Daoud's Republic, July 1973- April 1978

Daoud's Republic, July 1973- April 1978

The welcome Daoud received on returning to power on July 17, 1973 reflectedthe citizenry's disappointment with the lackluster politics of the precedingdecade. King Zahir's "New Democracy" had promised much but haddelivered little. Daoud's comeback was a return to traditional strongman ruleand he was a particularly appealing figure to military officers. As primeminister, Daoud had obtained large supplies of modern arms from the Soviet Unionand he had been a former army officer himself. Also, his strong position on thePashtunistan issue had not been forgotten by conservative Pashtun officers.

Daoud discussed rebellion for more than a year with various oppositionelements--both moderates and leftists, including military officers who weremembers of both the Khalqi and Parchami factions of the PDPA. Certainly thecommunists had worked vigorously to undermine Zahir Shah's experiment inconstitutional democracy. Their inflammatory speeches in parliament andorganized street riots were tactics which alarmed the king to the degree that herefused to sign the law legalizing political parties. Karmal's Parcham factionbecame integrally involved in planning the coup. There is general agreement thatDaoud had been meeting with what he called various "friends" for morethan a year. The coup itself was carried out by junior officers trained in theSoviet Union. Some Afghans suspected that Daoud and Karmal had been in touch formany years and that Daoud had used him as an informant on the leftist movement.No strong link can be cited to support this, however, other than the closenessbetween Karmal's father, an army general, and Daoud. At the time of the July1973 coup, which took place when the king was in Italy receiving eye treatmentat the medicinal mud baths at Ischia, Italy, it was sometimes difficult toassess the factional and party affiliation of the officers who took place.Despite a number of conversions of Parchamis to the Khalqi faction by the timeof the communist coup of April 1978 which overthrew Daoud, both party andfactional loyalties became obvious after the PDPA took power.

Although leftists had played a central role in the coup, and despite theappointment of two leftists as ministers, evidence suggests that the coup wasDaoud's alone. Officers personally loyal to him were placed in key positionswhile young Parchamis were sent to the provinces, probably to get them out ofKabul, until Daoud had purged the leftist officers by the end of 1975.

The next year, Daoud established his own political party, the NationalRevolutionary Party, which became the focus of all political activity. InJanuary 1977, a loyal jirgah approved Daoud's constitution establishing apresidential, one party system of government.

Any resistance to the new regime was suppressed. A coup attempt byMaiwandwal, which may have been planned before Daoud took power, was subduedshortly after his coup. In October 1973, Maiwandwal, a former prime minister anda highly respected former diplomat, died in prison at a time when Parchamiscontrolled the Ministry of Interior under circumstances corroborating thewidespread belief that he had been tortured to death.

While both of the PDPA's factions had attempted to collaborate with Daoudbefore the 1973 coup, Parcham used its advantage to recruit on an unprecedentedscale immediately following the coup. Daoud, however, soon made it clear that hewas no front man and that he had not adopted the claims of any ideologicalfaction. He began in the first months of his regime to ease Parcharmis out ofhis cabinet. Perhaps not to alienate the Soviet Union, Daoud was careful to citeinefficiency and not ideological reasons for the dismissals. Khalq, seeing anopportunity to make some short-term gains at Parcham's expense, suggested toDaoud that "honest" Khalqis replace corrupt Parchamis. Daoud, wary ofideologues, ignored this offer.

Daoud's ties with the Soviet Union, like his relations with Afghancommunists, deteriorated during his five year presidency. This loosening of tieswith the Soviet Union was gradual. Daoud's shift to the right and realignmentmade the Soviets anxious but western observers noted that Daoud remainedsolicitous of Soviet interests and Afghanistan's representative in the UnitedNations voted regularly with the Soviet Bloc or with the group of nonalignedcountries. The Soviets remained by far Afghanistan's largest aid donor and wereinfluential enough to insist that no Western activity, economic or otherwise, bepermitted in northern Afghanistan.

Daoud still favored a state-centered economy, and, three years after comingto power, he drew up an ambitious seven-year economic plan (1976-83) thatincluded major projects and required a substantial influx of foreign aid. Asearly as 1974, Daoud began distancing himself from over-reliance on the SovietUnion for military and economic support. That same year, he formed a militarytraining program with India, and opened talks with Iran on economic developmentaid. Daoud also turned to other oil-rich Muslim nations, such as Saudi Arabia,Iraq, and Kuwait, for financial assistance.

Pashtunistan zealots confidently expected the new president to raise thisissue with Pakistan, and in the first few months of the new regime, bilateralrelations were poor. Efforts by Iran and the United States to cool a tensesituation succeeded after a time, and by 1977 relations between Pakistan andAfghanistan had notably improved. During Daoud's March 1978 visit to Islamabad,an agreement was reached whereby President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistanreleased Pashtun and Baloch militants from prison in exchange for Daoudwithdrawing support for these groups and expelling Pashtun and Baloch militantstaking refuge in Afghanistan.

Daoud's initial visit to the Soviet Union in 1974 was friendly, despitedisagreement on the Pashtunistan issue. By the time of Daoud's second visit inApril 1977, the Soviets knew of his purge of the left begun in 1975, his removalof Soviet advisers from some Afghan military units, and his changes in militarytraining whereby other nations, especially India and Egypt, trained Afghans withSoviet weapons. Despite official goodwill, unofficial reports circulated ofsharp Soviet criticism of anticommunists in Daoud's new cabinet, of his failureto cooperate with the PDPA, and of his criticism of Cuba's role in thenonaligned movement. Furthermore, Daoud was friendly with Iran and Saudi Arabia,and he had scheduled a visit to Washington for the spring of 1978.

By 1978 Daoud had achieved little of what he had set out to accomplish.Despite good harvests in 1973 and subsequent years, no real economic progresshad been made, and the Afghan standard of living had not improved. By the springof 1978, he had alienated most key political groups by gathering power into hisown hands and refusing to tolerate dissent. Although Muslim fundamentalists hadbeen the object of repression as early as 1974, their numbers had nonethelessincreased. Diehard Pashtunistan supporters were disillusioned with Daoud'srapprochement with Pakistan, especially by what they regarded as his commitmentin the 1977 agreement not to aid Pashtun militants in Pakistan.

Most ominous for Daoud were developments among Afghan communists. In March1977, despite reaching a fragile agreement on reunification, Parcham and Khalqremained mutually suspicious. The military arms of each faction were notcoordinated because, by this time, Khalqi military officers vastly outnumberedParchami officers and feared the latter might inform Daoud of this, raising hissuspicion that a coup was imminent. Although plans for a coup had long beendiscussed, according to a statement by Hafizullah Amin, the April 1978 coup wasimplemented about two years ahead of time.

The April 19, 1978, funeral for Mir Akbar Khyber, a prominent Parchamiideologue who had been murdered, served as a rallying point for Afghancommunists. An estimated 10,000 to 30,000 persons gathered to hear stirringspeeches by Taraki and Karmal. Shocked by this demonstration of communist unity,Daoud ordered the arrest of PDPA leaders, but he reacted too slowly. It took hima week to arrest Taraki, and Amin was merely placed under house arrest.According to later PDPA writings, Amin sent complete orders for the coup fromhis home while it was under armed guard using his family as messengers. The armyhad been put on alert on April 26 because of a presumed "anti-Islamic"coup. Given Daoud's repressive and suspicious mood, officers known to havediffered with Daoud, even those without PDPA ties or with only tenuousconnections to the communists, moved hastily to prevent their own downfall.

On April 27, 1978, a coup d'état beginning with troop movements at themilitary base at Kabul International Airport, gained ground slowly over the nexttwenty-four hours as rebels battled units loyal to Daoud in and around thecapital. Daoud and most of his family were shot in the presidential palace thefollowing day. Two hundred and thirty-one years of royal rule by Ahmad Shah andhis descendants had ended, but it was less clear what kind of regime hadsucceeded them.


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