Afghanistan: A Troubled Country
Afghanistan has a long history of wars and other violent events, the most recent of which was the nearly 4 decades of foreign occupation – first by Soviets and later on by U.S. and its NATO allies- civil war, and insurgency that goes back to 1980s. This 4 decades of conflict gives a rich set of experiences and prospective lessons for the country’s present and future, while the distinctions between the past and present must be kept in mind and factored into any conclusions.
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AFGHANISTAN AS A STATE
Born in the mid-eighteenth century as a dynastic, Pashtun-led country under Ahmad Shah Durrani (1747–72). The country’s present territorial boundaries are result of a century-long process of wars, conflicts, distrust and diplomatic actions commonly referred as the Great Game. A term coined by Captain Arthur Conolly and widely circulated by The Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim. It was a geopolitical rivalry between British interests in India to the East and South and Russia from the North. The tem describes the whole of the Anglo-Russian quarrel about the fate of Asia.
The period witnessed Three Anglo-Afghan wars from 1839 to 1842, 1878 to 1880, and briefly in 1919. Moreover, there were numerous other violent incidents and brief skirmishes, revolts and succession struggles. Afghanistan acted as buffer state between the British Empire in India and Russian empires.
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Afghanistan’s geopolitical role again became important during the Cold War and it benefited from major Soviet and U.S. assistance programs. It enjoyed period of stability under King Zahir Shah (1933-1973). He undertook a number of development projects, including irrigation and highway construction, backed by foreign aid, largely from the United States and the Soviet Union. However, his reforms had little impact outside the Kabul. At the same time, his reign saw drought and famine which weakened his position and was later deposed in coup by his son-in-law General Daud Khan.
SOVIET OCCUPATION AND ITS AFTERMATH
General Daud Khan instituted a republic which later was also replaced with a bloody communist coup and takeover in 1978, and finally the Soviet occupation started at the end of 1979. The entry of Soviet Union in Afghanistan motivated in back drop of cold-war rivalry between US and USSR initiated an era of wars thus, making Afghanistan a killing field.
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The communist party led government struggled to modernise the Afghan society at pace unacceptable to Afghan people. This gave rise to widespread resistance that threatened the new regime and eventually brought disastrous Soviet military mission in Afghanistan. It began during the Christmas of 1979 to support the pro-communist regime at the time in its fight against a growing insurgency. Nearly 100,000 Soviet soldiers took control of major cities and highways, to deny safe havens to their enemy. The invasion left behind a devastated country, with more than one million Afghans killed, as well as 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers while around 5.5 million were displaced.
It not only killed Afghans but also gave rise to a new movement called “Taliban” who took control of whole Afghanistan after fighting with different Mujahidin factions. The movement get notoriety because of its strict interpretation of Sharia laws and imposing harsh punishments.
The soviet invasion of Afghanistan was another addition of great power defeat in the history of the country. Although, soviet strategists thought of a short and abrupt war to help regime survive but turn in circumstances led to the presence of Soviet troops to fight insurgency. The way its troops crossed the friendship bridge was not only humiliating for USSR but also a lesson for any country to not intervene militarily in Afghanistan. A historical advice neglected by U.S. policymakers.
Author: Ali Sayyed