The bitter legacy of Afghanistan's 1978 Coup

People of Afghanistan continue to pay a high price for military coup that toppled President Sardar Daoud
Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Rajab 04, 1438 2017-04-01

News & Analysis

by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 2, Rajab, 1438)

The people of Afghanistan have not witnessed a single day of peace since the April 27, 1978 coup against the government of Sardar Mohammad Daud. Millions have perished or made refugees over the years.

More than 15 years ago, the US and scores of its allies invaded and occupied Afghanistan. The ostensible reason was to fight terrorism, ‘liberate’ the Afghan women and bring peace to the country. The invaders have demonstrably failed in each of these supposed objectives. This was again graphically demonstrated on March 8 when 30 people were killed in a daring attack on Kabul’s largest military hospital, named after a former slain president, Sardar Muhammad Daoud. Such attacks are not only common now but have become much more frequent in the war-torn country. There was something else unusual about last month’s attack: it was claimed not by the Taliban—who denied all responsibility—but by the takfiri terrorists that go by different names: Daesh, ISIS, ISIL etc.

The takfiris’ emergence in Afghanistan (and in Pakistan) is a recent phenomenon. It is also a more ominous development. Hitherto, these groups have operated in places like Iraq, especially in and around Mosul where they emerged in June 2014 and are now on the run, as well as in Syria. There are reports that some Taliban fighters have also gone over to their side preferring the more brutal tactics they use as well as the good money they pay.

The takfiris that attacked the hospital were dressed as doctors but armed with guns and grenades. Two of them turned out to be interns in the same hospital indicating the penetration of various services by these groups.

Initial reports said four takfiris were involved in the attack; later it turned out there were five, including the two interns. How they were able to storm the hospital in one of the most secure areas of the capital is a question that was raised in the Afghan parliament as well amid demands for the resignation of the interior minister, the security chief as well as the intelligence chief. Afghan commandos were rushed to the scene and landing on the hospital rooftop, they engaged the attackers in gun battle that lasted several hours. Ultimately, all the attackers were killed but there have been no resignations of any Afghan officials so far.

Since their eruption in Mosul in June 2014, questions have been raised about the takfiris’ origins and those financing and arming them. Most informed observers are of the view that the takfiri terrorists receive backing and support from several external players including the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Nato members like Britain and France. The Zionist entity and the Hindu Nazi state of India also provide them support.

Why would the Americans back the takfiris while they claim, allegedly to be fighting them in Iraq and Syria? This is where it gets murky. There is no contradiction in the Americans supporting and fighting the takfiris at the same time. Their presence serves Washington’s strategic objectives at many different levels.

In Afghanistan, the Americans are using the takfiris to force the Taliban to the negotiating table and secure their long-term objectives (to grab its mineral resources as well as destabilize rivals China, Russia and Iran). The Indians are using Afghanistan as a launching pad for attacks against Pakistan. The Hindus are backing both the group called the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistani (TTP) and the takfiris. Both are terrorist groups and have no compunction in killing innocent people including women and children.

The March 8 attack on Kabul’s hospital revived memories of another horrific event that had occurred on April 27, 1978 setting Afghanistan on a course that is still exacting a terrible price in life and blood. While the two events are not comparable in scale, they are closely linked.

Former Afghan President Sardar Muhammad Daoud was murdered together with members of his family in what came to be called the “Saur Revolution” (1978).

The hospital is named after the former Afghan President Sardar Muhammad Daoud who was murdered together with members of his family in what came to be called the “Saur Revolution”. Let us briefly recall what happened on that fateful day 39 years ago. A group of young Russian-trained Afghan military officers stormed the presidential palace and following a fierce gun battle with the presidential guard, killed President Daoud and all members of his family.

Marxists took over power for the first time in the landlocked tribal country. Two characters—Major Aslam Watanjar and Major Abdul Qadir—led the tank and air force attacks respectively on the presidential palace.

It was also Watanjar, a Ghilzai Pashtun from Paktia, who announced the “Saur Revolution” on Kabul Radio’s Pashtu language program. This was supposed to turn the tribal agrarian society of Afghanistan into a workers’ paradise, except that there were few workers in the country since it is still in the pre-industrial age. Foreign invaders always couch their aggression in grandiose terms.

Afghanistan’s dark period of mayhem and chaos had begun from which it has yet to recover. The Afghan Communists were a nasty lot and not only killed those opposing them but also eagerly fought each other. The first Marxist President Nur Muhammad Taraki was strangled to death in September 1979 on the orders of his deputy, Hafizullah Amin who was then the country’s Prime Minister. Three months later, Amin himself was executed by the invading Soviet army that had the support of people like Watanjar and Abdul Qadir who had fallen out with Amin. They had fled the country and acted as guides for the Soviet invaders. Another Soviet clown, Babrak Karmal was installed in power following the December 27, 1979 coup. He belonged to a different faction—the Parcham faction—of the Communist Party.

Opposition to the Marxists, already raging in the country since the coup of April 1978, now intensified, aided and abetted by Pakistan, the Saudis and the Americans. The latter wanted to exact revenge for their humiliation in Vietnam. Another reason for America’s involvement in Afghanistan was that in neighboring Iran, the Islamic revolution had overthrown the US-installed and backed regime of the Shah at the beginning of 1979. The Americans hoped that by getting a foothold in Afghanistan, they would be able to undermine the Islamic Republic from its eastern border.

The Soviet-installed puppet, Babrak Karmal, proved quite ineffective against the Mujahideen. By 1986, the Soviets realized that Karmal could not stem the tide of opposition attacks. Dr Najibullah, a medical doctor by training, who until then served as Karmal’s intelligence chief and had gained notoriety for torture and executions, took over as president. Karmal went into exile in Moscow, probably much to his relief since he was not killed. He died of liver cancer in December 1996.

In February 1989, the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan having failed in defeating the Mujahideen by establishing its writ in the country. The Afghan misadventure was a huge drain on the Soviet economy and military. Najibullah was left to fend for himself. While he tried to present himself as a ‘peacemaker’ now making overtures to the Mujahideen, his hands were so drenched in the blood of innocents that it was impossible for anyone to even contemplate sitting with him at the negotiating table. By early 1992, he had to flee Kabul and sought refuge in the United Nations compound.

Najibullah’s departure, however, did not end the Afghans’ agony. It intensified because of infighting between various Mujahideen factions that had hitherto been allies. The Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance ensconced itself in Kabul with Burhanuddin Rabbani as president but the real power was in the hands of Ahmed Shah Massoud, a war lord lionized by the West as well as the Soviets. Another Mujahideen leader, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, head of the Hizb-e Islami, opposed him.

From 1992 to 1994, Kabul witnessed one of its bloodiest periods in its history as the two Mujahideen factions fought a bitter duel. It was in these circumstances that the Taliban emerged on the scene in October 1994 and by August 1996, had driven Massoud and his hordes out of Kabul. While the Taliban established peace in much of the country, they came with an archaic understanding of Islam. They were more concerned about the length of men’s beard and the height of their trousers about the ankles, as well as keeping women covered in burqa. True, they ended the bloodshed and most people were satisfied with the peace and security they now enjoyed.

The Americans that had abandoned Afghanistan to its fate once the Soviets left, now returned not because they cared for the Afghan people but for two other reasons: oil and gas pipeline from Central Asia as well as the vast mineral resources of Afghanistan. For five years, negotiations conducted at different levels proved fruitless.

Frustrated in realizing their strategic objectives, the Americans used the pretext of the 911 attacks to invade and occupy Afghanistan. While they were successful in driving the Taliban from Kabul—the latter could not withstand the 1,000 lb bombs the Americans were dropping on their mud huts—they sought sanctuary in the mountains and waited for a day to regroup and fight the latest and most ruthless invader.

For more than 15 years, the Americans have bombed, destroyed and pulverized one of the poorest countries in the world but the ‘sole superpower’ has demonstrably failed in subduing the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban are more powerful and better organized today than they were when the Americans invaded.

The US has spent more than $1 trillion in Afghanistan. American presence has led to a massive culture of corruption and there is no political or economic structure in place. While US military presence has been reduced considerably, it still maintains 10,000 troops in Afghanistan because the Afghan army it ‘trained’ is no match for the Taliban.

The Americans are anxious to negotiate with the Taliban to come to some agreement about the future set-up in Afghanistan. The Taliban refuse to accept the American-imposed constitution as well as the corrupt puppet rulers. And that is where the situation stands today after hundreds of thousands—if not more—Afghans have been murdered.

The Afghans are once again about to prove that Afghanistan is the graveyard of invaders. The Americans are about to join this long list of invaders starting with Alexander the great (or not so great)!

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