The Fall of Kabul, April 1992

The Fall of Kabul, April 1992

Kabul ultimately fell to the mujahidin because the factions in its governmenthad finally pulled it apart. Until demoralized by the defections of its seniorofficers, the army had achieved a level of performance it had never reachedunder direct Soviet tutelage. It was a classic case of loss of morale. Theregime collapsed while it still possessed material superiority. Its stockpilesof munitions and planes would provide the victorious mujahidin with the means ofwaging years of highly destructive war. Kabul was short of fuel and food at theend of winter in 1992, but its military units were supplied well enough to fightindefinitely. They did not fight because their leaders were reduced toscrambling for survival. Their aid had not only been cut off, theMarxist-Leninist ideology that had provided the government its rationale forexistence been repudiated at its source.

A few days after it was clear that Najibullah had lost control, his armycommanders and governors arranged to turn over authority to resistancecommanders and local notables throughout the country. Joint councils or shuraswere immediately established for local government in which civil and militaryofficials of the former government were usually included. Reports indicate theprocess was generally amicable. In many cases prior arrangements fortransferring regional and local authority had been made between foes.

Through mid-1995 these local arrangements have generally remained in place inmost of Afghanistan. Disruptions have occurred where local politicalarrangements have been linked to been linked to the struggle that has developedbetween the mujahidin parties. At the national level a political vacuum wascreated and into it fell the expatriate parties in their rush to take control.The enmities, ambitions, conceits and dogmas which had paralyzed their shadowgovernment proved to be even more disastrous in their struggle for power. Thetraits they brought with them had been accentuated in the struggle forpreferment in Peshawar.

Collusions between military leaders quickly brought down the Kabulgovernment. In mid-January 1992, within three weeks of demise of the SovietUnion, Ahmad Shah Massoud was aware of conflict within the government's northerncommand. General Abdul Momim, in charge of the Hairatan border crossing at thenorthern end of Kabul's supply highway, and other non-Pushtun generals based inMazari-i-Sharif feared removal by Najibullah and replacement by Pushtunofficers. The generals rebelled and the situation was taken over by Abdul RashidDostam, who held general rank as head of the Jozjani militia, also based inMazar-i-Sharif. He and Massoud reached a political agreement, together withanother major militia leader, Sayyid Mansor, of the Ismaili community based inBaghlan Province. These northern allies consolidated their position inMazar-i-Sharif on March 21. Their coalition covered nine provinces in the northand northeast. As turmoil developed within the government in Kabul, there was nogovernment force standing between the northern allies and the major air forcebase at Begram, some seventy kilometers north of Kabul. By mid-April the airforce command at Begram had capitulated to Massoud. Kabul was defenseless, itsarmy was no longer reliable.

Najibullah had lost internal control immediately after he announced hiswillingness on March 18 to resign in order to make way for a neutral interimgovernment. As the government broke into several factions the issue had becomehow to carry out a transfer of power. Najibullah attempted to fly out of Kabulon April 17, but was stopped by Dostam's troops who controlled Kabul Airportunder the command of Karmal's brother, Mahmud Baryalai. Vengeance betweenParchami factions was reaped. Najibullah took sanctuary at the UN mission wherehe remained in 1995. A group of Parchami generals and officials declaredthemselves an interim government for the purpose of handing over power to themujahidin.

For more than a week Massoud remained poised to move his forces into thecapital. He was awaiting the arrival of political leadership from Peshawar. Theparties suddenly had sovereign power in their grasp, but no plan for executingit. With his principal commander prepared to occupy Kabul, Rabbani waspositioned to prevail by default. Meanwhile UN mediators tried to find apolitical solution that would assure a transfer of power acceptable to allsides.

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