As the United States and NATO allies withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the Middle Eastern nation awaits its fate with bated breath. To truly understand, let's look to the history of occupation in Afghanistan, and the circumstances under which terror groups were founded and allowed to flourish.
When the former Prime Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Daoud Khan staged a coup d’état in 1973 against the last monarch, Mohammad Zahir Shah, he was unaware that the consequences of his actions would ripple through the country and inevitably doom it to vulnerability.
Conservative Afghans were accustomed to the monarchy, so the idea of Daoud Khan’s republic was foreign to them. The history of insurgency in Afghanistan begins with the monarchy's end, which further paved the way for opportunists to lay claim to the republic’s rule.
After Daoud Khan’s centrist government was overthrown by left-wing officers, power was shared by an uneasy coalition of the People’s Party and the Banner Party, which were factions broken off from the erstwhile People’s Democratic Party Of Afghanistan (PDPA).
The new government forged ties with the Soviet Union and enacted social and land reforms⏤all of which were met with resentment from the orthodox Muslim and non-communal civilians.
As unrest stirred amongst the people, insurgencies rose against the government. These were collectively referred to as the mujahideen, or wagers of jihad.
Internal disagreements, coups, and uprisings goaded the Soviets to invade the country on the December 24 1979. Power was transferred from the People’s leader to the Banner’s, and the mujahideen grew exponentially with the United States’ support. Throughout this period, the Afghan army remained deserted and ineffective.
The mujahideen’s uncoordinated efforts should’ve been a lost cause but, with United States support, weapons supplied through Pakistan, and empathy garnered from other Muslim countries, their combat formations and quality of arms improved.
While the Soviets oppressed locals by controlling cities, towns, and garrisons, the mujahideen were left free to roam the countryside.
Millions of Afghans sought refuge in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran as warlords engaged in frequent shelling that left parts of cities in rubble and many dead.
By the late 1980s, a disintegrating Soviet Union signed the Geneva Accord with the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to withdraw its troops. The withdrawal was completed on February 15 1989, and soon the People’s Democratic Party returned to power; cutting ally-ships with the U.S. and Russia. Mohammed Najibullah was appointed President.
The mujahideen continued to make advances after the withdrawal and conquered several cities but were unable to dethrone Najibullah’s government. That is, until 1992.
The Soviet Union cutting aid to their Afghan allies brutally impacted the PDPA. After an abortive coup in March 1990, the army dwindled into a meek force.
Withdrawal of the Soviet Union’s support allowed the mujahideen to storm Kabul, while arguments between prominent mujahideen leaders such as Hekmatyar and Massoud led to the formation of the Taliban.
The group was formed in the early 1990s with the covert backing of the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. A large portion of the Taliban consisted of Afghans, and they were joined by Pashtun men trained in Pakistani madrassas.
By promising to impose stability and rule of law after four years of conflict (1992–1996), the movement attracted popular support among rival mujahideen groups in the initial post-Soviet era. The Taliban entered Kandahar in November 1994 to pacify the crime-ridden southern city. By September 1996, they seized the capital, Kabul, from President Burhanuddin Rabbani⏤an ethnic Tajik whom they viewed as anti-Pashtun and corrupt. The same year, the Taliban declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a cleric and veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance, leading as amir al-mu’minin, or “commander of the faithful.” Before it's 2001 overthrow, the regime controlled 90 percent of the country.
Twenty years of continuous warfare devastated Afghanistan's infrastructure and economy until finally, in 1996, the Taliban took power.
There was no running water, little electricity, few telephones, functioning roads, or regular energy supplies. Basic necessities like water, food, and housing were in desperately short supply. In addition, the clan and family structure that provided Afghans with a socioeconomic safety net was badly damaged; Afghanistan's infant mortality was the highest in the world.
The Taliban became notorious internationally for misogyny and violence against women. Women were forced to wear burqas at all times in public. They were banned from riding cycles or motorbikes. They weren’t allowed to work. They were not allowed to be educated past the age of 8 and were, until then, only permitted to read the Quran. Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught.
They faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's laws. The Taliban allowed and, in some cases, encouraged marriage for girls under the age of 16. Amnesty International reported that 80% of Afghan marriages were forced. The Pashtun supported the Taliban, and many were ecstatic to have an orthodox Islamic rule.
With over a million deaths throughout the war, the number of families headed by widows had reached 98,000 by 1998. In Kabul, where vast portions of the city had been devastated by rocket attacks, more than half of its 1.2 million people received international NGO services, such as receiving drinking water. The civil war and its never-ending refugee stream continued throughout the Taliban's reign.
In September 1997 the heads of three UN agencies in Kandahar were expelled from the country after protesting against a female attorney for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees being forced to talk from behind a curtain so her face would not be visible. The UN increased the number of muslim women in the staff to satisfy the demand of the Taliban. Taliban then required all female UN staff to be chaperoned by a blood relative while travelling to Afghanistan.
In July 1998, the Taliban forcibly closed "all NGO offices" in Kabul after those organizations refused to move to a bombed-out former Polytechnic College as ordered.One month later, the UN offices were shut down.
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were linked as terrorist entities by the UN Security Council (1999), who proceeded to impose sanctions on their arms, funding, and travel. Osama bin Laden commanded the terror group from his seats in Peshawar and Afghanistan, and the Taliban granted al-Qaeda sanctuary in the country.
After the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, Pentagon, and Shanksville, American President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism” and signed a joint resolution to invade Afghanistan and wipe out terrorist groups.
America’s airstrikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, assisted by the Northern Alliance and Pashtun anti-Taliban forces, afflicted lasting damage. A weakened Taliban rapidly lost control of Mazar-e-Sharif and other strategically significant cities in November of 2001.
On December 9, 2001, the Taliban fell. Mullah Omar fled the city of Kandahar, leaving it to Pashtun leaders.
Despite a humiliating defeat at the hands of western forces, the Taliban regained strength in hiding and became particularly active in 2018 and the years that followed.
A formidable evil had appeared suppressed when, in reality, the terror group had no plans to let Afghanistan go. Citizens were offered a different worldview, promised a better life, and allowed to hope. After twenty years of warfare, the sun sets on an Afghanistan filled with hope and wonder. And terror prevails.
In part II of the Afghanistan series, we will explore the United States’ withdrawal, events leading to the Taliban takeover, and the reaction of the common people while Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis deepens.