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Anti-Soviet Mujahideen

A Mujahid (Arabic: literally "struggler") is a Muslim involved in a jihad, who is fighting in a war or involved in any other struggle. The plural is Mujahideen. The word is from the same Arabic triliteral as jihad ("struggle"). Mujahideen is also transliterated from Arabic as Mujahedin, mujahedeen, mujahedin, mujahidin, mujaheddin, and variants.

During the war aginst the Soviets the resistance could not be called an army but was instead a population in arms. Thus, it is impossible to characterize the resistance in conventional military terms. Reflecting the fragmentation of Afghan society, it was deeply divided along tribal, ethnic, regional, religious, and ideological lines. It remained, however, a formidable movement, capable of denying the regime control of as much as 80 percent of the countryside, assassinating state and party officials, and attacking regime and Soviet targets even in the heart of the capital.

Fighting men ranged from preadolescent boys to grizzled veterans of the Third Anglo Afghan War of 1919. The total number of mujahidiin was difficult to estimate. The Military Balance, 1985-1986 published a figure of 90,000, backed by about 110,000 "reserves." Other Western estimates were in the 200,000 to 250,000 range, and figures given by Afghan sources went as high as 744,000. The actual number might be equal to about 10 percent of the rural population, the latter totaling about 7 to 9 million in the mid-1980s.

In the mid-1980s there were around 90 separate areas located throughout the country commanded by mujahidiin leaders. In the years since the first uprisings against the PDPA regime in late 1978, two trends had become apparent. One was the emergence of a new generation of resistance leaders who had gained prominence because of their fighting prowess rather than because of their status in the traditional social structure. These men won followers and local popular support, often overshadowing traditional secular and temporal elites in the regions where they operated. Probably the most striking representative of this new generation was Ahmad Shah Mahsud; a Tajik who commanded forces in the Panjsher Valley and had successfully thwarted repeated Soviet and Afghan army offensives.

A second trend was a steady improvement in the fighting abilities of the mujahidiin and the coordination of different resistance groups. Afghan culture ,particularly that of the Pashtuns, affirmed the value of a life under arms. But traditional fighting styles were highly individualistic and undisciplined. Afghan men were not "born guerrillas" but had to learn, often at great cost, the lessons of fighting a modern, well equipped opponent. Greater coordination between groups was largely the achievement of the new generation of mujahidiin commanders. These men apparently were less firmly, wedded to the old social and ethnic distinctions than their elders and thus were able to overlook old animosities and weld new, alliances. Growth in intergroup cooperation was essential if the resistance was to counteract Soviet and PDPA attempts to apply a classic divide and conquer strategy. The politics of the factions were determined by their leaders' religious convictions -- three of which were Islamic moderates and four of which were Islamic fundamentalists. Pakistan required that the various ethnic and tribal Mujahideen groups join one of the factions in order to receive aid. The Pakistanis favored the most fundamentalist groups and rewarded them accordingly. This aid gave Afghan clerics accompanying the Mujahideen unprecedented power in the conduct of the war and undermined the traditional authority of the tribal and village chiefs.

The seven factions in Pakistan were:

  • The Afghanistan National Liberation Front (ANLF) -- Jebh-e-Nejat-i-Melli Afghanistan was a moderate party founded by Sebqhatullah Mojadeddi. Primarily secular, it drew from the tribes, the old social order and the Sufi orders of the South. Its strength was in Kunar and Paktia provinces. It has Deobandi links.
  • Islamic Party (HIH) -- Hezb-e-Islamie-i-Gulbuddin founded in 1977 [1974?] to fight the Daoud government. It later split as cofounders Rabanni and Khalis founded their own factions. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar is a fundamentalist internationalist Pashtun. His radical Islamist party recruited heavily from among the government secular school and Kabul religious school graduates. Hikmatyar's party received more outside aid from Pakistan, the United States and Saudi Arabia than any other party. Its strength was in Nuristan, Nangrahar and around Kabul.
  • Islamic Party (HIK) -- Hezb-e-Islami-Khalis was founded by Mawlawi Mohammed Yunis Khalis who left Afghanistan for Pakistan in 1973 after the Daoud coup. Khalis is from Nangrahar Province and is very anti-Shia. His most famous commanders included Abdul Haq in Kabul, Haji Abdul Qadir in Nangrahar and Jalladuddin Hagani of Paktia Province. The party is fundamentalist moderate. Its recruits came from graduates of government schools, religious schools of the Gilhzai, Khugiangi and Jadran tribes as well as the Kabul and Kandahar regions. It also drew a lot of army deserters. Its strength was in Nangrahar, Kabul, Kunar, Lowgar and Wardak provinces.
  • Islamic Revolutionary Movement (IRMA) -- Harakat-e-Inqilab-i-Islami was founded by Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi. The party was moderate (traditional Islamist) and primarily Pashtun. It drew recruits from the private seminaries, liberal intellectuals, and the Andar, Gilhzai, Mahmund, Hotak, and Durrani tribes. Its strength was in Lowgar Province and the Helmand valley. General Yahyah Nawroz was one of its most famous commanders.
  • Islamic Society (JIA) - Jamiat-i-Islami was founded by a Tajik, Burhanud-din Rabbani, who fled to Pakistan in 1974. His most famous commanders were Ahmed Shah Masood in the Panjshir valley and Ismail Khan in Herat Province. The party is primarily moderate fundamentalist and dominated by ethnic Tajiks, but has Uzbeks and Pashtun in its ranks. Its recruits came from the religious and secular government schools and northern Sunni religious schools and northern Sufi brotherhoods. Its strength was in northern Afghanistan. It had members throughout Afghanistan but was particularly strong in Lowgar, Samangan, Faryab, Farah and Nimroz provinces. Ismail Khan and Jamiat-i-Islami in general did not receive significant US aid during the war with the Soviets, especially when compared to commanders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, arguable later one of the US worst Afghan enemies. Khan was not a favorite of the Pakistani ISI that played a critical role in decisions concerning the distribution of US arms and supplies to the Afghan mujahideen.
  • Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan (IUA) - Ittihad-I-Islami was founded by Abd Al-Rab Abdul-Rassul Sayyaf. This used to be called the Etehad-e Islami (EIA) until 1981. The faction is militant fundamentalist and anti-Shia. In the mid-1980s, they again changed their name to the Islamic Union of Afghanistan. The IUA was heavily financed by the Wahhabi sect out of Saudi Arabia. Sayyaf was known for recruiting motivated Arab youths for jihad in his organization.
  • National Islamic Front of Afghanistan (NIFA) -- Mahaz-e-Melli was founded by Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani. This moderate party attracted a number of former officers from the Afghan Army and moderate technocrats. This royalist party recruited from the landed aristocracy, the tribes and the Sufi brotherhood. The primary power base came from the Zadran, Mangal, Jaji, Ahmadzai, Tareen, Kochi, and Sulemankhel tribes. The party was primarily Pashtun and its strength was in Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni and Kandahar provinces.

There were four factions headquartered in Iran. They were smaller, less well-supplied, primarily Shia and their strength was in the Hazara-section of Afghanistan (the Hazarajat). They were:

  • Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Union of Afghanistan-Shura-i Inqilab-i Ittifagh-i Islami-i Afghanistan was a traditionalist Shia party led by Sayyad Beheshti. It recruited among the Hazara peasants and social elite. Many defecting Afghan Army officers led its ranks. It had wide support in the Hazarajat and Ghazni Province.
  • The Islamic Victory Organization of Afghanistan - Sazman-i Nasr-i Islami-yi Afghanistan was a radical Islamist party led by a council that recruited from young Hazara who were educated in Iran. This pro-Iran party was headquartered in Daykundi.
  • Islamic Movement (HI) -- Harakat-i-Islami was founded by Ayatollah Asef Muhsini in Iran as a Shia faction. The party has a traditional Islamic orientation. It recruited educated Shia from all ethnic groups. Its most famous commander was Mohammad Anwari who fought in the Turkmen valley west of Kabul.
  • Army of the Guardians of the Revolution -- Sepah-i Pasdaran was a radical Islamist party led by Akbari and Saddiqi. It had very close ties with the Iranian government. It had few fighters but drew from clerics who were disaffected with Behesti's Shura.

Like the elephant in the Indian fable of the blind men, the Afghan resistance has been characterized in different ways by different observers. If the analogy of the blind men holds, each grasps a part of the truth but lacks a comprehensive perspective.

For example, Gerard Chaliand, an expert on guerrilla movements worldwide, describes the resistance as a traditionalist uprising, a violent repudiation of the PDPA's ambitious modernization schemes. He notes that "unlike virtually all guerrilla movements of Asia, Africa, or Latin America, the Afghan resistance has nothing new to show the visiting observer: no new elected village committee, for example; no program for the integration of women into the struggle; no new clinics or schools; no newly created stores that sell or exchange essential goods; no small workshops contributing to economic self-sufficiency of the sort one finds in guerrilla camps elsewhere throughout the world. The Afghan rebels have undertaken no political experiments or social improvements."

Leftist writers such as Fred Halliday also see the resistance in essentially negative terms. In his 1980 essay, "War and Revolution in Afghanistan," Halliday explains the revolt in terms of the underdeveloped state of the Afghan countryside. Because of the strength of tribal loyalties, the lack of class-consciousness, Afghanistan's violent political ethos, and the reactionary nature of militant Islam, the PDPA's reforms in 1978 79 roused widespread popular opposition: Afghan peasants were not ready for revolution because they still had strong economic and emotional ties to members of the local elite.

On the other end of the political spectrum, sympathetic commentators describe the resistance in terms of either Afghan nationalism or a struggle between the forces of "freedom" and "totalitarianism." Like the leftists, their perspectives and judgments are often compromised by adherence to Western concepts. Those close to the scene realize that Western ideas such as nationalism or freedom are meaningless to all but a rather small minority of resistance fighters.

Finally, there is the Islamic perspective. In a 1984 article, "Islam in the Afghan Resistance," French scholar Olivier Roy argues that "the Afghan resistance sees its struggle more in terms of a'holy war' (jihad) than as a war of national liberation. In a country in which reference to the `nation' is a very recent phenomenon, where the State is perceived as exterior to society, and where allegiance belongs to the local community, Islam remains the sole point of reference for all Afghans." Edward Girardet, a journalist who spent time with the resistance in Afghanistan, notes that "Russia's most formidable foe is not a military one, but Islam . . . Difficult for the Western (and Russian) mind to understand, faith is the greatest strength of the Afghan, whose whole approach to life is closely bound to his constant struggle for survival."

Although the Islamic concept of jihad is a theme common to all the major resistance groups, it would be simplistic to assume that they share a single Islamic ideology. Rather, there are several Islamic constituencies with widely diverse perspectives on religion, society, and the state. In a country where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, Islam ostensibly provides a basis for unity and legitimacy. Yet the variations within the Muslim community are so pronounced that different groups, professing Islamic goals, have little in common except the vocabulary of the Quran, hostility to the foreign invader and, sometimes, appreciation of the material benefits of united action.

Perhaps more basic to the resistance than even Islam is Afghanistan's cultural, ethnic, and social diversity. The Afghan state has existed since the rise of Ahmad Shah Durrani in the mid eighteenth century. It has had, however, minimal impact on the daily life or self conceptions of most Afghans. As Roy indicates, the state has been largely unsuccessful in fostering a coherent sense of Afghan nationhood (although some sense of this was found among Pashtun close to the royal family). Old social divisions, then, remain extremely important: those between the various ethnic groups, between Durrani and Ghilzai, between speakers of Pashtu and speakers of Dari, between Sunni and Shia, between Sufi communities and other Muslims, and between farmers, nomads, and urbanites, to mention some of the most important. The local elites that emerged from this social complexity enjoyed, with a few exceptions, unchallenged authority. The downfall of Amanullah in 1929 shows that they could sabotage the state's efforts to exercise power on the local level or promote radical social change. The mujahidiin resistance beginning in 1978 was probably as much an expression of local political interests as it was a religious struggle. Revolt, moreover, was nothing new. In Afghan politics, violence is not extremism but part of a centuries old status quo.

Thus, the resistance in the mid 1980s reflected the diversity and complexity of Afghan society. Western analysts counted as many as 90 localities where armed groups operated. With the exception of a few famous commanders, such as the intrepid Ahmad Shah Mahsud in the Panjsher Valley, these groups and their leaders were less well known to outsiders than the seven emigr6 parties based in Peshawar, Pakistan, which are identified in the Western press as leading the mujahidiin. The Peshawar groups played a vital role in publicizing the Afghan struggle worldwide and in funneling arms and funds from outside donors (such as the Arab states of the Gulf) to the fighting groups inside the country. They also represented the broad currents of Islamic ideology and politics. But they did not directly control or command the unquestioning loyalty of the mujahidiin. Observers such as Louis Dupree have commented that the guerrillas were growing increasingly dissatisfied with the migr parties' inefficiency, corruption, and quarrelsomeness.

The complexity of the resistance was accentuated by Afghanistan's rugged topography and the economic effects of the war. Soviet attacks and mujahidiin sabotage of highways and bridges isolated communities, making them economically more self reliant than they had been before 1979. At the same time, the smuggling of foodstuffs and other goods from Pakistan and Iran flourished. Because the majority of the population, including the guerrillas, consisted of subsistence farmers and nomads, their survival did not depend on an integrated economic system of the kind found in developed countries. Thus, the Soviets found it relatively difficult to impose an economic stranglehold on the country and starve the scores of self sufficient liberated areas into submission.

Both the mujahidiin and Western observers generally classified the different resistance groups the guerrilla units within the country and the emigr6 parties based in Pakistan into "Islamic fundamentalist" and "traditionalist" categories. These are sometimes misleading labels, but they reflect significant social and political cleavages. A third category consisted of Shia groups. Some, but not all, had close ties with revolutionary Iran in the mid 1980s. There were also small groups of Maoist leftists involved in the resistance, although their role in the mid 1980s appeared to have been minimal.

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Page last modified: 18-08-2012 19:17:19 ZULU