Usurpation, Invasion and War: 1978-92

Usurpation, Invasion and War: 1978-92

With Muhammad Daud's death, the government of Afghanistan was run by adivided, dilettante Marxist clique that launched a train of events eventuallyleading to the disintegration of the state. They named their regime theDemocratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA).

The "Saur Revolution," as the new government grandiloquentlylabeled its coup d'etat (after the month in the Islamic calendar in which itoccurred), was almost entirely the achievement of the Khalq faction of the PDPA.This success gave it effective control over the armed forces, a great advantageover its Parchami rival. Khalq's victory was partially due to Daud'smiscalculation that Parcham was the more serious threat. Parcham's leaders hadenjoyed widespread connections within the senior bureaucracy and even the royalfamily and the most privileged elite. These linkages also tended to make theirmovements easy to trace.

Khalq, on the other hand ,had not been involved in Daud's government, hadlittle connection with Kabul's Persian speaking elite, and a rustic reputationbased on recruitment of students from the provinces. Most of them were Pushtuns,especially the Ghilzais. They had few apparent connections in the seniorbureaucracy, many had taken jobs as school teachers. Khalq's influence at KabulUniversity was also limited.

These newcomers to Kabul had seemed poorly positioned to penetrate thegovernment. Moreover, they were led by the erratic Muhammad Taraki, a poet,sometime minor official, and a publicly notorious radical. Confident that hismilitary officers were reliable, Daud must have discounted the diligence ofTaraki's lieutenant, Hafizullah Amin, who had sought out dissident Pushtunofficers. The bungling of Amin's arrest, which enabled him to trigger the coupahead of its planned date, also suggests Khalq's penetration of Daud's securitypolice.

The plotters carried out a bold and sophisticated plan. It employed the shockeffect of a combined armored and air assault on the Arg or palace, the seat ofDaud's highly centralized government. Seizure of the initiative demoralized thelarger loyal or uncommitted forces nearby. Quick capture of telecommunications,the defense ministry and other strategic centers of authority isolated Daud'sstubbornly resisting palace guard.

The coup was by far Khalq's most successful achievement. So much so, that aconsiderable literature has accumulated arguing that it must have been plannedand executed by the KGB, or some special branch of the Soviet military. Giventhe friction that soon developed between Khalq and Soviet officials, especiallyover the purging of Parcham, Soviet control of the coup seems unlikely. Priorknowledge of it does appear to have been highly likely. Claims that Sovietpilots bombed the palace overlook the availability of seasoned Afghan pilots.

Political leadership of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was assertedwithin three days of the military takeover. After thirteen years ofconspiratorial activity, the two factions of the PDPA emerged in public,refusing at first, to admit their Marxist credentials. Khalq's dominance wasquickly apparent. Taraki became president, prime minister and General Secretaryof the PDPA. Parcham's leader, Babrak Karmal, and Amin were named deputy primeministers. Cabinet membership was split eleven to ten , with Khalq in themajority. Khalq dominated the Revolutionary Council, which was to serve as theruling body of the government. Within weeks purges of Parcham began, and bysummer Khalq's somewhat bewildered Soviet patrons became aware of how difficultit would be temper its radicalism. The destruction of Afghanistan's formerruling elite had begun immediately after the seizure of power. Execution(Parcham leaders later claimed at least 11,000 during the Taraki/Amin period),flight into exile, and later the devastation of Kabul itself would literallyremove the great majority of the some 100,000 who had come to form Afghanistan'selite and middle class. Their loss has almost completely broken the continuityof Afghanistan's leadership, political institutions and their social foundation.

The Khalq leadership proved incapable of filling this vacuum. Its brutal andclumsy attempts to introduce radical changes in control over agricultural landholding and credit, rural social relations, marriage and family arrangements,and education led to scattered protests and uprisings among all majorcommunities in the Afghan countryside. Taraki and Amin left a legacy of turmoiland resentment which gravely compromised later Marxist attempts to win popularacceptance.

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