100 years of Afghanistan

Spot Light


A landlocked state is at the mercy of its neighbours and worse still if it is in a geopolitically important region, located on the boundaries of South Asia and Central Asia. Afghanistan is positioned between the energy-rich West Asia (Middle East), a resource-rich Central Asia and on the route to South Asia.

This makes it all the more a geopolitically important to an Indo-Pacific superpower USA, a rising China, dominant Russia that always wanted to control and a swing state like India. Not to forget the pretender Pakistan that wants a weak Afghanistan for its strategic depth, hence is hell-bent on destabilizing it through the export of terror. Earlier, Afghanistan was a buffer between the great game of the mighty Russian empire and the British empire. Both these empires tried desperately to control these freedom-loving tribes. Added to this it is on the Silk Route which makes the control of this landmass very vital to all powers in the region.

In the last hundred years of the birth of Free Afghanistan, one can date the rise of the modern state of Afghanistan to the Hotak and Durrani dynasties in the 18th centuries. Later it was from the time of independence on 19 August 1919 after the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi between the Amir of Afghanistan and British India. From that time onwards Afghanistan was ruled by an absolutist monarchy. The arbitrariness of drawing and redrawing boundaries by the British in a bid to divide to control them was done in 1893, when Mortimer Durand (1850- 1924), British foreign secretary of India from 1884 to 1894 made the Amir Abdur Rahman Khan sign an agreement where ethnic Pashtun and Balochi territories were divided by the controversial Durand Line. Even today these two ethnic groups and Afghanistan have not accepted this line and this is a cause of instability in the region, greatly affecting India’s security and foreign policy.

Independence in 1919 was at the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War when the British realized the futility of fighting the Afghans. On 19 August 1919, King Amanullah Khan, a great reformer had ended Afghanistan’s isolation by declaring Afghanistan a sovereign and a fully independent state. He made primary education compulsory through the 1923 Constitution. He also abolished slavery. His move to abolish the traditional burqa for women and establish co-educational schools brought a huge backlash from many tribal and religious leaders. He abdicated in January 1929 due to the civil war. He was succeeded by Mohammed Nadir Shah who abandoned the reforms and took a gradualist approach. He was assassinated in 1933 whereupon his son and the last king of Afghanistan Mohammed Zahir Shah took over the reins until 1973.

King Zahir Shah’s period saw Afghanistan grow as a modern state, with the creation of a nation, gradual modernization and development of industry, infrastructure and education. It remained neutral during World War II and the Cold war. In 1973 while abroad, his cousin and Prime Minister Daoud Khan overthrew the King in a bloodless coup and abolished the monarchy. Daoud Khan became the first President of Afghanistan. The sudden abolition of the monarchy lost its symbol of unity in a country where a fragile peace had to be maintained between different ethnic groups. The major ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimak, Turkmen, Baloch and others. Dari (Afghan Persian) and Pashto are the official languages. Most of the Afghans are bilingual. In hindsight, this overthrow of the monarchy by President Daoud heralded the transition towards civil war and anarchy. He was himself overthrown and killed by the Saur Revolution in April 1978 which led to the four decades of civil war, terror and Islamic fanaticism.

The rise of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was during the coup of 1973 which supported President Daoud Khan in establishing the first Republic of Afghanistan. This communist party was supported by the Soviet Union was made up of two major factions, the Parcham (banner or flag) and Khalq (Masses or People). The PDPA established the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, with Nur Muhammad Taraki as its first President. Taraki was assassinated by Hafizullah Amin a fellow Khalaq member in September 1979. His extremist policies led to the Soviet invasion on 27 December 1979 that killed Amin and installed BabrakKarmal as president.

This Soviet invitation to intervene was a watershed. It was at the height of the Cold War where the Islamic revolution in Iran made the US lose its lynchpin in its Middle East Policy in 1978 followed by the Soviets moving into Afghanistan. This made Pakistan into a frontline state for the US and Saudi Arabia to fund the Islamic fundamentalist groups called the Mujahideen to fight the communists. This funding of the Islamic terror machine in Pakistan had its consequences in Jammu and Kashmir as well. 1979 was the year when the terrorist became the ruler in J&K and the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Hindus began.

The Soviets forces left in 1989, a civil war where several Afghans were killed, displaced and the destruction of the country. President Najibullah became President in 1987 until 1992, a year after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. His death showed the brutality of the Islamic fundamentalist regime on 27 September 1996. Their destruction of world heritage Buddhist statues at Bamiyan was a signal to the world that they would stop at nothing. The civil war continued for control between the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud and the Taliban a creation of Pakistan’s ISI of Pashtun students of extremist Madrasas continued until 1997-98. From now the extremist form of Islam took root with Al Queda creating a strong network in the region. This made the region as the training ground for international terrorists with the production of narcotics.

9/11 made a tectonic shift with the US slowly realizing that support for terror not only affected regional neighbors like India but reached the shores of the US. The US bombed Al Queda camps and removed the Taliban from power. In December 2001 the Afghan Interim Administration under Hamid Karzai was installed. Pakistan has always wanted a weak Afghanistan and has been supporting a proxy war by using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. Building democratic institutions and smooth transfer of power in 2014 to Ashraf Ghani as President in Afghanistan has been possible due to the strong presence of US and NATO forces. The Taliban supported by Pakistan terror infrastructure has been and is a huge destabilizing force. The decision by the US to withdraw and hand over power to the Taliban can be a setback. But the issue is how long would the US commit its military, the Afghans will have to govern themselves some time. The Taliban is Pashtun, extremist Islamic group owing to its allegiance to Pakistan and will the Northern alliance be given any power-sharing. How can this region see peace and stability in the future?

At this point, Afghanistan is at the crossroads whether it can reconcile differences and form a national unity government or will break up on ethnic faultlines of Pashtunistan and the Northern Alliance. Afghanistan is a good case study to understand the role of communist parties versus the Islamic fundamentalistic groups in national development. For India, a strong, independent and modern Afghanistan is in our best interests, whereas for Pakistan a weak Afghanistan that will allow Pakistan to get its strategic depth vis a vis India is its goal. The region and Afghanistan are important for India and the world to ignore.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.