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34 HISTORY •• The Anti-Soviet Jihad

Amin Saikal’s Modern

Afghanistan – A History of Struggle and Survival is a

key work for understand- ing the trajectory of Afghanistan in the 20th century.

The countryside rose almost immediately against plans for land re- form, women’s rights and secular education. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Presi- dent Carter’s National Security Advisor pushed for American military support for the rebellion. By the end of 1978 the country was ablaze. An army mutiny in Herat was only quelled by inviting Soviet pilots to carpet bomb the city. The communists had no answers but more force and more radical reform, and fell into infighting and party purges. In September 1979 Moscow replaced Taraki with Hafizullah Amin and drew up plans for military support. But by Christmas Eve their patience finally ran out. KGB troops landed in Kabul and killed Amin. The Parchami Babrak Kar- mal was installed as president, and the next day the Red Army started to pour across the border, ‘invited’ in to safeguard the revolution. The Great Game was back on – the Russians were finally in Afghanistan.


The Soviets initially expected to be in Afghanistan for just a few months but events soon spiralled out of their control. The invasion not only attracted worldwide condemnation, but as the resistance called a jihad


In 1973 Kabul was in danger of becoming a ‘fly in, fly out’ tourist trap. At least that’s what I wrote in the very first Lonely Planet guidebook. I’d passed through Afghanistan the previous year, part of the great Asia Overland exodus, following the ‘hippy trail’ from London to Kathmandu and on through South-East Asia to Australia. Looking back it was a magical era and one that still hasn’t been adequately recorded, although Rory Maclean’s Magic Bus and David Tomory’s oral history of the trail, A Season in Heaven, capture the feel of Afghanistan perfectly. Of course the memories have faded (and if you can remember it clearly, you clearly weren’t there) but Sigi’s in Kabul felt like the epicentre of the Afghan section of the trail. We lounged on carpets, sipping free mint tea, listening to the music (the rumour was that if Pink Floyd released it in London on Monday the tapes were in Kabul by Friday), occasionally repairing to the courtyard to shift the giant chess pieces around the giant chessboard. Cool. The Afghans were cool too, ‘they were an example to us all, proving that you could be smart, tough, proud, broke, stoned and magnificently dressed, all at once’ according to A Season in Heaven. Our attempts to look magnificently dressed inevitably failed. I’d no sooner arrived in Herat than I wandered off to a tailor to be fitted out with a Europeanised version of an Afghan suit. A German traveller returning from the tailor at the same time reduced the assembled Afghans hanging around the hotel to gibbering wrecks, laughing so hard they had to lie on the floor. ‘No man would wear red,’ one of them confided. It was the travellers’ responsibility to entertain as well as be entertained and we did our best. You

arrived in Afghanistan slightly spooked; you’d heard so many stories about wild men and craziness and there was no question that crossing borders seemed like something measured on the Richter scale, the number goes up by one but the earthquake factor jumps by 10. Leaving Europe for Turkey was the first big culture shock, then it was x10 when you hit Iran and x100 when you crossed into Afghanistan. And then you relaxed, because it simply wasn’t as scary as you’d expected. Bruce Chatwin may have rejoiced that he visited Afghanistan ‘before the Hippies wrecked it’, which they did, he claimed, ‘by driving educated Afghans into the arms of the Marxists’, but Chat- win was a snob and never very happy about anybody who hadn’t been to Oxford and didn’t do their shopping at Sotheby’s.


Central Asia refugees flood into Afghanistan following the Soviet upheavals


Daoud overthrows King Zahir Shah, declares Afghanistan a republic

In fact the Afghans look back to the hippy period as a golden age, everything was peaceful

and there was lots of money to be made: somebody was buying the carpets even if we weren’t. In 2006 I finally returned to Afghanistan and despite the intervening chaos quickly discovered one thing had not changed: the Mustafa Hotel, where Maureen and I stayed in 1972, was still there at the end of Chicken St and still a travellers’ favourite. In fact the young trio, ‘two guys and a chick’ in hippie-era-speak, who tumbled out of the Mustafa as I strolled by, adjusting their backpacks as they emerged, could easily have been time-warped straight from the 1970s. My recent two-week return trip was a mystifying blend of old and new. In Kabul I couldn’t re- member Sigi’s exact Chicken St location and the shops in the city centre, near the market and river, all seemed to be devoted to mobile phones. The flight across the snow-clad central mountains to Herat – I had zero enthusiasm about risking the road via Kandahar – was spectacularly beautiful and Herat was still a delight. Until very recently the Citadel that dominates the centre of the town had been just as closed as it was on our 1970s visit, but today it’s open to visitors (it’s a shame there aren’t more of them) and the views are dazzling. From Herat I forayed into central Afghanistan to visit the reclusive Minaret of Jam. I still remem- ber seeing the minaret on a tourist poster on a Herat hotel wall and instantly thinking ‘where is that?’ followed, of course, by ‘I’d like to go there.’ It had taken 34 years, but finally I did. From Kabul another central Afghanistan trek to Bamiyan and Band-e Amir followed, where I encountered a couple of intrepid French motorcyclists. A final trip north took me into the Panjshir Valley and up to Mazar-e Sharif.

On my way back south to Kabul I made the short detour to the rock-cut Buddhist stupa at Takht-e Rostam and experienced, once again, that amazing sensation of seeing something that I knew nothing about. I’d read about the millennium-old rock dome in Nancy Hatch Dupree’s classic An Historical Guide to Afghanistan, but I’d never seen a photograph and had little idea what to expect. Clearly it had similarities to the temples of Ajanta and Ellora in India, also cut out of solid rock, or even the cave temples of Petra in Jordan, but the place it really reminded me of was Lalibela in Ethiopia, where you could also stand at surface level and look down at the marvel at your feet. Here was something too solid for even the Taliban to damage.

April 1978

Saur Revolution brings Afghan communist Khalq party to power

December 1978

Soviet army invades Afghanistan and installs new regime

HISTORY •• The Anti-Soviet Jihad 35

against the godless Russians Afghanistan became a beacon for the world- wide Islamist movement. The Americans feared the Cold War expanding towards the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and pledged covert military aid to fight the Soviets ‘to the last Afghan’. The resistance was known as the mujaheddin. Several key leaders

were already in exile in Pakistan, having fled Afghanistan in the mid- 1970s after Daoud’s crackdown on Islamists at Kabul University. These included the Tajiks Burhanuddin Rabbani, founder of Jamiat-e Islami (Society of Islam), and his supporter Ahmad Shah Massoud, and the fundamentalist Ghilzai Pashtun Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, founder of Hezb-e Islami (Party of Islam). Reflecting the disparate nature of Afghan soci- ety, the resistance itself was divided. Seven main parties emerged, split between the Islamists, hoping to establish an Islamic state, and the tradi- tionalists, who saw the Jihad as a national liberation struggle. Funding soon poured in from the USA and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was the epicentre of resistance, home not only to the mujaheddin parties but also to over three million Afghan refugees. The Pakistani dictator General Zia insisted that all funding and support be funnelled to his secret service, Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
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