Suffering civilian population
For Afghanistan’s civilian population, the war was devastating and devastating. More than a million people are estimated to have died, millions more have to flee and agriculture has been devastated. The Soviet-backed regime became increasingly isolated, while the resistance movement constantly recruited new supporters.
The fight against the occupation was initially waged by a variety of groups with roots in different ethnic groups, but gradually seven major Sunni Muslim groups crystallized, all of which had Pakistan as a base. The most important leaders were the Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Tajiks Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud. There were also Shia Muslim groups headquartered in Iran.
When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, Karmal was replaced in 1986 by Mohammad Najibullah Ahmedzai, who sought a more conciliatory appearance, but resistance continued.
In 1988, after a few years of negotiations through UN mediation, an agreement was reached on Soviet exodus from Afghanistan. The United States and the Soviet Union would jointly guarantee the country’s independence and the refugees would be allowed to return. The last Soviet troops left the country in February 1989, but it was not until three years later that the Najibullah regime fell.
The Islamic parties that took over could not agree, and soon a devastating civil war was in full swing. The whole country collapsed. Kabul and other cities were destroyed.
The Taliban take over
When a new armed movement called the Taliban began to clean up the gangster regime in the south in 1994, it was welcomed by war-weary compatriots in the Pashtun countryside.
Taliban is an Arabic word meaning “one who seeks religious knowledge” and most of the Taliban were young Koranic students from the refugee camps in Pakistan. Their leader Mohammad Omar was backed by extremely conservative Pashtuns and by Islamists in Pakistan, as well as secretly by the Pakistani military security service ISI.
The Taliban movement grew rapidly and one warlord after another joined it. The Taliban first conquered Kandahar, then Herat and in 1996 Kabul. The old government fled and the Taliban seized power.
They established an extremely conservative regime that demanded blind submission to the laws and regulations they laid down. Everything that seemed Western and sinful was forbidden. Men must grow a beard and women must wear a full veil, burqa. Women were also banned from working outside the home and girls were not allowed to go to school after primary school. Cruel corporal punishment was imposed for all possible offenses.
The Taliban never gained control of the whole of Afghanistan, and gradually the resentment of the outside world against their reactionary rule also grew. In the end, their only friends were Pakistan and the Saudi millionaire and financier Usama bin Laden and his terrorist network al-Qaeda .
Osama bin Laden had helped recruit volunteers for the fight against the Soviet occupation. Many of these war veterans formed the core of al-Qaeda.
When the United States identified bin Laden as responsible for the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the Taliban were indirectly branded as terrorists.
The United States is attacking
Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, the suspicions were directed almost immediately at al-Qaeda. The United States requested the extradition of bin Laden, but the Taliban refused.
With the consent of the United Nations, American and British aircraft began bombing Afghanistan in October 2001. Thanks to the US Alliance’s air support, the forces of the former mujahedin regime were able to quickly tear apart the Taliban’s front line, and after a few weeks, their government was driven out of Kabul. At the end of November, US troops landed near Kandahar in the south, and after a couple of weeks of fighting, the Taliban rule was over. However, the US-led alliance, called Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), failed to capture either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar. It was not until 2011 that bin Laden was tracked down and killed in Pakistan.
In December 2001, the UN brought together Afghans from various denominations and ethnic groups in Bonn, Germany, to form a provisional government. Hamid Karzai, a well-educated Pashtun clan leader with a good reputation at home and in the United States, where he stayed and gained political support, was appointed new leader.
Afghanistan was promised extensive assistance. After more than twenty years of war, the devastation was great, and there was a shortage of food, housing, health care and education.
In the summer of 2002, a “loya jirga”, a traditional council assembly, elected Hamid Karzai as interim president , and a transitional government with participants from the largest ethnic groups was approved.
A new constitution was adopted in early 2004. It paved the way for presidential elections in October of that year, when Karzai won with just over 55 percent of the vote.
The first elections to the lower house of parliament and the provincial assemblies were held in September 2005. No political parties were allowed to participate, but the elected ones corresponded quite well to the relative size of the ethnic groups. Members also included former warlords and defected Taliban. About 60 women were elected using quotas.
In the first years after 2002, Karzai’s government largely controlled only the capital. The rest of the country was ruled by warlords who only formally called themselves loyal to the government.