations in Logar on all matters, including military operations.[37] In this atmosphere each group tried to carry on military operations separately to demonstrate its valor and acquire a heroic reputation.[38] At times the groups pursued not only separate but conflicting programs of operations, which sometimes led to clashes among them.[39] One such policy difference between the Islamic Party and the Islamic Revolutionary Movement led to the destruction of the only high school in the district of Baraki Barak.[40]

Despite complaints about the new leaders, the people of Logar cooperated with them on jehad.[41] Zahir Ghazi Alam, a native physician, writes:

Politically, every class and grade of the community was disgusted with the Kabul regime and the Russians. Among the people there was no sign of submission either to the government or the Russians. They had acquiesced into submission to the commanders and heads of various organizations, showing patience and tolerance to the mistreatment they received from some of them.…Disunity among the organizations was daily on the increase and taking root. Accusations, criticisms, and provocations had become common, and this caused concern among the people. The people were looking forward to the emergence of a leader to end this anarchic state and to save the nation from the present dilemma. Sometimes they were looking even toward the former king, Mohammad Zahir. They did so because the leaders in Peshawar had disappointed them. The people had been frustrated by the disunity of the organizations and the pressure brought to bear on them by the Russians.[42]


1. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 170. Originally from Logar, Zahir Ghazi Alam has spent about twenty months in his home province during four trips that he made there from Peshawar, where he had been a refugee. A medical physician, he made the trips to treat patients. His memoirs cover many aspects of life of the people of Logar in the period under discussion. Dr. Alam and other Afghan refugee physicians—Pashtunyar, Farouq Mairanay, Asadullah, Abdur Rahman Zamani, Ahmad Sher Zamani, Farid Safi, and others—had started the Afghan Doctors Association, which operated at one time with approximately 170 members both in Afghanistan and among the refugees in Pakistan before pressure from the resistance organizations led to its dissolution. Dr. Alam now lives in the United States. For details on the association and the role of the Afghan educated middle class in the resistance, see Farr, “Afghan Middle Class.” [BACK]

2. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 168. [BACK]

3. Ibid., 170. Among Zadrans of the province of Paktia even during the reign of King Mohammad Zahir the ’ulama preached that when renegades persist in “rejecting the fundamentals of Islam,” it behooves their relatives to do away with them, even if they be their own sons or close relations. Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 15. [BACK]

4. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 168. [BACK]

5. Ibid., 146. [BACK]

6. Quoted in Alam, “Jehad of Afghanistan,” 31. [BACK]

7. Barth, “Cultural Wellsprings,” 198. For patterns of local political leadership in Afghanistan, see Kakar, Government and Society. [BACK]

8. Commander Mati’ullah Safi of the Pech Valley of Kunar Province is a good example in this connection. A son of the famous Sultan Mohammad Khan, Mati’ullah Safi, with the assistance of his brothers, first waged jehad independently as a member of the leading family of his community, but subsequently he had to join the Mahaz organization. [BACK]

9. ’Izzatullah Safi, personal communication, Chak Darra refugee camp, Deer, Northwest Frontier Province, 4 November 1988. For a general description of religious groups in Afghanistan, see Kakar, Government and Society. The term mulla or molla is derived from the Arabic term mawla, which may mean “master,” “trustee,” or “helper.” Mawla frequently appears in titles—for instance, mawlawi and mulla—in several parts of the Muslim world, especially India, and in connection with scholars and saints (Encyclopedia of Islam 3:417). [BACK]

10. Majruh, “Past and Present Education,” 79. [BACK]

11. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 148. Akhund, a title given to scholars, has been current since the Timurid times in the sense of “schoolmaster” and “tutor.” The word derives from Persian khwand, from khudawand (Encyclopedia of Islam 3:331). [BACK]

12. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 136. [BACK]

13. Ibid., 147. [BACK]

14. Ibid., 175. [BACK]

15. In places the intergroup clashes were so bloody that a group would disarm and kill followers of the rival group. When victorious, a group would massacre followers of the rival group. Sometimes the groups robbed people on roads (Zadran, History of Afghanistan, 817). The district of Maidan to the west of Kabul provides us with an extreme example of intergroup clashes. According to one source, up to 1988 Commander Amanullah had lost about forty thousand men in intergroup clashes; by contrast, only forty men had been lost fighting the common enemy, the Soviets and the regime. Although clashes were frequent, this figure is surely an exaggeration. [BACK]

16. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 173. It was not only in Logar that people were executed on a suspicion of being Khalqis or collaborators; such killing was common throughout the land. In reply to an accusation that some people executed by his orders were not Khalqis, Mawlawi Abd al-Hay said: “I again reiterate that if I order that 150 Khalqis be executed, the act is permissible even though 50 among them be non-Khalqis.” The mawlawi was general amir (amir-e ’umomi) of the Harakat-e-Inqilab-e-Islami of the provinces of Takhar, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Samangan, Joazjan, Faryab, and Badghis. (See Nasrat, “Bitter Facts,” 37, 38, 39.) A commander-mulla in Wardak claimed that he recognized Khalqis from their smell. From among the suspicious passengers who were picked up from buses along the Kabul-Kandahar road, some were executed on that account. Another commander of Char Asia, south of Kabul city, instructed his followers in Peshawar to do away with any suspicious person found in their locality: if he were a Muslim he would go to heaven, and if not he would have been accorded the punishment he deserved (Alam, “Violation of Human Rights,” 7). [BACK]

17. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 135. [BACK]

18. Ibid., 161. [BACK]

19. Ibid., 136. [BACK]

20. Ibid., 141. [BACK]

21. Ibid., 147. [BACK]

22. On the religious impact of jehad on the society, see Cultural Council of Afghanistan Resistance, Future of Islamic Afghanistan. [BACK]

23. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 141-44; personal communication with a commander, Germany, August 1988. For a general description of the commanders, see Kakar, Afghans in the Spring of 1987. [BACK]

24. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 139. [BACK]

25. For institutionalized forces behind the Afghan resistance movement, see Barth, “Cultural Wellsprings,” 187; Canfield, “Ethnic, Regional, and Sectarian Alignments.” [BACK]

26. Canfield, “Islamic Sources,” 69. [BACK]

27. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 139. [BACK]

28. Z. G. Alam, personal communication, San Diego, December 1990. [BACK]

29. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 174. [BACK]

30. Emad, “Impact of Jehad.” [BACK]

31. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 153. [BACK]

32. Kakar, Afghans in the Spring of 1987, 37. [BACK]

33. Goodwin, Caught in the Crossfire, 46. [BACK]

34. Bradsher, Afghanistan, 205. [BACK]

35. Ibid., 272. [BACK]

36. Quoted in ibid., 278. [BACK]

37. Alam, “Memoirs of Jehad,” 183. [BACK]

38. Ibid., 182. [BACK]

39. Ibid., 175. [BACK]

40. Ibid., 139. [BACK]

41. Ibid., 172. [BACK]

42. Ibid., 175. [BACK]

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