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Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - 1992-1995

Kabul ultimately fell to the mujahidin because the factions in its government had finally pulled it apart. Until demoralized by the defections of its senior officers, the army had achieved a level of performance it had never reached under direct Soviet tutelage. It was a classic case of loss of morale. The regime collapsed while it still possessed material superiority. Its stockpiles of munitions and planes would provide the victorious mujahidin with the means of waging years of highly destructive war. Kabul was short of fuel and food at the end of winter in 1992, but its military units were supplied well enough to fight indefinitely. They did not fight because their leaders were reduced to scrambling for survival. Their aid had not only been cut off, the Marxist-Leninist ideology that had provided the government its rationale for existence been repudiated at its source.

A few days after it was clear that Najibullah had lost control, his army commanders and governors arranged to turn over authority to resistance commanders and local notables throughout the country. Joint councils or shuras were immediately established for local government in which civil and military officials of the former government were usually included. Reports indicate the process was generally amicable. In many cases prior arrangements for transferring regional and local authority had been made between foes.

Collusions between military leaders quickly brought down the Kabul government. In mid-January 1992, within three weeks of demise of the Soviet Union, Ahmad Shah Massoud was aware of conflict within the government's northern command. General Abdul Momim, in charge of the Hairatan border crossing at the northern end of Kabul's supply highway, and other non-Pushtun generals based in Mazari-i-Sharif feared removal by Najibullah and replacement by Pushtun officers. The generals rebelled and the situation was taken over by Abdul Rashid Dostam, who held general rank as head of the Jozjani militia, also based in Mazar-i-Sharif. He and Massoud reached a political agreement, together with another major militia leader, Sayyid Mansor, of the Ismaili community based in Baghlan Province. These northern allies consolidated their position in Mazar-i-Sharif on March 21. Their coalition covered nine provinces in the north and northeast. As turmoil developed within the government in Kabul, there was no government force standing between the northern allies and the major air force base at Begram, some seventy kilometers north of Kabul. By mid-April the air force command at Begram had capitulated to Massoud. Kabul was defenseless, its army was no longer reliable.

Najibullah had lost internal control immediately after he announced his willingness on March 18 to resign in order to make way for a neutral interim government. As the government broke into several factions the issue had become how to carry out a transfer of power. Najibullah attempted to fly out of Kabul on April 17, but was stopped by Dostam's troops who controlled Kabul Airport under the command of Karmal's brother, Mahmud Baryalai. Vengeance between Parchami factions was reaped. Najibullah took sanctuary at the UN mission where he remained in 1995. A group of Parchami generals and officials declared themselves an interim government for the purpose of handing over power to the mujahidin.

For more than a week Massoud remained poised to move his forces into the capital. He was awaiting the arrival of political leadership from Peshawar. The parties suddenly had sovereign power in their grasp, but no plan for executing it. With his principal commander prepared to occupy Kabul, Rabbani was positioned to prevail by default. Meanwhile UN mediators tried to find a political solution that would assure a transfer of power acceptable to all sides.

Mujahidin victory was the result of the vacuum created by the implosion of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow and Kabul. The victors have perpetuated that vacuum by failing to find a common approach to government or a formula for sharing power among themselves. Their jihad experience committed them to attempt to create a political innovation for Afghanistan--an Islamic Republic, inspired by the revolution in Iran, but clearly to be different in structure and doctrine. Tragically, on the day the Peshawar parties reached a tentative agreement on how they would establish their Islamic republic, a new war for Kabul began.

Benan Sevan, Diego Cordovez' successor as special representative of the UN secretary general, attempted to apply a political formula that had been announced by UN Secretary General Javier Perez De Cuellar on May 21, 1991. Referred to as a five-point plan, it included: recognition of Afghanistan's sovereign status as a politically non-aligned Islamic state; acceptance of the right of Afghans to self-determination in choosing their form of government and social and economic systems; need for a transitional period permitting a dialogue between Afghans leading to establishment of a government with widely based support; the termination of all foreign arms deliveries into Afghanistan; funding from the international community adequate to support the return of Afghanistan's refugees and its reconstruction from the devastation of war.

These principles were endorsed by the Soviet Union and the United States and Afghanistan's neighboring governments, but there was no military means of enforcing it. The three moderate Peshawar parties accepted it, but it was opposed by Hekmatyar, Rabbani, Sayyaf and Khalis who held out for a total victory over the Kabul government.

Nevertheless, these four "fundamentalists" found it politic to participate in the effort to implement the UN initiative. Pressure from their foreign supporters and the opportunities that participation offered to modify or obstruct the plan encouraged them to be reluctant players. Pakistan and Iran worked jointly to win mujahidin acceptance at a conference in July, 1991. Indicating its formal acceptance of the plan, Pakistan officially announced the termination of its own military assistance to the resistance in late January 1992. Najibullah also declared his acceptance, but until March 18, 1992, he hedged the question of whether or when he would resign in the course of negotiations.

Sevan made a strenuous effort to create the mechanism for the dialogue that would lead to installation of the transitional process envisaged in point three of the plan. The contemplated arrangement was a refinement and a simplification of earlier plans which had been built around the possible participation of Zahir Shah and the convoking of a meeting in the Loya Jirgah tradition. By March 1992 the plan had evolved to the holding of a meeting in Europe of some 150 respected Afghans representing all communities in the late spring. Most of Sevan's effort was directed at winning the cooperation of all the Afghan protagonists, including the Shia parties in control of the Hazarajat. In early February, he appeared to have won the active support of commanders among the Pushtuns in eastern Afghanistan and acquiescence from Rabbani and Hekmatyar to the extent of submitting lists of participants acceptable to them in the proposed meeting. Simultaneously, Sevan labored to persuade Najibullah to step down on the presumption that his removal would bring about full mujahidin participation. Instead, Najibullah's March 18 announcement accelerated the collapse of his government. This collapse in turn triggered events that moved faster than Sevan's plan could be put into effect.

In the midst of hectic maneuvering to put the European meeting together, Sevan declared on April 4 that most of the parties (including Hekmatyar's) and the Kabul government had agreed to transfer power to a proposed transitional authority. He also announced the creation of a "pre-transition council" to take control of government "perhaps within the next two weeks." He was struggling to keep up with events which threatened to dissolve the government before he had a replacement for it.

In the end, some of the Shia parties and the Islamists in Peshawar blocked his scheme. They withheld their choices or submitted candidates for the European meeting whom they knew would be unacceptable to others. The hope for a neutral, comprehensive approach to a political settlement among Afghans was dashed. Sevan then worked to ensure a peaceful turnover of power from the interim Kabul government which replaced Najibullah on April 18 to the forces of Massoud and Dostam. In effect, the turnover was peaceful, but without an overall political settlement in place. Within a week a new civil war would begin among the victors.

By April 25, Massoud could no longer wait for an agreement by the Peshawar parties on arrangements for a new government. With the cooperation of Pushtun officials in the army and the interior ministry, Hekmatyar's troops were infiltrating Kabul. The situation appeared to offer the opportunity for him to take power in a sudden stroke, but his move was too late and too weak. Dostam's and Massoud's forces were better positioned and stronger. After two days of hard fighting Hekmatyar and his Khalqi allies were forced out of the city. A new struggle for power had begun.

For the moment Massoud had handed the Peshawar parties a virtual fait accompli, Kabul was theirs. He awaited their takeover of government. Although real power was being handed to them, the parties had reached no understanding on how they wished to govern. Under Pakistani guidance and some pressure they hastily agreed to rule through a leadership council and an interim presidency. This was to assure residual powers for themselves as party leaders. They gave no consideration to dissolving their parties now that their function of leading a war against communists was fulfilled.

The council--whose role paralleled that of the PDPA's Revolutionary Council--was to be made up of party staffers who in many instances were relatives of the leaders. A succession of interim presidents was named. Mujaddidi was to serve from April 28 to June 28, 1992. Rabbani then was to succeed him and serve until October 28. Between them they were to prepare a provisional constitution for the Islamic republic, which was to be ratified by a national shura later in the year. Meanwhile, the parties would share among themselves appointments to the cabinet, with Hekmatyar given the choice of becoming Prime Minister. Arrangements for actual government mirrored the distribution of power they had created for their shadow government in Peshawar. Its functions were paralyzed from the beginning while the contenders for total power maneuvered for advantage.

Mujaddidi had little chance to organize a government during his two months as interim president. Hekmatyar was an immediate threat: Mujaddidi was nearly killed when his plane was hit by a Hezb rocket. The cumbersome Leadership Council assured meddling by the parties, and the government's very uncertain security depended on a motley mix of army units taken over from Najib's government, Mausood's forces, and elements of Dostam's militia. Attempting to find maneuvering room, Mujaddidi favored Dostam as a regional power whom he might balance against Massoud, who had taken charge of the defense ministry. The President raised Dostam's rank from militia chief to senior army general.

Mujaddidi attempted to extend his short term, but lacked the political leverage to offset the military weakness of his party. His resentment toward Rabbani, his successor, would later add to the rivalries between mujahidin politics. Rabbani and Massoud attempted to create a national army by recruitment of mujahidin rank and file primarily to gain government control over Kabul itself. It had been divided into separate armed camps of mujahidin who settled among their own ethnic groups clustered in separate neighborhoods. These efforts were interrupted by Hekmatyar's first major rocket attack on the city in August, 1992. His forces were pushed back jointly by Massoud and Dostam. Under Pakistani pressure Rabbani agreed to a cease-fire which brought general peace to the city for more than three months. Massoud attempted to recruit leaders from other parties, including the Shias, for senior military positions. Mazari's Hezb-i-Wahdat party was assigned two cabinet positions.

With Hekmatyar apparently deflated, Rabbani's government concentrated on preparing for a national shura which was to draft a constitution and choose an interim government for the next eighteen months. The accord reached in Peshawar in April called for elections at the end of the second interim period. The Leadership council gave Rabbani an extension until December to complete the drafting. His proposal for the next interim period was ambitious. He called for a Shura-yi-Ahl-i Hal-u-'Aqd (Council of Resolution and Settlement). A comprehensive effort was made to convene a large assembly representing sentiment in every district in the country. Some 1,400 representatives were brought to Kabul in mid-December where they overwhelmingly (916 to 59 with 366 abstentions) voted to elect Rabbani to a full two-year term, not the eighteen months mandated by the Peshawar accords.

The backlash from this decision reshuffled alignments and took the Islamic Republic's politics in an uncharted direction. Among the major parties only Jamiat (from which Rabbani formally resigned to assume the new presidency), Muhammad Nabi's Harakat, and Sayyaf's Ittehad accepted the election. Gailani and Mujaddidi (vexed already by the extension of Rabbani's term) joined Khalis, Hekmatyar, Mazari, and Dostam to oppose it on grounds that the election had been rigged and was not representative of the country. Rabbani had attempted to garner a popular mandate and instead had united his rivals, greatly strengthening Hekmatyar's position.

Rabbani was immediately thrown on the defensive, politically and militarily. Alienated by government attempts to get control of the city, the Shia Wahdat had attacked the government in western Kabul before the council met and was temporarily supported by Dostam's units on the other side of the city. These assaults were quickly repulsed, but immediately after Rabbani's election Hekmatyar attacked with Wahdat support. The city was again massively rocketed until mid-February. Only three foreign embassies remained open in the capital: Italy's, India's, and China's. For the government there was one compensation: Sayyaf, the most consistent ideologue of the party leaders, maintained his alliance with the government in order to pursue his sectarian struggle with the Shias.

Through 1995 the local arrangements generally remained in place in most of Afghanistan. Disruptions occurred where local political arrangements were linked to the struggle that developed between the mujahidin parties. At the national level a political vacuum was created and into it fell the expatriate parties in their rush to take control. The enmities, ambitions, conceits and dogmas which had paralyzed their shadow government proved to be even more disastrous in their struggle for power. The traits they brought with them had been accentuated in the struggle for preferment in Peshawar.

Sudden, unexpected developments in early 1995 profoundly changed the situation. A new political/military force, the Taliban, sprang into existence. This movement, identified with religious students was centered among the Durrani Pushtuns who had been politically passive during the previous fifteen years of war and tumult. The movement took control of Kandahar in November, 1994. By February it was challenging the Rabbani government from Kabul to Herat. The Taliban were students or recent graduates of a network of traditional madrasas in southern Afghanistan and adjacent areas of Pakistan. The origin of the movement itself remains obscure, but once again a religious cause that offered political purification and an end to Afghanistan's suffering won widespread support.

The most significant and immediate result of the Taliban rise to power, was the ignominious collapse of Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami as a fighting force. In early February his headquarters at Charasyab, twenty-five kilometers south of Kabul, became trapped between the government army and the Taliban. On February 15, Hekmatyar and his disintegrating army fled eastward toward Jalalabad leaving a large arsenal of weapons behind. Hezb was no longer a deadly threat to Kabul; the struggle for power had been profoundly changed.

The dramatic events early in 1995 drastically altered the struggle for control of what was left of central authority. For the first time the Islamic Republican government secured the capital and found some breathing room to begin the enormous tasks of restoring order, basic public services and credible central authority. Beyond these lay the daunting challenges of uniting and rebuilding the Afghan nation as a whole.

Hekmatyar's fall did not diminish conflict. Branding the Rabbani government as corrupt and venal as the rest of the Mujahidin leaders, the Taliban claimed the exclusive right to rule. After two weeks of negotiations, government forces drove the Taliban and the Hezb-i-Wahdat out of Kabul's southern suburbs. Within a week, the Taliban were forced back into Logar and Wardak provinces and the capital was freed from rocketing. The offensive it had launched against Ismael Khan's positions in southern and western Afghanistan were repulsed in April and May. Yet, by early summer the Taliban had stabilized their positions on all fronts. After three months of fighting the government had failed to dislodge it from Maidan Shahr, twenty-five kilometers south of Kabul. In addition to its core region centering on Kandahar, the Taliban continued to control parts of Wardak, Logar, Helmand, Farah, Nimroz, and Uruzghar provinces. By mid-June a short ceasefire with the prospect of negotiations was agreed on.

Its spectacular emergence notwithstanding, the Taliban leadership confronted an anomalous situation. In negotiating with the Rabbani government, it ran the risk of losing its aura of deliverance and being perceived instead as another regional warlord power. How that might affect its popular support or the elan of its soldiers was not clear. It dramatically changed the Afghan political equation, but its emergence as a major contender has made a political solution leading to peace more problematic.



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