This one is a long one because the story is so involved. But to understand the present situation in Afghanistan we must look at the recent history of this turbulent country. To do that we will look at the life of Ahmad Shah Massoud.
From Last time:
Ahmad Shah Massoud was named “The Afghan who won the cold war” by the Wall Street Journal in 1989. He defeated the Soviet Red Army nine times in his native Panjshir Valley. The Soviet Union’s defeat was not only a defeat in Afghanistan, but led to the collapse of the Soviet system and was followed by the liberation of the Central Asian and Eastern European countries from Moscow’s control.
The Afghan Civil War
On the morning of 15 February 1989, General Boris Gromov, commander of the Soviet 40th Army, the army of occupation in Afghanistan, walked alone back across the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya River back into Soviet Uzbekistan. His entire army had preceded him. As quietly as it started the Soviet- Afghan war was over (Tanner 2002).
In Afghanistan, the Soviets had left a government that most analysts predicted would last no time as the victorious warlords formed a stable government and took over. But the pundits were wrong. The government of President Najibullah, the whiskey-appreciating Afghan the Soviets had abandoned in Kabul, hung on for two reasons (Forsyth 2007).
One was that the Afghan Army was simply stronger than any other force in the country, backed as it was by the KHAD secret police, and was able to control the cities and thus the bulk of the population.
More to the point, the Mujahedeen warlords simply disintegrated into a patchwork quilt of snarling, grabbing, feuding, self-serving opportunists who, far from uniting to form a stable government, did the reverse: They created a civil war.
Pakistan backed Hekmatyar to become controller of all Afghanistan, and in areas he ruled utter terror existed. All who had formed the Peshawar Seven to fight the Soviets were now at each other’s throats, and the people groaned. From heroes, the mujahedeen were now seen as tyrants (Moore and Lennon 2007).
With the end of the war, the Arabs had almost all left the mountains and their precious caves. The one who by the end had become their uncrowned leader, a tall Saudi with deep pockets, was also gone, starting another organization that would later be known to the world as Al Qaeda (Forsyth 2007). Some 500 Arab veterans stayed behind, but they were not popular, were scattered far and wide and living like beggars.
President Najibullah fell after three more years of bitter war but he was alive, confined to a United Nations guesthouse in Kabul. He had supposedly been succeeded by Professor Rabbani. As a Tajik he was not acceptable to the Pashtun, the largest ethnic majority in Afghanistan. Outside Kabul, only the warlords ruled their domains, but the real master was chaos and anarchy (Forsyth 2007).
But something else was also happening. After the Soviet war, thousands of young Afghans returned to the Pakistani madrassahs (Islamic schools) to complete their educations. Others, too young to have fought at all, went over the border to get an education- any education. What they got was years of Wahhabi Islamic Fundamentalist brainwashing. Now they began to return.
The returnees were ill educated, having been taught by barely literate Imams. They knew nothing of life, of women-most lived and died virgins- or even of their own tribal cultures, that had been destroyed by the war. Apart from the Koran, they knew only one other thing: war. Most came from the deep south, where Islam had always been the most strict in all of Afghanistan (Tanner 2002).
Then something happened in the deep south. Since the fall of any semblance of a central government, the old official Afghan Army had simply reassigned itself to the local warlord who paid the best. Outside Kandahar, some soldiers took two teenage girls back to their camp and gang-raped them.
The local preacher in the village where they came from, who also ran his own religious school, went to the Army camp with thirty students and sixteen rifles. Against the odds, they trounced the soldiers, and hanged the commandant from the barrel of a tank gun. The priest was called Mohammad Omar, or Mullah Omar. He had lost his right eye in battle with the Soviets (Tanner 2002).
The news spread. Others appealed to him for help. He and his group swelled in numbers, and responded to the appeals. They took no money, they raped no women, they stole no crops, and they asked no reward. They became local heroes.
By December 1994, 12,000 had joined them, adopting this mullah’s black turban. They called themselves the students. In Pashtu, “student” is talib, and the plural is “taliban.” From village vigilantes, they became a movement, and when they captured the city of Kandahar, an alternative government and they began to swing north and in less than 18 months they were outside of Kabul (Naylor 2005). In 1995, the Taliban took power in several provinces in southern and central Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance
After the collapse of the communist Soviet-backed government of Najibullah in 1992, Massoud became the Minister of Defense under the government of Rabbani. In late 1994, most of the militia factions (Hezb-i Islami, Junbish-i Milli and Hezb-i Wahdat) which had been fighting in the battle for control of Kabul were defeated militarily by forces of the Islamic State’s new Minister of Defense Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Bombardment of the capital came to a halt. A conference in three parts was arranged by Massoud. He united political and cultural personalities, governors, commanders, clergymen and representatives, in order to reach a lasting agreement.
Massoud, like most people in Afghanistan, saw this conference as a small hope for democracy and for free elections. Massoud was now trying to put a consolidation process into action to unite Afghanistan. He also invited the Taliban to join the process wanting them to be a partner in providing stability to Afghanistan. The Taliban refused.
The Taliban army was no real army; it had no commanding general, no general staff, no officer corps, no ranks and no infrastructure. Each “lashkar” or fighting party was semi-independent under its tribal leader, who often held sway through personality and courage in combat, plus religious devotion (Forsyth 2007).
Like the original Muslim warriors of the first caliphates, they swept their enemies aside by fanatical courage, which gave rise to a reputation for invincibility-so much so that opponents often capitulated without a shot fired.
When they finally ran into real soldiers, like the forces of the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud, they took unspeakable losses. They had no medical corps, so their wounded just died by the roadside. But still, they came on.
At the gates of Kabul, they negotiated with Massoud, but he refused to accept their terms and withdrew to his own northern mountains again, whence he had fought and defied the Russians. So began the next second civil war, between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance of Massoud, the Tajik, and Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek.
On September 26, 1996, as the Taliban with military support by Pakistan and financial support by Saudi Arabia prepared for another major offensive, Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul. The Taliban seized Kabul on September 27, 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Massoud and his troops retreated to the northeast of Afghanistan.
Once the Taliban took Kabul only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the government as legitimate, but it was generally accepted thought that the rest of the world that the Taliban would eventually takeover the rest of the country. The only thing that stood in their way was the last ditch defenses was Ahmad Shah Massoud.
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