The Struggle for Kabul

The Struggle for Kabul

Continual fighting over Kabul began, punctuated by assaults made byrelatively small forces employing firepower never dreamed possible by themujahidin in their guerilla phase. Short-range missiles with heavy explosivesdid most of the damage. They wreaked devastation, killing far more civiliansthan combatants. By early 1994 the city had been reduced to a shambles.Neighborhoods, mosques, and government buildings had been destroyed. A vagabondgovernment shifted between surviving buildings. During the heaviest fighting itoperated from Charikar, sixty kilometers to the north.

Despite the devastation Hekmatyar and the allies he gained in 1993 and 1994were not able to defeat the government defenders. In January 1993 he was joinedby the Shia Hezb-i-Wahdat faction led by Abdul Ali Mazari, who had Iranianbacking and the support of many Shia residents living in the western sector ofKabul. On several occasions Mazari's forces and Rasul Sayyaf's Wahhabi followersengaged in vicious battles in Kabul's western outskirts. Dostam also came toMazari's assistance. In turn Sayyaf sided with Rabbaani's forces led by AhmadShah Massoud.

A year later Hekmatyar overcame his loudly expressed contempt for Dostam asan ally of the communists and formed a tripartite alliance with him and Mazari.They organized the Shura-i-ala Humaagi inquilab-i-Islami Afghanistan (SupremeCoordination Council of the Islamic Revolution in Afghanistan).

On January 1, 1994, they launched the most devastating assault so far mountedagainst Kabul. It took several thousand lives and reduced Kabul's populationbelow 500,000 (it had reached more than 2 million late in the Soviet war).During the first week government units lost ground in both Southwestern andSoutheastern Kabul, but soon regained most of their positions. Massoud led anoffensive in June which drove Hekmatyar's rocket units off two strategic hills.Sporadic fighting punctuated by rocket attacks on the city continued until early1995.

As the fighting settled into a stalemate, several peace initiatives wereattempted. The UN renewed its peace making role in April 1994. Leaders of theless powerful Mujahidin parties offered peace proposals. Ismael Khan, thegovernment's powerful ally in Herat, hosted a large conference in July 1994 thatagreed on a process for a transition to a new government. It was blocked byopposition from the Supreme Coordination Council and other commanders. Iran andthe Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hosted a poorly attended peaceconference in Teheran in November. On December 28, 1994 the presidential termthat Rabbani, himself, recognized lapsed. With no resolution of conflict and noconsensus reached on a mechanism for transferring authority, he kept the officeby default, pending a new political settlement to be engineered by the UN.

Sudden, unexpected developments in early 1995 profoundly changed thesituation. A new political/military force, the Taliban, sprang into existence.This movement, identified with religious students was centered among the DurraniPushtuns who had been politically passive during the previous fifteen years ofwar and tumult. The movement took control of Kandahar in November, 1994. ByFebruary it was challenging the Rabbani government from Kabul to Herat. TheTaliban were students or recent graduates of a network of traditional madrasasin southern Afghanistan and adjacent areas of Pakistan. The origin of themovement itself remains obscure, but once again a religious cause that offeredpolitical purification and an end to Afghanistan's suffering won widespreadsupport.

The most significant and immediate result of the Taliban rise to power, wasthe ignominious collapse of Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami as a fighting force. Inearly February his headquarters at Charasyab, twenty-five kilometers south ofKabul, became trapped between the government army and the Taliban. On February15, Hekmatyar and his disintegrating army fled eastward toward Jalalabad leavinga large arsenal of weapons behind. Hezb was no longer a deadly threat to Kabul;the struggle for power had been profoundly changed.

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