The Mujahidin Parties

The Mujahidin Parties

Political parties did not exist in Afghanistan before the 1960s. Theirorganization and methods of operation were alien to Afghan political experience.Traditionally, power had been generated by primordial affiliations: dynasticpatronage and spiritual charisma or social interactions within tribes, clans,lineages or villages. Implementation of power was hierarchical andauthoritarian. Ascribed roles and customary practice determined how discussionwas conducted and information evaluated and who made decisions and carried themout. Tribal jirgahs permitted vigorous arguments, but consensus wasreached through inherited procedures.

Royal authority was remote from most Afghans. The qawm, their mostcohesive and intimate group, exercised much more immediate authority over eachmember. It was the primary source of identity and affiliation. Roy has arguedthat the authority of the qawm renders interactions outside of itsecondary and hence without validity should a conflict with qawminterests arise. Outside interactions are seen as opportunities for aggrandizingthe qawm such as winning favors from a government official or robbing apassing traveler. In such a cultural environment, the players lack the autonomyto play by rules that enable parties to function, such as openness topersuasion, tolerance of overlapping loyalties, discipline based on acquiredconvictions, freedom to join and to leave groups that exercise power, etc.

It has been widely noted that members of Khalq differed from Parchamis moreon account of their Ghilzai or Eastern Pushtun cultural identity than because oftheir greater ideological radicalism. Recruitment of party activists based ontraditionally ascribed affiliations tended to make the parties, themselves,creatures of the pre-existing communities from which they were drawn. Theagendas of these prior groups could strongly influence the actions and purposesof such culturally marginal entities as political parties. Individuals had,also, a hierarchy of qawm affiliations radiating from primary ones. Thebehavioral and intellectual demands stemming from the values motivating partypolitics might require a radical shifting of such hierarchies. Afghans have hadslightly more than a generation to make such an adjustment.

The parties that waged war against the Soviet forces and the Kabul regimereflected the difficulties of making such a cultural transition. For the mostpart they have been extensions of political actors. They have operated as anauthoritarian command structure.

Circumstances also obliged them to function as expatriates. This fact had amajor impact on their politics. They became dependent for funds on foreigngovernments or private interests. This situation inevitably exposed the politicsand conduct of the war to foreign interference. Expatriate circumstances alsomeant that the parties fought the war virtually on a proxy basis. They wereunable to direct or control the fighting. They served instead as conduits ofsupplies from foreign donors which Pakistan's intelligence service controlled.With one exception (Khalis), their senior leadership had no direct involvementin the war. Together, this isolation from the resistance fighting insideAfghanistan and their vulnerability to foreign pressures threatened tomarginalize the parties. It left them without preparation for the politicalchallenge of the Soviet withdrawal.

Other principal functions of the parties included articulating the resistancecause and representing the three million refugees stranded in Pakistan. Theywere well equipped to express the power of jihad. They used the refugee camps aslaboratories for enforcing their political and religious doctrines. Thepractical needs of the refugees were attended by the Pakistan government and alarge community of international humanitarian agencies.

Scores of fledgling political groups sprang to uncertain life in theaftermath of the Marxist coup and the Soviet invasion. Nationalist andultra-Marxist networks briefly flourished in Kabul before being crushed bysecurity police in 1980. Shia parties took autonomous control of the Hazarajat.

Many more aspiring political groups gathered in Pakistan, mostly in or nearthe frontier city of Peshawar. Among the millions of rural refugees were tens ofthousands of educated, urban expatriates, many of whom eventually foundopportunities to emigrate to Europe or North America. Many of rest joined theseven expatriate parties that were officially recognized by Pakistan. Groups whofailed to get recognition lost the chance for significant funding. Most wastedaway--some nationalist and socialist splinter-groups managed to maintain alively criticism of their foreign supplied rivals.

War against forces identified with atheism inevitably aroused a passionatecommitment to jihad, the Islamic obligation to overcome evil. The need for unityin this most segmented society moved the political climate toward religiousleadership. Jihads waged against the British in the nineteenth century and KingAmanullah in the twentieth had had the same effect. Moreover, Afghanistan'ssecular leadership was gone or compromised. When the Marxists seized power, thesocial and political basis for opposition fell almost exclusively on religiouscritics of modern, secular government.

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