Defeat of another super power in Afghanistan
19 November, 2014
By Asif Haroon Raja
In the 19th century, Great Game was played between Russia and Great Britain in the regions of Central Asia and Afghanistan. Durand Line was demarcated in 1893 during Abdur Rahman’s rule and Afghanistan was created as a second buffer State between the two competing powers. Afghanistan was ruled by King M. Zahir Shah from 1933 till 1973. Absolute monarchy in Afghanistan was transformed into constitutional monarch under him after emergence of political parties in 1950s and formulation of constitution in 1964. His cousin Prince M. Daood Khan served as prime minister from 1954 till 1963. During this period, PDPA grew in strength. In 1967, PDPA split into two rival factions, Khalq under Nur M. Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, and Parcham led by Babrak Karmal.
Deposition of Zahir Shah by Daood in a military coup on July 17, 1973 ended the era of kingship and heralded presidential era. When Daood energized Pakhtunistan stunt, it impelled ZA Bhutto to authorize a covert operation in Kabul under Maj Gen Naseerullah Babar. Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbadin Hikmatyar who had taken refuge in Peshawar were cultivated. In 1975 Jamiat Islami militants attempted to overthrow Daood regime. These counter actions forced Daood to sue for peace with Pakistan.
On April 27, 1978 Afghan Army which was sympathetic to the cause of PDPA, instigated Saur revolution and overthrew and executed Daood and his family members inside the palace. Pro-Moscow Taraki wore the hats of President as well as PM of Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and general secretary of PDPA. Hafizullah Amin was given the portfolio of deputy PM. His modernizing reforms evoked negative responses from the people and by mid 1978 civil war erupted.
1979 made deep impact on the global politics. In February 1979, Islamic revolution led by Imam Khomeini ousted Shah of Iran making the US lose one of its most powerful allies. The revolution created a stir in six Central Asian Muslim Republics and became a cause of worry for Moscow. Signing of Egypt-Israeli peace treaty at Camp David in March 1979 brought Egypt in the US camp and strengthened American position in Middle East. In Afghanistan, Taraki was overthrown by Hafizullah Amin on September 4, 1979 but the security situation kept deteriorating impelling Soviet Union to intervene on December 27, 1979. Amin was killed and Babrak Karmal belonging to Parcham faction installed as President. Najibullah was appointed head of KHAD.
In 1981, total strength of Afghan Army was 85000 and that of air force 7000. After the Red Army took over the combat duties, the strength of Afghan Army was reduced. New constitution was adopted and policy of national reconciliation introduced. Resistance put up by Afghan Mujahideen supported by Pakistan and later by US, the west and Saudi Arabia made things extremely difficult for the occupation forces. From 1985 onwards Afghan Army’s strength was speedily increased to 302,000 to be able to take on the burden of fighting the Mujahideen without Soviet ground support. But large scale desertions in Afghan Army became a major problem. Najibullah replaced Babrak in November 1986. In the face of stiff resistance put by the Mujahideen, the Great Bear was forced to withdraw. On July 27, 1987, withdrawal of Soviet troops was announced by Moscow. 108,800 Soviet troops of 40th Army under Lt Gen Boris Gromov started to withdraw on May 15, 1988 and by February 15, 1989 the last batch of soldiers vacated Afghanistan. The withdrawal took place under Geneva Accord.
It may be recalled that Moscow continued to support the Kabul government of Dr Najibullah till 1991. It provided $3-4 billion aid a year to support Soviet trained Afghan security apparatus comprising of National Army, Police and KHAD. In 1990, USSR provided 54 military aircraft, 380 tanks, 865 APCs, 690 ack ack guns, 150 rocket launchers, 500 scud missiles to enable Najibullah to survive and hold on to 20% of territory in the north with the help of Afghan security forces. 80% territory had come under the sway of Mujahideen. Soviet trainers and advisers trained and extended technical assistance to the government forces. All told, Moscow had furnished $450 billion worth aid to upgrade Afghan forces.
Invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces in December 1979 and resistance offered by Afghan Mujahideen and backup support of Pakistan gave an opportunity to the US to take its revenge. The Jihad was fought by seven Peshawar based Mujahideen groups and eight groups in Tehran.
For nine years the US had supported Pakistan to conduct a proxy war but had to restrict its support to provision of funds, weaponry and intelligence only. Not a single American or European soldier took part in the Afghan war. Thanks to skillful conduct of proxy war by the ISI and Herculean efforts of the Afghan Mujahideen, the Soviet forces had to abandon Afghanistan. This was the second time in history that a super power was defeated by the Afghans. 1.5 million Afghanis lost their lives and 1.2 million were crippled for life. 15 million were displaced to Pakistan and Iran. The credit of achieving the miracle of the 20th century was however taken by the US, arguing that liberal supply of arms/funds and provision of stinger missiles made the difference. Defeat of the Soviet military had made USA the sole super power or “the hyper-power.” Pakistan and Mujahideen helped the US to take its revenge of Vietnam debacle by sinking the Soviet might into the graveyard of Afghanistan.
Having accomplished all its objectives, the US abandoned Afghanistan, disowned the Mujahideen, ditched Pakistan and befriended India which had supported Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and had condemned US proxy war. Once Russian support to Najibullah regime dwindled and petered out, Afghan Army already infected with ill-discipline and desertion cases, started splintering and joining militias of warlords. Najibullah could no longer sustain the pressures of Mujahideen and he resigned on March 18, 1992 to make way for a neutral interim government, followed by general elections. Private militias were formed by warlords and they started fighting among each other to gain power. In the face of Gulbadin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami homing towards Kabul from the south, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s Ittehad-e-Islami and Abdul Ali Mazari’s Hizb-e-Wahadat from the west, Khalis’s Hizb-e-Islami from the east, forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud from the north, and Gen Rashid Dostum joining Mujahideen made the position of government critical. Najib attempted to flee but couldn’t and had to take refuge in UN mission. He was later killed.
At this critical juncture, Mujahideen leaders signed peace agreement called ‘Peshawar Accord’ on April 24, 1992. Transitory presidency was given to Sibghatullah Mojaddedi for two months, PM post was allotted to Gulbadin and Defence Ministry to Massoud. However, Gulbadin didn’t agree to the idea of coalition government and insisted to become the sole ruler. When his proposal was not agreed to, he violated the accord and attacked Kabul. It led to civil war which raged till 1996 and resulted in 400,000 fatalities. In June 1992, Burhanuddin Rabbani took over as President. During the internecine war, the Taliban emerged in August 1994 and captured Kandahar in November. They seized Wardak and Maidan Shar in February 1995, Farah on 2 September, Shindand on 3rd and Herat on 5th September. After capturing Kabul in end 1996, the Taliban under Mullah Omar formed their government. Massoud’s Northern Alliance forces were confined to Panjsher Valley in the north. Massoud was later killed.
Learning no lesson from history, the US military supported by its western allies jumped into the cauldron of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 to avenge the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 9/11. It was now the US turn to sink into the graveyard of Afghanistan. The charges levied against the regime of Mullah Omar was that it had refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden (OBL) allegedly involved in 9/11 attacks and had inextricable ties with al-Qaeda. Drunk with power, option of negotiation and trial of OBL at a neutral venue were ruled out.
In Afghanistan, the US and its western allies supported non-Pashtun Afghan tribes to oust Pashtun Taliban regime. The Afghan Pashtuns were persecuted and kept out of power. Billions of dollars were spent on training/ equipping Afghan National Army and Police comprising non-Pashtuns to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Purpose behind occupying Afghanistan was to use it as a military base for undertaking covert operations against regional target countries. The US military and its allies utilized all their war munitions, technology, intelligence, torture, bribery and trickery to subdue the resistance forces for 13 years but could make no headway. The more they used force the more they sank deeper into the swamp of Afghanistan. Wanton bloodshed and massive destruction has not been able to suppress the warrior spirit of the Mujahideen, whose sole mission is to defeat the aggressors and free their land from foreign occupation.
The dream of USA has been shattered by Afghan resistance forces and its super power status is at stake. American and NATO troops in Afghanistan are snowed under huge problems. They suffer from fatigue, home sickness, low morale, stress disorders and insecurity. Soldiers of ANA trained and equipped by the US at a colossal price are attacking and killing their so-called mentors. Apart from frequent green-over-blue attacks since 2011, the state of preparedness of ANA ad Police is not up to the mark because of drug addiction, corruption and high rate of desertions. Rising cases of mental diseases and suicides among US troops together with mounting fatalities and injuries and above all rising home pressure forced Obama to quit Afghanistan, which has become America’s graveyard.
Left with no choice the ISAF started departing from July 2011 onwards and last batch would depart by end December 2014. The US has spent over one trillion dollars in Afghanistan but has failed to defeat the Taliban or to achieve any of the stated objectives. Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) has been signed by the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has given his consent, but the Taliban have not. BSA allows residual force of up to 12000 US/NATO troops to stay on till 2016 to let the new government get stabilized. The stay is extendable. The US has pledged to provide $4.1 billion to ANSF and another $4 billion for development works. This implies that notwithstanding Ashraf Ghani’s sincere efforts to bridge trust deficit between Afghanistan and Pakistan and to promote regional peace, war will continue both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan for quite some time because another Great Game is in play. Likewise, emergence of Da’esh in Iraq-Syria and formation of a US led coalition to fight the new threat will keep the pot of Middle East boiling.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran/defence analyst/columnist/author of five books and Director Measac Research Centre.firstname.lastname@example.org