Latest posts by Paul Antonopoulos (see all)
- KASHMIR AND NORTHERN EPIRUS: A COMPARATIVE LOOK - September 16, 2019
- AFGHANISTAN IN FOCUS – PART THREE: OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM AND ‘THE THIRD GREAT GAME’ - September 6, 2019
- AFGHANISTAN IN FOCUS – PART TWO: DEFEATING PROGRESSIVENESS AND OPENING THE PATH FOR THE TALIBAN - August 21, 2019
Before reading further, be sure to backtrack to Part One first!
It must be remembered that before the Saur revolution there was another revolution, the 1975 Jamiat-e Islami uprising against the Daud government. The insurgency was quickly crushed and its members had to seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. With strained relations between Kabul and Islamabad already in place, partly because of the aforementioned failed revolution, these worsened when the Saur revolution occurred and brought a progressive government to power.
In response, the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) facilitated the refuge and training of armed Islamist groups opposed to the Afghani government. The progressive measures taken by the new revolutionary government gave new life to the conservative and Islamist insurgency that would end up exploding in open rebellion by mid-1978, spreading throughout the territory, thus beginning the Afghan civil war. In the midst of the rebellion in 1979, US ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was killed during a shoot-out between Afghan forces and an unidentified armed group, showing the serious violence that was occurring in the country.
With Deputy Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin carrying out a coup d’état against President Nur Muhammad, Kabul moved away from the Soviet Union and sided with the United States and Pakistan. Amin however was quickly killed on December 27, 1979 by a Soviet mission conducted by their elite forces, bringing Babrak Karmal to power who restored relations with the communist bloc. He requested help from the Soviet Union, leading to the massive entry of Soviet troops to bring down the Islamist uprising. This war is often described as “the Soviet’s Vietnam” as it was an unwinnable situation that had a huge human and capital cost for no gain.
Seeing an opportunity to weaken the Soviet Union, the US began to directly fund and arm radical mujahideens to the tune of a staggering $3 billion. The jihadists who had descended on Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union reversed progress made by the PDPA government, including the secularisation of Afghanistan, the complete eradication of illiteracy which stood at 90%, the emancipation of women, land reforms, and the abolition of feudal practices such as usury and forced marriage, with the minimum age of marriage raised. The majority of Afghans rejected these progressive changes and deemed them as un-Islamic that were corrupting traditions and values, and forcing Western culture on Afghan society. The separation of Mosque and State was the removal of supposedly the only institution that was capable of uniting all tribes and ethnic groups in Afghanistan against the government. In turn, the reaction to this move actually saw the rise of Islamism in politics.
However, it must be questioned whether the Soviet Union was an empire, and whether its conduct in Afghanistan was imperialistic. If we follow Münkler’s explanation that empires see themselves “as creators and guarantors of an order that ultimately depends on them” who have self-appointed themselves the “role of defender of order against disorder,” then the Soviet Union can be seen acting as an empire to preserve the socialist government in Afghanistan against the disorder. However, if we delve further into this theory, he explains that empires do not see their neighbours as equals, which in the case of the relationship between the Soviet authorities and PDPA, was untrue. Despite the Soviet intervention, the PDPA still maintained high levels of autonomy to govern the country in their own vision.
Although Milan Hauner simplistically cites the Soviet Union’s desire to control Afghanistan is just a mere continuation of the Russian Empire’s drive to attain warm water port access on the Indian Ocean to access oilfields in the Persian Gulf, he ignores Moscow’s security concerns because of what was a rapidly declining Afghanistan that was vulnerable to Islamic extremism and the Western encroachment on the Soviet Union’s southern borders.
Rather, the Afghanistan case is unique to any study on Soviet foreign policy as unlike its intervention in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), socialism emerged in Afghanistan without much Soviet intervention. The security concern for Moscow was legitimate when considering the Muslim populations of its Central Asian Republics who had significant religious, cultural, historical and ethnic ties to Afghanistan, who could easily be galvanised to reject Soviet ideology and pursue not only independence, but a radical Islamic Emirate or Republic.
Although the Soviet Union achieved a remarkable level of industrial, technological and social progress in a short time span after recovering from the ashes of feudalism, World War One, a brutal civil war and the devastation of World War Two, Soviet citizens were compelled to cooperate and modernise the state. The PDPA attempted the same social, cultural and technological modernisation of the Afghan state, but found high levels of resistance. Soviet interests in Afghanistan was not to subjugate and create an unequal relationship, but protect its own security interests from Islamists and the capitalist world, and help modernise a feudal society on a humanitarian level.
Most importantly, the Soviet Union was legally invited by a sovereign state to intervene in its domestic troubles. Empires do not seek legitimacy or legal invitation to intervene directly in state affairs as the US has done in Libya and Syria. The Soviet failure in Afghanistan tarnished the reputation that the Soviet Red Army could not be defeated, and thus undermined Soviet legitimacy in non-Russian republics, emboldening independence movements as it seemed the Soviet Union could be resisted unlike the failed attempts in Czechoslovakia in 1968, Hungary in 1956, and East Germany in 1953.
The psychological effect was felt so much so that Osama Bin Laden boldly claimed that “the dissolution of the Soviet Union… goes to God and the mujahideen in Afghanistan… the US had no mentionable role”. Although grossly exaggerated to not acknowledge the US role, or to pin the entirety of the Union’s collapse on its failures in Afghanistan, it demonstrates the narrative and propaganda that emanated from jihadists after their successesin the country.
Mikhail Yeremeev states that the significance of Moscow’s failure in Afghanistan was: “mainly embodied in the collapse of the Soviet Union twelve years after the invasion of Afghanistan. The war put immense stresses on the faulty, centralized economic system of the nation, and along with the radical social reforms set by Mikhail Gorbachev, led to the collapse of the nation. This war would be known as the equivalent to the Vietnam War for the United States, both in economic stresses brought upon by the war, and by the social discontent that it caused.
With at least one million deaths between civilians and soldiers (from the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran), the Soviet Union would withdraw completely from the country on February 15, 1989. This led to the immediate cancellation of major US operations and allowing for the eventual rise of the Taliban who would fill the power vacuum after the collapse of the socialist Afghani government. It cannot be denied that the Soviet failure in Afghanistan played a significant contribution to the Great Powers eventual collapse in 1991.
What does the collapse of the Soviet Union mean for Afghanistan? Find out with Part 3 soon!