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36 HISTORY •• Civil War

‘What’s most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the

end of the Cold War?’


the ISI, and went about moulding the resistance to his own interests. Moderate mujaheddin groups were sidelined in favour of the most radical Islamists like Hekmatyar. Pakistani policy was aimed at installing a pli- able Pashtun government in Kabul to quell disputes over the historically unstable Durand Line, and through Hekmatyar the ISI quashed attempts to unify the resistance. Touted by Islamabad and Washington as the most effective mujaheddin leader, Hezb-e Islami spent more time terrorising the refugee camps and killing Afghan rivals than Russians. Pakistan also encouraged foreign fighters to join the struggle. Around 30,000 radicals from across the Muslim world were trained at arms, with financial support and Islamic guidance from Saudi Arabia. Known as the ‘Arab-Afghans’ they were deeply xenophobic and saw Afghanistan as a key staging post in a worldwide Islamic revolution. Osama Bin Laden came to Afghanistan at this time, and his co-militants would go on to take their experience to Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir and beyond. In the field, the regular mujaheddin fought on heroically. The country- side was ideal for hit-and-run ambushes, and the Red Army gradually found that it had little influence beyond the range of its guns. Scorched earth policies merely drove the resistance on. The Afghan army deserted in droves, and in 1986 the arrival of Stinger missiles from the USA put them further on the back foot, as helicopters and planes were shot from the skies. The new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, started looking for a way out. He encouraged reconciliation through Kabul’s new headman, Mohammed Najibullah, and when that failed announced a unilateral withdrawal. Gambling on the survival of the PDPA government, troops were pulled out until the last tank crossed the Amu Darya in February 1989. The decade-long war had cost the Soviets over 15,000 men and proved a significant catalyst to the collapse of the USSR. Over 1.5 million Afghans had died, and four times that many had fled the country.

Ghost Wars by Steve

Coll is a gripping and intricately researched history of the CIA’s covert funding of the mujahed- din, and the spawning of the Arab-Afghans and Al-Qaeda.


The Geneva Accords negotiated between the USSR and USA were meant to end the fighting, but they were barely worth the paper they were writ- ten on. The mujaheddin rejected forming an interim coalition govern- ment with Najibullah, and all sides continued to arm their proxies. Kabul was expected to fall the moment the Russians left, but Najibullah held on for three more years. The ISI bribed the mujaheddin into forming an interim government, but it was incapable of capturing and holding ter- ritory. A huge assault on Jalalabad in 1989 turned into a bloodbath, and an internal coup against Najibullah was easily quashed. But gradually the mujaheddin gained ground. By early 1992 the mujaheddin were camped outside Kabul, with Hekmatyar to the south and Massoud to the north. At a crucial moment, an army mutiny in the north led by the Uzbek general Rashid Dostum provided the push that was needed to topple the regime. Massoud raced into Kabul to claim the prize, leaving Hekmatyar and his Pakistani handlers spitting with fury. The birth of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan merely delivered a slide into fratricidal war. Having liberated the country the mujaheddin set about destroying it. Rabbani ascended to the presidency and Hekmatyar was offered the job of prime minister, a job he accepted while remaining


Mujaheddin fight jihad against Soviet-backed regime; over 6 million flee country as refugees


Soviet army withdraws from Afghanistan

HISTORY •• The Taliban 37


Barring clichés that the mujaheddin effectively toppled the Soviet Union, the effect of Afghanistan on those who fought for the Red Army has been little written about. During the early stages of the invasion, Turkmen and Uzbek Soviet soldiers were in the vanguard, to win hearts and minds of the locals. However, their ranks were swiftly infiltrated by the resistance, so they were withdrawn and replaced by Russian and Ukrainian conscripts. The soldiers quickly nicknamed the mujaheddin dukhi (ghosts), as they were so hard to find and fight. For their part, Afghans called the Red Army the ‘Army of Bastards’, as it was popularly believed that Soviet soldiers were orphans raised by the military. The war was hard, with troops frequently confined to base not comprehending why their great socialist mission was being so deeply rejected, and unable to trust the Afghan army they fought with. Stinger missiles made helicopter evacuation of the wounded difficult, causing a further drop in morale. Drug abuse and corruption were rife. Some soldiers even deserted, converting to Islam and joining the mujaheddin. In The Hidden War, the Russian journalist Artyom Borovik wrote: ‘We thought that we were civilizing a backwards country by exposing it to TV, to modern bombers, to schools… but we rarely stopped to think how Afghanistan would influence us.’ As Moscow lost the political will to continue the fight, disillusioned soldiers questioned the reason for their sacrifices. Forgotten on their return home, many of the veterans, dubbed Afghantsi, see themselves today as much victims of the Soviet regime as the Afghans.

outside Kabul and shelling the city. Dostum joined Massoud’s forces, then switched to Hekmatyar, then went back north to set up his own quasi-state. The newly powerful Hazara militias backed by Iran were in turn fought and favoured. Herat effectively became an independent city-state once more, under Ismail Khan. A council of mujaheddin ruled Jalalabad and the south became an anarchic patchwork of warlord’s fiefdoms.

From being the epicentre of the Cold War, Afghanistan simply dropped

off the map, awash with arms, manipulated by its neighbours and with no peace in sight. Attempts by the UN to engage in talks repeatedly stalled and the Americans lost all interest the moment Kabul fell, preferring to forget the sacrifices the country had made, and the billions of dollars they’d spent arming the different factions.


In July 1994 a group of mullahs led by Mohammed Omar were so outraged by the rape and murder of several women by a warlord near Kandahar that they grouped together students from the local madrassas to enact justice. The warlord was strung up from a tank, and flush with the purity of their cause the students went on to clear the road to the Pakistan border, drawing people to their cause and in no time liberating Kandahar itself. So goes the Taliban creation myth. The truth is a little more complex. Having invested so heavily in

Hekmatyar, Pakistan eventually decided he was a dead letter and looked for another Pashtun horse to back. The Taliban looked like a good pros- pect to help clear the roadblocks between Kandahar and Quetta, where bribes were cutting into the profits of the Pakistani transport mafia. The

April 1992

Mujaheddin capture Kabul, triggering the start of civil war


Kandahar and Herat fall under Taliban control

The 2005 report Blood-

Stained Hands by Human

Rights Watch (www.hrw .org) is a chilling indictment of civil war atrocities perpetrated by the mujaheddin in 1990s Kabul.

It’s estimated that over US$42 billion was spent on arms by all sides in Afghanistan between 1978 and 1992. 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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