The Conflict in Afghanistan Part I

Here we have collected texts about more than twenty conflicts. This includes both conflicts where hostilities are taking place and conflicts where the parties have allowed their weapons to rest for a number of years but where the basic contentious issues have not yet been resolved, such as the Cyprus issue. We primarily address conflicts that have taken place over many years, but here are also descriptions of younger crisis hotspots such as Syria and Yemen.

The conflict in Afghanistan

The “war on terror” began against Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on the United States in the autumn of 2001. The US-led attack was aimed at the Islamist Taliban government, which protected Usama bin Laden and his terrorist network al-Qaeda. After Barack Obama’s rise to power in the United States in 2009, there was no longer any talk of a “war on terror”, but the war continued as before and hopes of a military victory soon waned.

Taliban leaders were forced to flee to Pakistan, but it soon became apparent again that mountainous, inaccessible Afghanistan was almost impossible to control.

At first, the development seemed promising. With international support, the balance between the country’s different ethnic groups would be restored. A new constitution was written and in the first democratic presidential election in 2004, Hamid Karzai won by more than half of the votes. One year later, Afghanistan got a popularly elected parliament.

Despite a massive military effort by the United States and NATO – which grew to just over 140,000 men in 2010 – and extensive reconstruction assistance, the Taliban grew stronger again and were soon active again across the country.

The fighting intensified, and thousands of civilians were killed by suicide bombings and road mines, but also by US airstrikes. Support for President Karzai eroded after the 2009 elections, and he sought, with Pakistan’s help, to negotiate with “moderate” Taliban. NATO countries supported this and began to reduce their forces, albeit largely for domestic policy reasons and the wishful thinking that the new Afghan army would manage on its own. When almost all foreign soldiers left the country in December 2014, the threat from the Taliban became imminent again and in the autumn of 2015, the NATO countries were forced to slow down the repatriation of the last foreign soldiers.

The situation has deteriorated further since 2016 as the Taliban strengthened their grip on parts of the country. From 2015, the Islamic State (IS) has also begun to establish itself in Afghanistan. Army and police losses are increasing and thousands of civilians fall victim to violence every year.

Only in February 2020 could some light be seen when the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement, which after a series of delays meant that regular peace talks in September began between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

Afghanistan has many peoples, clans and religious denominations, and it has always been difficult to govern the country as a cohesive state. The wars and conflicts that have taken place since 1978 have further divided the country. No leader has so far succeeded in establishing a strong central power with full control over the clan leaders out in the country.

For over 4,000 years, Afghanistan has been a crossroads for migrations, conquests and trade between western, southern and central Asia. The population has developed into an ethnic and linguistic mosaic of groups with different customs.

The dominant ethnic group, the Pashtuns, make up about 40 percent of the population. A quarter of Afghans are Tajiks, and in the north there are also Uzbeks, Turkmens and Kyrgyz. The Hazaras are a Mongolian people in the central highlands. In addition, there are a large number of smaller ethnic groups.

Almost all are Muslims and 85 percent are Sunnis. The Hazaras and some of the Tajiks are Shiites.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that the country got a reasonably functioning central government. The Pashtun chief Ahmed Shah is considered the founder of the Afghan state after clan chiefs proclaimed him king in 1747.

Completely free until 1919

In the 19th century, Britain and Russia competed for influence, but the Afghans stubbornly resisted and in 1919, Afghanistan’s full independence was recognized.

Mohammad Zahir Shah, who became king in 1933, cautiously sought to modernize the country and pursue a non-aligned foreign policy. The development was accelerated when his cousin Mohammed Daoud became Prime Minister in 1953, and a modern army was built mainly with Soviet help.

In 1973, Daoud overthrew the king and proclaimed himself president, but his dictatorial methods gave him many enemies. In 1978, he was assassinated in a bloody military coup that brought Communist leader Nur Mohammad Taraki to power.

Taraki quickly wanted to modernize Afghanistan in a socialist direction. It provoked the wrath of conservative clan leaders and Muslim priests and soon revolts erupted in various places.

The Communist Party was also deeply divided and members of a more pro-Soviet faction were purged. In the fall of 1979, Taraki was assassinated by his prime minister, Hafizullah Amin. Thereafter, the contradictions increased further.

Soviet invasion 1979

Fearing that the communist regime would fall, the Soviet leadership decided to intervene. The Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan at Christmas time in 1979. Hafizullah Amin was killed and Babrak Karmal, leader of the party’s pro – Soviet faction, became president. But the Soviet operation in Afghanistan was not a quick action to restore order. Around the country, various groups resorted to weapons in the name of Islam and they soon received help from abroad.

It was mainly the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that helped the Islamic resistance fighters, the mujahedin, with money and weapons. In addition, thousands of young volunteers flocked from other Muslim countries. The conflict became both a decisive showdown in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and the first unifying issue in modern times for radical Islamists.

The war became far more stressful than the Soviet leaders had anticipated. Despite the fact that the occupying force swelled to over 110,000 men, it could not overcome the Islamic resistance groups, which received increasingly advanced weapons. The war also became a heavy political burden for the Soviet Union. The outside world condemned the occupation, and even at home, the reluctance grew for young Russians to sacrifice their lives in foreign lands for an incomprehensible thing.

The Conflict in Afghanistan Part I