The location of Afghanistan astride the land routes between the Indian subcontinent, Iran, and central Asia has enticed conquerors throughout history



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TAJIK RULE, JANUARY-OCTOBER 1929


The man who seized Kabul from Amanullah is usually described by historians as a Tajik bandit. A native of Kala Khan, a village thirty kilometers north of Kabul, the new Afghan ruler dubbed himself Habibullah Khan, but others called him Bacha-i Saqqao (Son of the Water Carrier). His attack on Kabul was shrewdly timed to follow the Shinwari rebellion and the defection of much of the army. Habibullah was probably the first Tajik to rule this region since before the Greeks arrived (although some historians believe the Ghorids of the twelfth century to have been Tajiks).

Little is written of Habibullah Khan's nine-month reign, but most historians agree that he could not have held onto power for very long under any conditions. The powerful Pashtun tribes, including the Ghilzai, who had initially supported him against Amanullah, chafed under rule by a non-Pashtun. When Amanullah's last feeble attempt to regain his throne failed, those next in line were the Musahiban brothers, who were also Muhammadzai Barakzai and whose great-grandfather was an older brother of Dost Mohammad.

The five prominent Musahiban brothers included Nadir Khan, the eldest, who had been Amanullah's former minister of war. They were permitted to cross through the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to enter Afghanistan and take up arms. Once on the other side, however, they were not allowed back and forth across the border to use British territory as a sanctuary, nor were they allowed to gather together a tribal army on the British side of the Durand Line. However, the Musahiban brothers and the tribes successfully ignored these restrictions.

After several unsuccessful attempts, Nadir and his brothers finally raised a sufficiently large force--mostly from the British side of the Durand Line--to take Kabul on October 10, 1929. Six days later, Nadir Shah, the eldest of the Musahiban brothers, was proclaimed monarch. Habibullah fled Kabul, was captured in Kohistan, and executed on November 3, 1929.


MUHAMMAD NADIR SHAH, 1929-33


The new ruler quickly abolished most of Amanullah's reforms, but despite his efforts to rebuild an army that had just been engaged in suppressing a rebellion, the forces remained weak while the religious and tribal leaders grew strong. In 1930, there were uprisings by the Shinwari Pushtuns as well as by another Tajik leader. The same year, a Soviet force crossed the border in pursuit of an Uzbek leader whose forces had been harassing the Soviets from his sanctuary in Afghanistan. He was driven back to the Soviet side by the Afghan army in April 1930, and by the end of 1931 most uprisings had been subdued.

Nadir Shah named a ten-member cabinet, consisting mostly of members of his family, and in September 1930 he called into session a loya jirgah of 286 which confirmed his accession to the throne. In 1931 the king promulgated a new constitution. Despite its appearance as a constitutional monarchy, the document officially instituted a royal oligarchy, and popular participation was merely an illusion.

Although Nadir Shah placated religious factions with a constitutional emphasis on orthodox denominational principles, he also took steps to modernize Afghanistan in material ways, although far less obtrusively than his cousin Amanullah. He improved road construction, especially the Great North Road through the Hindu Kush, and methods of communication. He forged commercial links with the same foreign powers that Amanullah had established diplomatic relations with in the 1920s, and, under the leadership of several prominent entrepreneurs, he initiated a banking system and long-range economic planning. Although his efforts to improve the army did not bear fruit immediately, by the time of his death in 1933 Nadir Shah had created a 40,000-strong force from almost no national army at all. It is notable that Afghanistan's regeneration was carried out with no external assistance whatsoever.

Nadir Shah's brief four year reign ended violently, but he nevertheless accomplished a feat of which his great-great-uncle, Dost Mohammad, would have been proud: he reunited a fragmented Afghanistan. Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1933 by a young man whose family had been feuding with the king since his accession to power.


MOHAMMAD ZAHIR SHAH, 1933-73


Zahir Shah, Nadir Shan's son and successor, became Afghanistan's final king. For his first thirty years on the throne, he accepted the tutelage of powerful advisers in the royal family, first his uncles, later his cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan. And only in the last decade of his sovereignty did Zahir Shah rule as well as reign unencumbered.

Zahir Shah and His Uncles, 1933-53


Three of the four Musahiban brothers survived Nadir Shah's death, and went on to exercise decisive influence over decision making during Zahir Shah's first twenty years of reign. The eldest, Muhammad Hashim, who had been prime minister under the previous king, retained that post until replaced by his youngest brother, Shah Mahmud in 1946.

Hashim put into effect the policies already orchestrated by his brothers. Internal objectives of the new Afghan government focused on strengthening the army and shoring up the economy, including transport and communications. Both goals required foreign assistance. Preferring not to involve the Soviet Union or Britain, Hashim turned to Germany. By 1935 German experts and businessmen had set up factories and hydroelectric projects at the invitation of the Afghan government. Smaller amounts of aid were also forthcoming from Japan and Italy.

Afghanistan joined the League of Nations in 1934, the same year the United States officially recognized Afghanistan. The conclusion of the Treaty of Saadabad with Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in 1937 reinforced Afghanistan's regional ties to neighboring Islamic States.

After the outbreak of World War II, the king proclaimed Afghan neutrality on August 17, 1940, but the Allies were unhappy with the presence of a large group of German nondiplomatic personnel. In October British and Soviet governments demanded that Afghanistan expel all nondiplomatic personnel from the Axis nations. Although the Afghan government considered this demand insulting and illegitimate, it appeared to heed the example of Iran; Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran in August 1941 after the government ignored a similar demand. Afghanistan ordered nondiplomatic personnel from all belligerents to leave, and a loya jirgah called by the king supported his policy of absolute neutrality. As the war progressed, it provided larger markets for Afghan agricultural produce (especially in India).

Shortly before the end of the war, Shah Mahmud replaced his older brother as prime minister, ushering in a period of great change in both internal and external policies. Among other things, he presided over the inauguration of the Helmand Valley Project, a cooperative irrigation venture drawing Afghanistan into a closer relationship with the United States, which financed much of the work, He also oversaw the opening of relations with the newly created state of Pakistan, which inherited the Pashtuns from the formerly British-ruled side of the Durand Line. The Pashtuns (or Pakhtuns) sought an independent or semi-independent statehood, that would include the Pashto (or Pakhtu) speakers within Pakistan. This issue would have a resounding impact on Afghan politics, as would Shah Mahmud's political liberalization of the country.

The Pashtunistan Issue


Amir Abdur Rahman had bitterly resented the Durand Line and none of his successors relinquished the notion of Pashtun unity even as they cooperated with the British government on other matters. Eventually, the line dividing the Pashtun people became extremely contentious to the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Although the issue became most vexing during partition, British policy in the area before 1947 also aggravated the Pashtunistan problem. In 1901 the British had created a new administrative area, the North-West Frontier Province, which they detached from the Punjab. This new province was divided into Settled Districts and Tribal Agencies, with the latter ruled by a British political agent who reported directly to Delhi.

In 1934 Britain extended self-government to the North-West Frontier Province. By this time, the Indian National Congress (Congress Party), which many Muslims saw as a predominately Hindu organization, had expanded its political activities to include the province. The links between the political leaders of the North-West Frontier Province and the Hindu leaders of Congress were such that a majority in the North-West Frontier Province assembly originally voted to go with India in the partition, a decision which probably would have been rejected by the voting majority in the province. In July 1947, the British held a referendum in the Settled Districts of the province offering the population the choice of either joining an independent India or a now-inevitable Pakistan. An estimated 56 percent of the eligible voters participated and over 90 percent elected to join Pakistan. A loya jirgah was held in the Tribal Agencies. Offered a choice between joining India or Pakistan, the tribes declared their preference for the latter.

Although both Afghanistan and Pakistan made conciliatory gestures, the matter remained unresolved. In one of the government's attempts to suppress tribal uprisings in 1949, a Pakistani air force plane bombed a village just across the frontier. In response, the Afghan government called a loya jirgah, which promptly declared that it recognized "neither the imaginary Durand nor any similar line" and that all agreements--from the 1893 Durand agreement onward--pertaining to the issue were void. Irregular forces led by a local Pashtun leader crossed the border in 1950 and 1951 to back Afghan claims. Pakistan's government refused to accept the Afghan assertion that it had no control over these men, and both nations' ambassadors were withdrawn, but were exchanged again a few months later.

The issue of an international boundary through Pashtun areas was of great importance to policymakers in Kabul. Pakistan halted vital transshipments of petroleum to Afghanistan for about three months in 1950, presumably in retaliation for Afghan tribal attacks across the border. At this time, Afghan government interest shifted to offers of aid from the Soviet Union and in July 1950 it signed a major agreement with the Soviet Union.

Early Links with the Soviet Union


Pakistan's petroleum cutoff over the Pashtunistan issue and the resulting trade agreement between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union were major watersheds in bilateral relations. The agreement was much more than a barter arrangement exchanging Soviet oil, textiles, and manufactured goods for Afghan wool and cotton; the Soviets offered construction aid to erect petroleum storage facilities, to explore oil and gas reserves in northern Afghanistan, and permission for free transportation of goods across Soviet territory. This new relationship was attractive not only because it made it difficult for Pakistan to disrupt the Afghan economy by blockading or slowing down transshipped goods but also because it provided a balance to United States aid in the Helmand Valley Project. After 1950 Soviet-Afghan trade increased sharply as Soviet technicians were welcomed and a trade office was opened.

Experiment with Liberalized Politics


The third major policy focus of the immediate post-World War II period was Shah Mahmud's experiment in greater political tolerance and liberalization. Encouraged by young, Western-educated members of the political elite, the prime minister allowed National Assembly elections that were distinctly less controlled than they had been in the past; the result was the "liberal parliament" of 1949. He tolerated the activity of opposition political groups. The most vocal of these groups was the Wikh-i-Zalmayan (Awakened Youth), a movement comprised of diverse dissident groups founded in Qandahar in 1947. A newly formed student union not only provided a forum for political debate but also produced theatrical plays critical of Islam and the monarchy. Newspapers criticized the government, and many groups began demanding a more open political system.

But the liberalization went farther than the prime minister had intended. He reacted by attempting to form a government party, and when this failed, he began cracking down. The Kabul University student union was dissolved in 1951; newspapers criticizing the government were closed down; many opposition leaders were jailed. The parliament that was elected in 1952 was a significant step backward from the one that had been elected in 1949. The brief experiment in open politics was over.

Despite its failure, the liberal experiment had important repercussions for the nation's political future: it provided a breeding ground for the revolutionary movement that would come to power in 1978. Future Marxist leaders of Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal, and Hafizullah Amin were all involved. The government crackdown in 1951 and 1952 that brought an abrupt end to liberalization alienated many young, reformist Afghans who had originally hoped only to improve the existing structure rather than radically transforming it.

Daoud as Prime Minister, 1953-63


In the wake of the failed political reforms of the 1949-52 period came a major shake-up in the royal family. By mid-1953, the younger members of the royal family, which may have included the king himself, challenged domination by the king's uncles. The rift became public in September 1953 when the king's cousin and brother-in-law, Mohammad Daoud, became prime minister. Daoud was the first of the young, Western-educated generation of the royal family to wield power in Kabul. If opponents of the liberal experiment hoped he would move toward a more open political system, however, they were soon disappointed.

Despite Daoud's concern with correcting what he perceived as previous governments' pro-Western bias, his keen interest in modernization manifested itself in continued support of the Helmand Valley Project. Daoud also proceeded cautiously on the question of the emancipation of women. At the fortieth celebration of national independence in 1959, the wives of his ministers appeared unveiled in public at his behest. When religious leaders protested, he challenged them to cite a single verse of the Quran specifically mandating veiling. When they continued to resist, he jailed them for a week.

Daoud's social and economic policies were cautiously reformist and relatively successful. Although fruitful in some respects, his foreign policy caused severe economic dislocation, and, ultimately, his own political eclipse. Daoud's foreign policy was guided by two principles: balancing what he saw as pro-Western orientation on the part of previous governments by improving relations with the Soviet Union (without sacrificing U.S. economic aid), and pursuing the Pashtunistan issue by every possible means. To some extent the two goals were mutually reinforcing when hostile relations with Pakistan caused the Kabul government to fall back on the Soviet Union and its trade and transit link with the rest of the world. Daoud believed that the rivalry between the two superpowers for local allies created a condition whereby he could play one against the other in his search for aid and development assistance.

Daoud's desire for improved bilateral relations with the Soviet Union stepped up a notch to a necessity when the Pakistan-Afghan border was closed for five months in 1955. When the Iranian and United States governments declared that they were unable to create an alternate trade access route through Afghanistan, the Afghans had no choice but to request a renewal of their 1950 transit agreement with the Soviet Union. Ratified in June 1955, it was followed by a new bilateral barter agreement. After the Soviet leaders Nikolay Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev visited Kabul in 1955, they announced a US$100 million development loan for projects to be mutually agreed upon.

Despite the Cold War climate between the two superpowers, the Daoud regime also sought to strengthen its ties with the United States, whose interest in Afghanistan had grown as a result of United States efforts to forge an alliance among the countries in the "Northern Tier": Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey. Maintaining its nonaligned position, Afghanistan refused to join the United States-sponsored Baghdad Pact. This rebuff did not stop the United States from continuing its low-level aid program, but it was reluctant to provide Afghanistan with military assistance, so Daoud turned to the Soviet Union and its allies for military aid, and in 1955 he received approximately US$25 million of military matériel. In addition, the Soviet bloc also began construction of military airfields in Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Shindand.

In the face of Daoud's virtual obsession with the Pashtunistan issue, all other foreign policy issues faded in importance. In 1953 and 1954, Daoud applied more of his time-honored techniques to press the Pashunistan issue, such as payments to tribesmen on both sides of the border to subvert the Pakistani government as well as dissemination of hostile propaganda. In 1955, however, the situation became more critical from Daoud's point of view when internal politics forced Pakistan to abolish the four provincial governments of West Pakistan and form one provincial unit (the One Unit Plan). The Afghan government protested the abolition of the North-West Frontier Province (excluding the Tribal Agencies). The Pakistan border closure in the spring and fall of 1955 again highlighted the need for good relations with the Soviets in order to keep transit routes open for Afghan trade.

Although the Afghans remained unresigned to accepting the status quo on the Pashtunistan issue, the conflict remained dormant for several years (in which time relations improved slightly between the two nations). The 1958 coup that brought General Mohammad Ayub Khan to power in Pakistan also failed to bring on any immediate change in the situation. In 1960 Daoud sent troops across the border into Bajaur in a foolhardy, unsuccessful attempt to manipulate events in that area and to press the Pashtunistan issue, but Afghan military forces were routed by the Pakistan military. During this period the propaganda war, carried on by radio, was relentless.

Afghanistan and Pakistan severed relations on September 6, 1961. Traffic between the two countries came to a halt, just as two of Afghanistan's major export crops, grapes and pomegranates, were ready to be shipped to India. In a valuable public relations gesture, the Soviet Union offered to buy the crops and airlift them from Afghanistan. What the Soviets did not ship, Ariana Afghan Airlines flew to India in 1961 and 1962. At the same time, the United States attempted to mediate the dispute, although its ties with Pakistan were a stumbling block.

In addition, much of the equipment and material provided by foreign aid programs and needed for development projects was held up in Pakistan. Another outgrowth of the dispute was Pakistan's decision to close the border to nomads (members of the Ghilzai, variously known as Powindahs or Suleiman Khel), who had long been spending winters in Pakistan and India and summers in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government statement denying the decision was related to the impasse with Afghanistan appeared disingenuous, and the issue added to the brewing conflict between the two countries. Afghanistan's economic situation continued to deteriorate. The government was heavily dependent upon customs revenues, which fell dramatically; trade suffered; and foreign exchange reserves were seriously depleted.

By 1963 it became clear that neither Daoud of Afghanistan nor Ayub Khan of Pakistan would yield; to settle the issue one of them would have to be removed from power. Despite growing criticism of Ayub among some of his countrymen, his position was generally strong, whereas Afghanistan's economy was suffering. In March 1963, with the backing of the royal family, King Zahir Shah sought Daoud's resignation on the basis that the country's economy was deteriorating as a result of his Pashtunistan policy. Because he controlled the armed forces, Daoud almost certainly had the power to resist the king's request, yet he resigned, and Muhammad Yousuf, a non-Pashtun, German-educated technocrat who had been minister of mines and industries became prime minister.


The King Reigns: The Last Decade of the Monarchy, 1963-73


The new government both represented and sought change. Within two months, ordered an investigation into the abysmal conditions of Afghan prisons, and reached an agreement reestablishing diplomatic and trade relations with Pakistan.

The single greatest achievement of the 1963-73 decade was the promulgation of the 1964 constitution. A mere two weeks after Daoud's resignation, the king appointed a commission to draft a new constitution. In the spring of 1964, he ordered the convening of a loya jirgah--a country-wide gathering that included members of the National Assembly, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the constitutional commission. One hundred and seventy-six members were elected by the provinces and thirty-four members were appointed directly by the king. Although the assemblage of 452 persons (including six women) that met in September 1964 was composed primarily of officials who could be expected to support the royal line, the loya jirgah also included members elected from around the entire nation. On September 20, the document was signed by the 452 members and ten days later, the kings signature transformed it into the new constitution.

The constitution--and the deliberations that produced it--demonstrated several noteworthy changes in political thinking. It barred the royal family, other than the king, from participating in politics and government--a provision that was perceived as keeping Daoud out of politics. Individual rights were strongly championed by provincial delegates over tribal ones. Conservative religious members were persuaded to accept provisions they once considered intolerably secular. Although a lengthy debate ensued over whether the word Afghan should be used to denote all citizens of Afghanistan (many people regarded it as a reference only to Pashtuns), the loya jirgah agreed that this term should apply to all citizens. The constitution identified Islam as "the sacred religion of Afghanistan," but it was still necessary to persuade many conservative members that their religion had been enshrined in the constitution. Although Article 64 decreed that no law could be enacted that was "repugnant to the basic principles" of Islam, Article 69 defined laws as a resolution passed by the houses of parliament and signed by the king, with sharia to be used when no such law existed.

The constitution's provisions for an independent judiciary gave rise to heated debate among religious leaders, many of whom supported the existing legal system based on religion. Although religious judges were incorporated into the new judicial system, the supremacy of secular law was established. The new constitution provided for a constitutional monarchy, with a bicameral legislature, but predominant power remained in the hands of the king.

Most observers described the 1965 elections as remarkably fair. The 216-member Wolesi Jirgah, or the lower house of parliament, included representation not only by antiroyalists but also by the left and right of the political spectrum. Included were supporters of the king, Pashtun nationalists, entrepreneurs and industrialists, political liberals, a small group of leftists, and conservative Muslim leaders still opposed to secularization. The king nominated a new prime minister, Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, who quickly established friendly relations with the students, while making it clear that he was in charge and there were limits to student political activity.

On January 1, 1965, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was founded. The PDPA, a communist party in fact if not in name, was established for the primary purpose of gaining parliamentary seats. The PDPA was comprised of a small group of men, followers of Nur Mohammad Taraki and Babrak Karmal, both avowed Marxist-Leninists with a pro-Moscow orientation. The fact that four PDPA members won parliamentary seats suggests that government efforts to prevent the success of its leftist opponents by intervening in the balloting were halfhearted. Taraki, one of the four PDPA members elected to parliament in 1965, started the first major leftist newspaper, Khalq (Masses), which lasted little more than a month before being silenced by a government ban.

The Afghan political system remained suspended between democracy and monarchy, although it was, in reality, much closer to the latter. Political parties continued to be prohibited because the king refused to sign legislation allowing them. Democracy nevertheless maintained a toehold in the lower house of parliament where free criticism of government policies and personnel was aired.

In 1967, only a year and a half after its founding, the PDPA had split into several factions. The two most important of these were the Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Taraki and the Parcham (Banner) faction headed by Karmal. Although the split was couched in ideological terms, it was largely due to personality differences between Taraki and Karmal and to their respective preferences in organizing tactics. Taraki favored a Leninist-type party based on the working class, while Karmal wanted a broad democratic front. Supporters of Khalq were primarily Pashtuns from rural Afghanistan, while Parchamis tended to be from urban areas, to come from a better socio-economic background than Khalqis. Unlike the Khalqis, Parchamis included many non-Pashtuns who spoke Dari (Persian) in their ranks.

The monarchy did not treat both factions equally. Karmal's Parcham faction was allowed to publish its own newspaper, Parcham, for more than a year (from March 1968 to July 1969) while the Khalq faction had its paper banned. As a result, Khalq accused Parcham of having connections with the king and bitterly denounced its rival as the "Royal Communist Party."

The 1969 parliamentary elections, when voter turnout was not much greater than in 1965 produced a legislative assembly essentially consistent with the real population and distribution of power in the hinterland, in that conservative landowners and businessmen predominated and many more non-Pashtuns were elected than in the previous legislature. Most of the urban liberals and all of the female delegates lost their seats. Few leftists remained in the new parliament, although Karmal and Hafizullah Amin had been elected from districts in and near Kabul. Former prime minister Maiwandwal, a democratic socialist, lost his seat when the government selectively influenced the elections.

Between 1969 and 1973, instability ruled Afghan politics. The parliament was lethargic and deadlocked. Public dissatisfaction over the unstable government prompted growing political polarization as both the left and the right began to attract more members. Still personally popular, the king nevertheless came under increasing criticism for not supporting his own prime ministers.

It was in this atmosphere of internal discontent and polarization and external shakiness that Daoud implemented the coup d'état he had been planning for a year in response to the "anarchy and the anti-national attitude of the regime." While the king was out of the country for medical treatment, Daoud and a small military group seized power in an almost bloodless coup. The stability Zahir Shah had sought through constitutionally sanctioned limited democracy had not been achieved, and was a generally favorable response greeted Daoud's reemergence even though it meant the demise of the monarchy Ahmad Shah Durrani established in 1747.


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