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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Its Social Basis, A Segmented Society

Resistance to the Kabul Marxists and Soviet occupation forces came from the virtually all sectors of the Afghan population, but overwhelmingly from the rural communities. Cultural, historical and religious factors combined to make the reaction chaotic, but persistent and effective.

Centralized government and foreign authority has been consistently and often successfully resisted by Afghanistan's physically and demographically segmented society. For the vast majority of the population, all communities are alien except those directly known. The narrow confines of mountainous valleys, isolated oases, and tribal lineages kept them separated from each other. Social institutions generally reinforced the niche pattern of the forbidding landscape. Distinct religious and social codes, authority structures, and economic arrangements fostered inward looking mentalities which favored survival in a harsh physical environment.

Political changes over the past century have lessened Afghanistan's fragmentation. Noncoercive interactions from travel, trade, resettlement, educational opportunity, and economic diversification had begun to open social networks beyond the family, lineage, village and valley. Suspicion of government was softening as services began to complement coercion, but the institutions and beliefs sustaining resistance remained firmly in place. Political autonomy from central government buffered by the mediating functions of local notables remained the norm of experience for most Afghans. Consequently, when abrupt political change at the center brought sudden, unwelcome interference, the reaction was widespread and varied, but often violent. When the Soviets invaded, there were no large formations of rebels converging on the capital. Reactions against the Marxists had been local. Connections with the police and civil authorities which linked them to the capital had been severed. Repression of such an atomized rebellion required crushing resistance everywhere. Ultimately, that is why Soviet repression failed, but the process that enabled chaotic, isolated resistance to prevail also destroyed the delicate fabric of Afghanistan as a national community that had been tentatively woven in the previous two generations.

Among the most serious of the casualties has been the loss of a large segment of the elite and middle class which had begun to think and act nationally. Many were lost in the orgy of political murder at the outset of the Saur Revolution. More escaped to permanent exile. Their loss was catastrophic. Perhaps worse was the alienation which accompanied it. Afghanistan's rural society saw betrayal in the behavior of school teachers, civil officials and exiled professionals. Afghanistan's experiment in modernization had brought disastrous politics and a foreign invasion of the countryside. The beneficiaries of modern opportunities had either perpetrated these evils or had fled seeking such opportunities elsewhere. Rage and resentment became serious barriers to reconciliation between the rural majority and what was left of the urban elite.

The Role of Islam

Islam was the most powerful common denominator shared by Afghanistan's isolated communities throughout the violation and betrayal. The line seemed clearly drawn between the traitors with their atheist patrons and those whose lives and way of life were threatened. In a struggle where martyrdom became a central theme, transcendental faith offered meaning and the hope of survival and vindication. The demands of inspiration called for a religious leadership. So long as the struggle remained intense those demands were met, certainly in symbol, and for many, in substance. But, when a remarkable victory was achieved, the demands changed. Failure, loss and disillusionment had to be coped with and the apparently inspired leaders proved all too human. Given Afghanistan's experience and segmented society, the mujahidin leadership was asked and apparently expected itself to fulfill the incredible task of governing a society which had lost whatever faith it had in government. Its performance must be measured against the task it has faced. When the government led by Najibullah collapsed in 1992, Afghanistan would be left with a political vacuum.

The Path to Victory and Chaos: 1979-92

Afghanistan's resistance movement, the Mujahidin (holy warriors), was born in chaos, spread and triumphed chaotically, and has not found a way to govern differently. Virtually all of its war was waged locally. As warfare became more sophisticated, outside support and regional coordination grew. Even so, the basic units of mujahidin organization and action continued to reflect the highly segmented nature of Afghan society.

In the course of the guerilla war, leadership came to be distinctively associated with the title, "commander." It applied to independent leaders, eschewing identification with elaborate military bureaucracy associated with such ranks as general. As the war produced leaders of reputation, "commander" was conferred on leaders of fighting units of all sizes, signifying pride in independence, self-sufficiency, and distinct ties to local community. The title epitomized Afghan pride in their struggle against an overwhelmingly powerful foe. Segmentation of power and religious leadership were the two values evoked by nomenclature generated in the war. Neither had been favored in ideology of the former Afghan state.

Olivier Roy estimates that after four years of war there were at least 4,000 bases from which mujahidin units operated. Most of these were affiliated with the seven expatriate parties headquartered in Pakistan which served as sources of supply and varying degrees of supervision. Significant commanders typically led 300 or more men, controlled several bases and dominated a district or a sub-division of a province. Hierarchies of organization above the bases were attempted. Their operations varied greatly in scope, the most ambitious being achieved by Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Panjshir valley north of Kabul. He led at least 10,000 trained troops at the end of the Soviet war and had expanded his political control of Tajik dominated areas to Afghanistan's northeastern provinces under the Supervisory Council of the North.

Roy also describes regional, ethnic and sectarian variations in mujahidin organization. In the Pushtun areas of the east, south and southwest, tribal structure, with its many rival sub-divisions, provided the basis for military organization and leadership. Mobilization could be readily linked to traditional fighting allegiances of the tribal lashkar (fighting force). In favorable circumstances such formations could quickly reach more than 10,000, as happened when large Soviet assaults were launched in the eastern provinces, or when the mujahidin besieged towns, such as Khost in Paktia Province. But in campaigns of the latter type the traditional explosions of manpower--customarily common immediately after the completion of harvest--proved obsolete when confronted by well dug-in defenders with modern weapons. Lashkar durability was notoriously short; few sieges succeeded.

Mujihidin mobilization in non-Pushtun regions faced very different obstacles. Prior to the invasion few non-Pushtuns possessed firearms. Early in the war they were most readily available from army troops or gendarmerie who defected or were ambushed. The international arms market and foreign military support tended to reach the minority areas last.

In the northern regions little military tradition had survived upon which to build an armed resistance. Mobilization mostly came from political leadership closely tied to Islam.

Roy convincingly contrasts the social leadership of religious figures in the Persian and Turkish speaking regions of Afghanistan with that of the Pushtuns. Lacking a strong political representation in a state dominated by Pushtuns, minority communities commonly looked to pious learned or charismatically revered pirs (saints) for leadership. Extensive Sufi and maraboutic networks were spread through the minority communities, readily available as foundations for leadership, organization, communication and indoctrination. These networks also provided for political mobilization, which led to some of the most effective of the resistance operations during the war.

The Islamist Factor

Political ingenuity and combat sophistication were largely attributable to the Islamists, often referred to as fundamentalists. By the end of the 1970s, some thousands of Afghan male students had graduated from government run madrasas, that is, higher level schools for Islamic study, roughly equivalent to secondary education. Other thousands had studied at Kabul University and the technical institutions that were clustered at there. Many retained or strengthened their faith in Islam during their studies (many of the others joined Khalq and Parcham). Most also had rural roots and had returned home in the aftermath of the Marxist takeover of Kabul. Their combination of religious belief and exposure to modern ideas and knowledge provided the basis for their unique contribution to the mujahidin cause.

Thus, not all Afghans with modern educations fled or served the Marxist government. Many in the rural sector of the emerging middle class contributed Islamist views of Afghanistan's predicament. Accepting the value of such features of modern civilization as natural science, technological innovation, economic progress and popular government, Islamists claimed that these achievements were compatible with Islam. They argued that Muslim morality was consistent with different human conditions and achievements and that there could be an Islamist way of applying modern forms of government and economic progress to Afghan society. Their vision, skills, and commitment were vital to the mujahidin cause. Many were among the most effective commanders. Others participated in the military and political arrangements linking fighting units to the expatriate parties. They also staffed the bureaucracies of those parties.

True to the nature of their society, Afghan Islamists did not reach a consensus on solving the riddle of Afghanistan's future. They also clashed with their more orthodox colleagues in the resistance. They offered informed leadership after usurpation, war and flight left the rural population without urban leadership.

The Mujahidin Parties

Political parties did not exist in Afghanistan before the 1960s. Their organization and methods of operation were alien to Afghan political experience. Traditionally, power had been generated by primordial affiliations: dynastic patronage and spiritual charisma or social interactions within tribes, clans, lineages or villages. Implementation of power was hierarchical and authoritarian. Ascribed roles and customary practice determined how discussion was conducted and information evaluated and who made decisions and carried them out. Tribal jirgahs permitted vigorous arguments, but consensus was reached through inherited procedures.

Royal authority was remote from most Afghans. The qawm, their most cohesive and intimate group, exercised much more immediate authority over each member. It was the primary source of identity and affiliation. Roy has argued that the authority of the qawm renders interactions outside of it secondary and hence without validity should a conflict with qawm interests arise. Outside interactions are seen as opportunities for aggrandizing the qawm such as winning favors from a government official or robbing a passing traveler. In such a cultural environment, the players lack the autonomy to play by rules that enable parties to function, such as openness to persuasion, tolerance of overlapping loyalties, discipline based on acquired convictions, freedom to join and to leave groups that exercise power, etc.

It has been widely noted that members of Khalq differed from Parchamis more on account of their Ghilzai or Eastern Pushtun cultural identity than because of their greater ideological radicalism. Recruitment of party activists based on traditionally ascribed affiliations tended to make the parties, themselves, creatures of the pre-existing communities from which they were drawn. The agendas of these prior groups could strongly influence the actions and purposes of such culturally marginal entities as political parties. Individuals had, also, a hierarchy of qawm affiliations radiating from primary ones. The behavioral and intellectual demands stemming from the values motivating party politics might require a radical shifting of such hierarchies. Afghans have had slightly more than a generation to make such an adjustment.

The parties that waged war against the Soviet forces and the Kabul regime reflected the difficulties of making such a cultural transition. For the most part they have been extensions of political actors. They have operated as an authoritarian command structure.

Circumstances also obliged them to function as expatriates. This fact had a major impact on their politics. They became dependent for funds on foreign governments or private interests. This situation inevitably exposed the politics and conduct of the war to foreign interference. Expatriate circumstances also meant that the parties fought the war virtually on a proxy basis. They were unable to direct or control the fighting. They served instead as conduits of supplies from foreign donors which Pakistan's intelligence service controlled. With one exception (Khalis), their senior leadership had no direct involvement in the war. Together, this isolation from the resistance fighting inside Afghanistan and their vulnerability to foreign pressures threatened to marginalize the parties. It left them without preparation for the political challenge of the Soviet withdrawal.

Other principal functions of the parties included articulating the resistance cause and representing the three million refugees stranded in Pakistan. They were well equipped to express the power of jihad. They used the refugee camps as laboratories for enforcing their political and religious doctrines. The practical needs of the refugees were attended by the Pakistan government and a large community of international humanitarian agencies.

Scores of fledgling political groups sprang to uncertain life in the aftermath of the Marxist coup and the Soviet invasion. Nationalist and ultra-Marxist networks briefly flourished in Kabul before being crushed by security police in 1980. Shia parties took autonomous control of the Hazarajat.

Many more aspiring political groups gathered in Pakistan, mostly in or near the frontier city of Peshawar. Among the millions of rural refugees were tens of thousands of educated, urban expatriates, many of whom eventually found opportunities to emigrate to Europe or North America. Many of rest joined the seven expatriate parties that were officially recognized by Pakistan. Groups who failed to get recognition lost the chance for significant funding. Most wasted away--some nationalist and socialist splinter-groups managed to maintain a lively criticism of their foreign supplied rivals.

War against forces identified with atheism inevitably aroused a passionate commitment to jihad, the Islamic obligation to overcome evil. The need for unity in this most segmented society moved the political climate toward religious leadership. Jihads waged against the British in the nineteenth century and King Amanullah in the twentieth had had the same effect. Moreover, Afghanistan's secular leadership was gone or compromised. When the Marxists seized power, the social and political basis for opposition fell almost exclusively on religious critics of modern, secular government.

Emergence of Modern Islamic Thought in Afghanistan

Post-traditional Islamic politics in Afghanistan began in the late 1950s among Islamic theologians teaching at Kabul University. A small coterie of scholars, led by Ghulam Muhammad Niazi, who had taken advanced studies at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, gradually attracted students interested in Islam as a modern ideology. Ever sensitive to religious involvement in politics, then Prime Minister Muhammad Daud arrested leaders in the group and forced it underground. During the next decade, the university expanded rapidly. Students from outside Kabul came into increasing contact with the theologians who had been released from prison during the constitutional reforms.

The Islamic Youth Movement

Spreading interest in modern applications of Islam coincided with the emergence of Marxism on the campus. The Islamic faculty organized study groups which evolved into political organizations. The crisis over the cabinet in October 1965 incited Islamist students as well as Marxists. Out of this ferment grew the radical movement generally known as the Ikwan-i-Musalamin (Islamic Youth). Competition at Kabul University between the Islamists and the Marxists came to involve debate, intimidation, and violence. The rivalry produced a generation whose later careers were marked by their personal involvement as allies and opponents on campus.

Daud's coming to power in 1973 gave the Parcham faction the opportunity to persecute their Islamist rivals. In 1975 an abortive uprising planned by young Islamists from several provinces brought a vicious response. Hundreds were executed or imprisoned to face death later at the hands of the Khalqis. The survivors went underground or fled to Pakistan.

Pakistan's Support of Afghan Islamists, 1975-79

Afghanistan's political relationship with Pakistan had been aggravated by Daud's revival of the Pushtunistan issue in 1973. Islamist fugitives were greeted as an opportunity by the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They might counter Daud's anticipated meddling with Pakistan's Pushtuns.

Among the leaders of the Islamist escapees were Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Rabbani had been among the founders of the Islamic ideology movement at Kabul University. Hekmatyar was a former engineering student who had become a full-time political activist and charismatic student leader. The Pakistan government provided them facilities and training at Peshawar. The Saudi Arabian government also found them interesting enough to provide funding. Would-be mujahidin leaders were groomed to make trouble for the Afghan government three years before the Saur coup.

Much happened in between. While he was purging the Parchamis, Daud was looking for allies among Afghanistan's neighbors. His overtures led to reconciliation with Bhutto in 1976-77. Meanwhile, Hekmatyar and Rabbani split over strategy for overthrowing the Afghan government. This led to a deep divide within the mujahidin movement.

At the root of their dispute were sharp differences in social origins and in political strategies. Neither man was born to social prominence. Rabbani was a Tajik from the northeastern province of Badakshan who became a member of the religious elite through his achievements as a scholar. He saw the transformation of Afghan government as a long-term project. Only after mobilizing the peasants and winning over key elements in the armed forces could Islamic leaders take over the government. He therefore argued for the building of a widely based movement that would create popular support.

Hekmatyar came from Baghlan Province, also in northeast Afghanistan, but was a Pushtun Kharruti, a Ghilzai tribe uprooted from the Ghazni region early in the century. Hekmatyar's Islamism was outspokenly radical; his ability as a leader offset his lack of formal Islamic education. He disagreed with Rabbani on the need for a mass movement to bring an Islamic government to power. He argued for a sudden seizure of government by a highly disciplined elitist party. In order to hone and preserve such a vanguard, he took care to shield it from risks. Their differences are indicated in the names of their parties. Hekmatyar's is the Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam), Rabbani's is Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society). Their rivalry would become the pivot on which the politics of the resistance would turn.

In sociological terms the contest between Hekmatyar and Rabbani has been a near mirror image of that between Khalq and Parcham. This rivalry pitted Dari speakers against Pushtuns, especially the Ghilzais. It juxtaposed an educated elite against newly educated arrivals to Kabul. In both rivalries gradualist militants confronted radicals who insisted on abrupt, immediate change. Society and ideology mixed to produce an ominous political confrontation.

Pakistan was to play a crucial role in the expatriate politics that followed. Zia ul Haq, who had assumed the presidency after removing Bhutto, was still consolidating his military government when the Marxists seized power in Kabul. He continued Bhutto's support of the Afghan emigres. Hekmatyar and Rabbani received funding, training, and equipment from Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate (ISI).

Both leaders were also on good terms with their Pakistani counterpart, the Ja'amat-i-Islami. The Ja'amat connection was especially valuable to the more militant mujahidin. Its organization and ideology closely resembled Hekmatyar's Hezb. In the 1980s it was to develop strong political ties with Zia and his military establishment.

Khalis and the Moderate Parties

Four more mujahidin leaders were recognized by the Pakistan government in 1979: Yunis Khalis, another militant Islamist, and three religious leaders with monarchist affiliations, Sighatullah Mujaddidi, Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, and Muhammadi Muhammad Nabi. Khalis split a section of the Hezb-i-Islami away from Hekmatyar. The oldest of the party leaders, Mawlawi Yunis Khalis, was an accomplished scholar, with strong roots in his eastern Pushtun tribe, the Khugianis of Nangrahar. A former colleague of Rabbani's in the Islamist circle at the university, he agreed with his political gradualism. Roy claims he left because Hekmatyar had avoided combat to conserve his forces. His party retains its name as identical to Hekmatyar's, Hezb-i-Islami.

The three so-called moderate party leaders arrived in Pakistan during the Taraki-Amin period. Their moderation related to their willingness to see Afghan government restored to secular leadership--Gailani and Mujaddidi had close ties to the royal family. Yet each was a prominent religious leader who exemplified dedication to the jihad and a strong infusion of traditional Islamic values, for example, enforcement of the Sharia, in a post-Marxist government.

Mujaddidi was the leading survivor of an extraordinarily influential Naqshbandi (Sufi) family which had emigrated from India at the beginning of the century. It had played a major role in the revolt against King Amanullah in 1929 and later became affiliated with the more conservative dynasty of Nadir and Zahir Shah. More than 100 of Sibghatullah Mujaddidi's relatives were massacred at Amin's command early in 1979. His family holds the rank of pir (saint) in the Sufi order which is the basis for its large religious following throughout Afghanistan. Sibghatullah is not a pir, but a conservative Mawlawi. His party, the Jubha-i-Melli-i-Najat Afghanistan (Afghanistan National Front) essentially consists of Naqshbandi followers.

Gailani is a pir of the Qadiriyya Sufi order. His followers are largely Ghilzais, especially the Suleimankhel and Khugiani tribes centered in Nangrahar Province. Sayyid Ahmad Gailani adopted a secular life, married into the royal family and owned a car dealership prior to the Marxist coup. His party, based largely on a Durrani network of khans and his Ghilzai disciples with a scattering of Sufi followers elsewhere, is the Mahaz-i-Melli Islami Afghanistan (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan). Gailani has represented the royal family in resistance politics.

Muhammad Nabi is a mawlawi (Islamic scholar) who taught at madrasas in Ghazni and Logar. Much of his large following in Afghanistan was generated by the spread of his graduates throughout the country. His was the largest network of commanders--mostly ulamas--in the early years of the war. His forces were represented in every region. Nabi was also politically active before the war. He served in the 1965 parliament where he was celebrated for giving Babrak Karmal a physical beating. He has led the Harakat-i-Inquilab-i-Islami (Revolutionary Islamic Movement).

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf was the last party leader to be recognized by Pakistan. His arrival in Peshawar was delayed until 1980 by imprisonment since the mid-1970s under the Daud and Taraki-Amin regimes. He was born at Paghman, a town immediately west of Kabul. A member of the Kharruti tribe, as were Hafizullah Amin and Hekmatyar, he was released in 1979. He studied in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and was an active member of the Ikwan-i-Musalamin.

Sayyaf arrived in Pakistan when foreign supporters were pressuring the parties to unite. He was elected to head a front of all the parties, the Ittehad-i-Islami B'rai Azadi-i-Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). The front quickly broke up and Sayyaf retained the name for his own party. With excellent Arab connections, Sayyaf has been generously funded, but has had no substantial base of support inside Afghanistan. His avowal of Wahhabism limited recruitment. Wahhabism clashes with the law and practice of the Hanafi system accepted by most Afghan Sunnis. More than any of the other party leaders, Sayyaf recruited mujahidin through weapons and funds.

Disinterest in Unity

These parties and their leaders persevered throughout the Soviet and civil wars into the post-Marxist period as political rivals. In 1985 after abortive attempts to form a coalition, the parties finally agreed upon a format for formal sharing of leadership with the creation of the Islamic Union of Afghan Mujahidin (Ittehad-i-Islami-Mujahidin-i-Afghanistan). This agreement set up a rotational position which allowed each party leader to act officially as spokesman for the others on a six-month basis.

Very little changed otherwise. The parties maintained separate networks of commanders, staffs, publications, foreign political contacts, and affiliations with the refugees in the camps. Distinctions and rivalries became so ingrained that jurisdictional issues on the ground in Afghanistan seriously impeded cooperation. Road tolls, seizures of supplies and frequent combat between mujahidin units were partially the result of the failure to coalesce from above.

Party switches happened with some frequency among commanders, often to get better access to weapons, to gain advantage in political rivalries between groups, and also because of breakdowns in organization. Such shifts especially hurt Muhammad Nabi's weakly organized Harakat.

The Controversy Over Weapons Distribution

By far the most controversial issue between the parties was the formula for weapons and supplies distribution. Muhammad Yusuf, the Pakistani officer in charge of distribution during the period of rapid supply increases from 1984, claims that decisions on supply were strictly made on the basis of efficiency and combat use and that adjustments were frequent. The ISI also applied mujahidin participation in training as a criterion for supplying the parties. How these criteria were factored in with the great variables of distance, communications and level of conflict obviously remains unclear. Parties exercising close control over personnel readily available for training, as was the case with Hekmatyar's Hezb, were favored. Another advantage came from intimate staff connections with the Pakistan army, which, again favored Hekmatyar. Logistics gave the Pushtun regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan an advantage. As the war intensified and the scale of assistance multiplied, resentments over perceived favoritism grew.

The Ghilzai Factor

Such issues were also related to the demographics of Peshawar politics. A case can be made that the politics of the Afghan war was a virtual Ghilzai affair. Khalq's Ghilzai leaders, Hafizullah Amin and Muhammad Taraki, began the process with the 1978 coup. The Afghan military forces were dominated by Khalqi officers, many of whom were Ghilzai. Babrak Karmal (with Durrani connections) was replaced by Najibullah, one of the few Parchamis with Ghilzai roots. On the opposing side Hekmatyar, Sayyaf, and Nabi are Ghilzais; Khalis is from a neighboring eastern Pushtun tribe (the Khugiani); Gailani and Mujaddidi are from immigrant Sufi families whose religious and political links are largely with Ghilzais. Only Rabbani has no intimate connection with Ghilzais.

Except for Babrak Karmal, the great Durrani Pushtun confederation had little representation on either side in the conflict. Gailani's party has stood in for the royal family, partially because of the anomalous position of Zahir Shah.

The Ghilzai factor had major implications for the Kabul and the Peshawar sides. Both--for very different reasons--were committed to a break with an established tradition of Durrani rule. Some spoke of the Marxist usurpation and the war as Ghilzai revenge against Durrani dominance. Ethnic rivalry, perhaps more than Islamic ideology, was responsible for the refusal of the Peshawar parties to accept Zahir Shah into mujahidin politics.

Expatriate Misperceptions

Another factor which affected the mujahidin cause was the insistence that mujahidin victory was to be synonymous with the transfer of power to the Peshawar parties. The expatriate political process created a distorted perception of the social and political realities created by fourteen years of war. Contention for power at the national level could not be contained within the parameters of a struggle essentially among Pushtuns based in Peshawar. Challenges had emerged from the minorities, especially the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Moreover, the political arena was greatly complicated by the intimate ties that neighboring governments and political agencies had fashioned with the parties and the major communities inside Afghanistan. For all the emphasis the Peshawar leadership placed upon installing an Islamic order, implicit in their expectations was the assumption that social basis of government was continuity of Pushtun dominance.

Such expectations were as much a product of the immediate concerns they faced in Pakistan as they were linked to a tradition of Pushtun rule. The refugees, their captive constituency, were overwhelmingly Pushtun and overwhelmingly from the Ghilzai and eastern tribal areas. Almost all were villagers living in massive, quasi-urban camps, subject to degrees of regimentation and control which sharply contrasted with their accustomed autonomy. In Pakistan they served as a political sounding board for the parties, thereby magnifying the party leaders' perception of popular acceptance of their ideology and themselves. It was convenient to overlook the fact that large as it was, the refugee population did not genuinely represent the demographic and social realities inside Afghanistan itself. As a result of their absence, the refugees in Pakistan sharply reduced the proportion of Pushtuns actually living inside Afghanistan. From a putative majority, they had clearly become a distinct minority. While refugee return after the war was expected, it was uncertain when they could return and how many eventually would.

Pakistan's Policies and Misperceptions

Such distortions in perception were shared by Pakistani officials. Their policies were based on an assumption of Pushtun dominance in postwar Afghanistan. The Pushtunistan issue had dominated relations between the two countries since Pakistan had become a nation. Harboring Afghanistan's potential future leadership offered insurance that once a Pushtun dominated mujahidin government was installed it would drop the issue. This goal was linked to Pakistan's heavy military investment in the Ghilzai region adjacent to its border. Pakistan's involvement in liberating the region was intended to improve future relations.

In addition to ingrained cultural traits, resistance politics were shaped by situational factors. The institutional and operational development of the Peshawar parties was stunted by circumstances they could not control. Pakistan's fear of Soviet reprisal induced it to oppose the establishment of an Afghan government in exile. It also discouraged the emergence of one party or a union of parties which could have made the resistance less dependent. Pakistan's influence over the parties was enhanced by compelling them to compete for support. In walking a tightrope between partiality and caution, Pakistan's policies stunted the growth of the parties.

The weakness of the parties was acutely evident in their failure to create a credible shadow government in anticipation of Kabul's fall. Anticipating the capture of a major city (Jalalabad or, perhaps, Khost) in the wake of the Soviet pullback from the eastern border provinces in the summer of 1988, the parties created a "provisional government" based on a constitution that would establish an Islamic Republic. The government was stillborn. No suitable seat to place it was captured, no prominent leader was placed in charge of it, it was not funded, and the parties, themselves, ignored it.

Once it became certain that the Soviets were leaving, the creation of an authority capable of taking control of Afghanistan was more urgent. This situation led to initiatives by Pakistan and the United States, with Saudi support, to create an interim government which could politically offset its rival in Kabul, coordinate the final military effort and prepare for the establishment of a postwar government. A shura (council) of resistance leaders met on February 10, 1989. Token participation was permitted from expatriates abroad, but Shia representatives were not seated due to a dispute over representation. The prospect of transferring power to a separate authority paralyzed the leadership. It feared political eclipse. An interim government might connect with the commanders who already exercised control over much of Afghanistan. Only Gailani made an effort to have major commanders participate in the shura.

After considerable pressure from the ISI--and allegedly some bribing with Saudi money--the Afghanistan Interim Government (AIG) was created. In essence, it was a cabinet consisting of the seven party leaders and their senior deputies and a few technocrats. The voting was arranged in a manner which assured that the weakest parties would get the highest posts. Mujaddidi was named Prime Minister and Sayyaf, his deputy. The AIG was given the task of creating a permanent government acceptable to popular will. Whether that process would be based on a jirgah or elections was left open. An effort was made also to centralize budgeting, but the parties continued to operate as they had before, with little attention being paid the AIG by early 1990.

Internecine Violence

Confronted in mid-1989 by evidence that the Kabul government was capable of defending itself and showed no sign of immediate internal collapse, the Peshawar parties turned on each other. The most serious dispute brought the enmity between Hekmatyar and Rabbani to the surface. Throughout the war their commanders had jockeyed for turf and supply routes, especially in the strategic Shomali region with its control over the northern highway between Kabul and the Soviet Union. Hekmatyar, with some Pakistani connivance, had also waged a minor reign of terror among the refugee community. It included intimidation, kidnaping, disappearances, imprisonment and execution of critics and rivals among educated Afghans and of rival mujahidin commanders and their followers. He was widely feared and disliked.

Most of Hekmatyar's ire was focused on the Jamiat, which had developed the most extensive network of commanders and was especially identified with the minority communities. He did not avoid clashes with rival Pushtuns, having attempted to dominate the tribal fronts around Qandahar, without success.

In late July, 1989, Hekmatyar's forces in Takhar Province ambushed and slaughtered more than thirty members of the army of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Rabbani's most celebrated and successful commander. Seven senior commanders were among those slain. Assaults and killings had become common between commanders of these two parties, but this instance was the most blatant. It also disrupted Massoud's plans for an assault on Kabul. Massoud retaliated, over-running several Hezb positions in the northeast. The perpetrators of the massacre were captured and later executed by an Islamic court at Taloqan, Massoud's regional headquarters.

Hekmatyar was condemned for his complicity in the massacre by leaders other than Rabbani. For a while he withdrew from the AIG claiming that his party would stake its fate on a popular elections inside Afghanistan--a bemusing statement from a leader who prided himself on his party's closed vanguard style.

Hekmatyar further alienated his colleagues by his involvement in an attempt at a coup against Najibullah's government in March of 1990. It was led by Defense Minister Shah Nawaz Tanai, a Khalqi. Hekmatyar's forces were to attack Kabul simultaneously. The plot misfired because of faulty communications. Najibullah quickly rounded up the Khalqi conspirators. Tanai escaped by helicopter to Pakistan where he was greeted and publicly accepted as an ally by Hekmatyar.

The Pakistan government's involvement in this abortive affair was transparently obvious. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's plea to the other six party leaders to aid Tanai and Hekmatyar was rebuked as a disgrace to the jihad. The episode was a crucial turning point in the struggle against Kabul. It demonstrated that clandestine connections between mujahidin and elements in the Kabul government could determine the outcome of the civil war. It also further demonstrated the ISI's partiality toward Hekmatyar: it had been involved in planning the military follow-up to the coup attempt.

The Council of Commanders, 1990-92

In 1990 the political disarray at Peshawar spawned an attempt by commanders inside Afghanistan to develop a coordinated command structure among themselves. Led by Abdul Haq, an outspoken commander affiliated with Yunis Khalis, a series of increasingly larger meetings was held, climaxing with one in Massoud's Panjshir valley in September. It was widely representative of the major commanders and drew up a set of understandings on mutual support and cooperation. But it was not able to create a comprehensive command structure that could solve logistical difficulties or coordinate a nationwide strategy. The commanders did not build a workable political system.

Dependence on the parties and Pakistan for supplies was too pervasive. Their jealousy regarding their own hard-won autonomy was also a factor. They shared the same territorial mentality that had kept the party leaders from uniting.

Neighboring Governments: Involvements and Interference

Divisions within the resistance were exacerbated by foreign interference. As American support declined after the Soviet withdrawal, the mujahidin found themselves increasingly dependent on assistance from their neighbors, especially Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. With this dependence came interference which distracted from the effort to defeat the Kabul regime.


Pakistan's interference principally took the form of favoritism between the Peshawar parties. It was especially evident in its clandestine attempt to back the Hekmatyar-Tanai coup. It was more obvious in the ISI's support of mujahidin attacks on towns in the eastern region after the failure at Jalalabad. "packaging," or the combination of training, supply, and mutual tactical planning, had become the ISI's approach to assisting the mujahidin. It was especially evident in the siege and final capture of Khost in early 1991. Again, Hekmatyar's forces were favored in the packaging arrangements. This situation contrasted sharply with the fall off in supplies to Rabbani's major commanders, Massoud in the northeast and Ismail Khan near Herat. Attempts by the ISI to introduce the packaging approach to the loose coalition of commanders around Qandahar were rebuked due to the ISI's insistence on control.

Saudi Arabia

Arab interference was in some ways more aggravating . Saudi aid to the mujahidin, which roughly matched that of the United States, had been crucial in accelerating the guerilla war against the Soviet forces. Also, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states (except Iraq) had severely criticized Soviet behavior in Afghanistan. Their involvement continued after the Soviet departure. Alongside of this generous, long-term government assistance, unofficial parallel involvement became increasingly disruptive and disliked. During the Soviet-Afghan war a costly effort was made by private, often religious, Arab agencies to provide educational opportunities for Afghan refugees encamped in Pakistan. Obvious attempts were also made to introduce doctrinal interpretations of Islam espousing teachings of the Wahhabi sect dominant in Saudi Arabia. Such indoctrination was accompanied by a growing stream of free-lance individuals and groups of Arabs seeking to participate in the jihad. As the mujahidin expanded their areas of control after the Soviet forces withdrew, Arabs took part in the capture of villages and towns, especially in Kunar and Nangrahar provinces. Incidents including massacres of men, abductions of women and various atrocities were attributed to them in 1988 and 1989.

Many Afghans resented Wahhabi proselytizing. It was carried out with particular aggressiveness in Kunar. For two years a community of Arabs and Afghan converts dominated the province under the leadership of Jamil-ur-Rahman, a Pushtun native. Other Wahhabi cells were established, including a community at Paghman, which served as the base for Rasul Sayyaf, the mujahidin party leader most closely identified with Saudi Arabia.

Arab policy and behavior appeared intimately mixed. The spreading of a doctrine, recognized as the official Saudi version of Islam, made it difficult to separate religion from politics. From the official perspective Saudi diplomacy toward Afghanistan was aimed at limiting Iranian influence. This objective was given higher priority when it became possible to extend it to the recently sovereign nations of Central Asia. Afghanistan forms the collegial and logistical link through which Arab influence can compete with Iran's in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Such Arab ambitions coupled with apparent attempts to create an Afghan Wahhabi state within a state have deepened Saudi penetration of Afghan politics.


Afghan resentment toward Iran has also grown. The canker is older and deeper than with Pakistanis and Arabs. Sharing the same plateau, language and a long overlapping history in which Persians/Iranians have had the greater portion of cultural grandeur, the modern relationship has been awkward. Part of this derives directly from Iranian perception of the Shias of Afghanistan, especially the Hazaras, as oppressed sectarian brethren. This has been a sensitive matter for the Pushtun leadership which inherited Abdur Rahman's conquest of the Hazaras. Pushtuns also resent having to accept the Persian language and traditions in order to achieve elite cultural status. For their part Iranians are frustrated by their loss of Herat in the mid-nineteenth century.

In diplomacy and especially in its involvements in the Hazarajat, Iran has made clear its conviction that it has a significant stake in the outcome of Afghanistan's tragedy. During the Soviet war Iran made a concerted effort to train and support Hazara groups for the purpose of introducing extensions of its own revolution into Afghanistan. Several parties were organized and infiltrated into the Hazarajat. The most effective were Pasdaran and Nasr. They confronted the Shura led by Sayyid Beheshti, a coalition of traditional Hazara notables which had taken control of the region in 1979. During the middle 1980s, the Iran-supported groups seriously weakened the Shura, but their imposition of revolutionary doctrine backfired, forcing them to make concessions and to accept joint rule with the Shura.

At the time of the Soviet withdrawal, Iran made a strenuous effort to convince the mujahidin leadership to concede as much as 25 percent of the representation in the proposed Afghan Interim Government to the Shias. This proposal was vehemently rejected.

Relations became further complicated by Iran's overtures to the Najibullah government and Moscow after the Soviet withdrawal. Teheran intimated endorsement of Soviet and Najibullah's proposals for a possible political settlement of the war. In return, the Kabul government gave assurances it would not interfere with the defacto autonomy of the Hazarajat, a region over which it had lost virtually all control.

Such outside involvement complicated and distorted the mujahidin effort to defeat the Kabul forces. Especially disabling was their dependence on neighbors for much of the financial and material support for continuing the war. As had happened in the past, all the Afghan protagonists in the struggle to control their country were beholden to outside forces whose agendas had major implications for the political outcome. With the withdrawal of Soviet and United States support at the end of 1991, the impact of regional meddling increased.

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