In emerging from the Imperialist Era at the head of a more or less independent nation, the monarchs of Afghanistan could congratulate themselves for something only Siam and a few others had managed to do – resist outright colonization, even if it came at a price. Tonight, we'll see that the opium-poppy row doesn't get any easier to hoe in the 20th century, as Afghanistan tries to find a middle ground in a political landscape that includes the Nazis, the British, the Soviets, the U.S., India, Pakistan, Pashtunistan (Pashtunistan?), and – well, you get the picture.
So join your resident historiorantologist, if you will, for a day-late (and series-penultimate) journey into Afghanistan, where we'll meet a whole bunch of people who give context to the word "inevitability." In fact, invite your friends over to the Cave – we'll make a loya jirga of it!
Tonight sees the next-to-last steps of a journey that began either months - Ancient Afghanistan was posted on DKos on Christmas Eve - or at the very dawn of civilization, depending on your perspective. We've seen Aryans, Zoroastrians, Greeks, Hindus, Greek-Hindu hybrids, lots and lots of Turks and other Central Asian nomads pass through, finally culminating in the Mongols themselves taking up residence during Medieval times. During the Early Modern period, Afghanis vied for control of their land with various Safavid rulers from Iran and Mughals in India, leading to a brief (in Afghanistan, "brief" can mean several hundred years) period of local dominance in a time before Imperialism. Geography and a desire to own the whole frakking world eventually led to the imperialist interventions of The Great Game, which - if you've been following the story - you'll remember resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi with the British in August, 1919.
For all intents and purposes, Afghanistan was now free to pursue self-determination in things political, so long as the various kings and warlords didn't do too much to upset the balance of power (or their status as a buffer state) between the Soviet Union to the north and Britain's crown jewel of empire to the east. Had Dr. Phil been around at the time, he might have blessed the venture embarked upon by Amanullah Khan with his trademark "Yeah, well, good luck with that..."
Modernizing the Timeless
King Amanullah was one of those forward-thinking leaders who emerged in the Muslim world in the years after the Great War. Like Kemal Ataturk in the former Ottoman Empire, Amanullah sought to secularize much of Afghanistan's government and military - something which didn't sit too well with the clerics who had gained power under Amanullah's (assassinated) predecessor, Habibullah. He was aided in his domestic reforms by his close advisor - and father-in-law - Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, with the caveat that the young king should take things slowly, lest he stir up the well-armed conservative elements that didn't approve of veil-less women and other signs of creeping modernity. As the Library of Congress' countrystudy adds,
His transforming social and educational reforms included: adopting the solar calendar, requiring Western dress in parts of Kabul and elsewhere, discouraging the veiling and seclusion of women, abolishing slavery and forced labor, introducing secular education (for girls as well as boys); adult education classes and educating nomads. His economic reforms included restructuring, reorganizing, and rationalizing the entire tax structure, antismuggling and anticorruption campaigns, a livestock census for taxation purposes, the first budget (in 1922), implementing the metric system (which did not take hold), establishing the Bank-i-Melli (National Bank) in 1928, and introducing the afghani as the new unit of currency in 1923.
The political and judicial reforms Amanuallah proposed were equally radical for the time and included the creation of Afghanistan's first constitution (in 1923), the guarantee of civil rights (first by decree and later constitutionally), national registration and identity cards for the citizenry, the establishment of a legislative assembly, a court system to enforce new secular penal, civil, and commercial codes, prohibition of blood money, and abolition of subsidies and privileges for tribal chiefs and the royal family.
As the debacle promulgated by the Decider's bungling has clearly shown, would-be rulers of a united Afghanistan can't get anything done in if they alienate tribal leaders, and a number of Amanullah's reforms did exactly that. In attempting to establish a secular, professional army, for example, the King rearranged recruiting so that tribal chiefs were no longer able to select enlistees - but he managed to anger his officers by refusing to muster out the old-school officers who didn't much cotton to the new Turkish, French, Italian, and Soviet ways of doing things.
After the Revolution of 1917, Lenin was eager to make peace along his borders. In this regard, Afghanistan gave him a two-fer: cordial relations with Amanullah gave the Soviets; inroads into a traditionally difficult-to-administer part of the world, while at the same time taking a small jab at the British, whose support of the Whites during the Russian Civil War was not quickly forgotten. (I know, I know - they weren't technically the "Soviets" until the early 20s, but since we're not going to be spending all that much time in this era, I hope you'll forgive a little nomenclatural fast-forwarding in the name of poetic license - u.m.).
Soviet-Afghan relations were pretty good sixty years before the invasion: Afghanistan's first international agreement after its independence (a Treaty of Friendship signed in May, 1921) was concluded was with Lenin's Russia, which went on to supply pilots and equipment for Afghanistan's fledgling air force in addition to other military and technological aid. This isn't to say all was hunky-dory, however: Soviet repression of Muslims in Central Asia helped to sour relations, as did British disapproval - which ranged from the petty (refusing to call Amanullah "Your Majesty") to the downright rude (no transit of Afghani goods across British India). Amanullah was not entirely innocent in all this, either: he gave sanctuary to leaders of the Indian independence movement in addition to stirring up anti-British sentiment in the region that's now Pakistan.
(banner enthusiasts are invited to click this link for an interesting page of images showing Afghanistan's flags in the 20th century)
As the 20s roared along, Amanullah's juggling act of domestic reforms and his on-again/off-again relations with the Europeans led to increasing rumblings of discontent in both the tribal areas and the cities. What really set things off, however, were the reforms he instituted after a 1927 tour of Europe and Turkey. Impressed by what Ataturk had done, Amanullah called a Loya Jirga (the third of his reign), where Mahmoud Beg Tarzi and he came out in strong support of Article 68 of his first constitution. Since this was the article that made elementary education compulsory for both boys and girls, it quickly ran into opposition from the barefoot-n'-pregnant set.
The uprising that ended with Amanullah's abdication is traditionally blamed on tribal leaders, but it was as much an urban movement of disaffected values voters as it was one of tribal traditionalists. In November, 1928, Shinwari Pashtuns from the area around Jalalabad revolted, and when they marched on Kabul, many soldiers of the king's army - no doubt seeing a means of de-Turkifying their ranks - deserted and left Amanullah's capitol defenseless. Finding discretion to be the better part of valor, Amanullah abdicated in January, 1929 in favor of his brother, Inayullah, who lasted all of three days before escaping into Indian exile. After a brief stab at returning to the throne by force of arms, Amanullah followed his brother to India, and later to Italy and to Zurich, where he died in 1960.
Amanullah's palace nowadays
Whether or not he was a Tajik bandit (as some have asserted), the guy who ruled Afghanistan for most of 1929 grandly styled himself Habibullah Khan. Behind his back, folks called him Bacha-i Saqqao ("Son of the Water Carrier"), but it doesn't discount the fact that he was the first Tajik to rule over the area since before the intrusion of Alexander's big Macedonian phalanx.
It was all for not, though; the fighting started almost instantly as the Pashtun tribes (especially the Ghilzai) rose up against a non-Pashtun ruler they had initially helped to install. Wishing to see the turmoil on their flank settled, the British allowed the recruitment of Pashtuns sympathetic to the resistance from their side of the Durand Line (link and caveat note later in the diary - u.m.) . They also permitted the army of Nadir Khan (the eldest of five prominent brothers named Musahiban) to cross into Afghanistan from their North West Frontier Province - a/k/a "Pakistan" - but didn't permit any sort of Bush/Musharif/bin Laden- type arrangement; once they'd crossed out of British territory, the would-be usurpers were not welcome to return to a protected staging area.
By October 10th, 1929, Kabul was in the hands of the Musahiban brothers; by the 16th, Nadir Shah had prefixed his name with "King." Even as the stock market unraveled and collapsed on the far side of the world, Habibullah fled the capitol and made for the border. He didn't get there - he was captured at Kohistan and executed on November 3rd.
...and the slightly better, slightly longer reign of Muhammad Nadir Shah
Muhammad Nadir Shah was obliged to defend his throne almost from the moment he sat down upon it. The army, weary and disorganized after a year of civil war, was hard-pressed to fight back against surging Shinwari Pashtuns and rebels under yet another Tajik, but achieved some measure of unity in April, 1930, when they drove an Uzbek leader who had been using Afghanistan as a haven for raiding into the Soviet Union back north of the Amu Darya. They had strong motivation to accomplish this mission: the Soviets had launched an expeditionary force into Afghan territory (think Blackjack Pershing vs. Pancho Villa), which withdrew when their target re-entered Soviet territory. This might have been the first, but wouldn't be the last, time a Soviet military mission's boots stirred up the dust of Afghanistan's plains?
By the end of 1931, the rebellions had been suppressed and the army was on its way to becoming a fully reconstituted, battle-ready force of 40,000 - something Nadir Shah accomplished without any outside aid or assistance. In the meantime, he was strengthening his reign by means both legal and symbolic: he summoned a Loya Jirga in September, 1930, to confirm his ascension to the throne, and the following year promulgated a new constitution that had all the trappings of participatory democracy, but in fact boiled down to a "it's good to be the king"-type oligarchy. Under his reign, thousands of intellectuals were rounded up, imprisoned, exiled into Soviet lands, and/or executed; press censorship was the norm; and the British pulled the strings of a program of repression against non-Pashtuns.
Those kinds of leaders - there were a bunch of them around the world in the 30s - did often bring some good along with the bad, it must usually be admitted. When unbound by ethical standards opposing the repression or enslavement of entire populations, a leader is often able to engage in grand, labor-intensive public works projects, and Nadir Shah was no exception. His building projects included widening (but not paving) the Great North Road through the Hindu Kush, and (in a more esoteric sense) a set of commercial agreements with the foreign powers King Amanullah had begun diplomatically feting back in the 20s.
Nadir Shah's reign came to a rather abrupt end on November 3, 1933: While distributing awards after a soccer game, he was shot and killed by Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a teenager whose Hazara clan had been a target of the king's persecutions. Ole' Abdul got what was coming to him for killing the king, though: several of his friends - in addition to his mother, father, brother, uncle, and 7 year-old sister - were all tortured and hanged, while he himself was cut into small pieces (beginning with the fingers, ears, nose, and tongue) until he died in a manner befitting some twisted neocon/24 fantasy.
The King and His Uncles
Nadir Shah's son, Mohammad Zahir Shah, was almost 20 when he ascended the throne, but for the first half of his forty-year reign, it was his father's brothers who ran the show. One of these, Muhammad Hashim, who kept the Prime Minister job (originally given to him by Nadir Shah) until 1946, was a strong believer in strengthening the government through large-scale projects, most of which came with foreign investment strings attached. Not wishing to allow either the British or the Soviets more inroads than they already had, Muhammad Hashim chose to get in bed with the Germans. By 1935, the Nazis were actively helping with factory construction and hydroelectric projects, and encouraging investment from their erstwhile allies in Italy and Japan.
Hitler might have thought he was buying Afghanistan's goodwill for his coming global domination effort, but he - like virtually every would-be conqueror of Afghanistan before and since - underestimated the independent-mindedness off every single person living there. Afghanistan's gonna do what Afghanistan's gonna do. You can try bribing them, invading its territory, putting guns to people's heads and getting them to say they recognize your dominion over them - but the minute you move the troops out, they'll inevitably reassert their own way of doing things. To successfully occupy Afghanistan, you'd basically have to have one soldier for every Afghani, forever. This is why Alexander the Great was marginally successful, whereas Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin failed, and other leaders yet to be named are failing.
It's also why Afghanistan announced its neutrality on August 17, 1940. Britain and the Soviet Union dealt with Kabul in much the same way they did with Teheran, which had also developed economic relations with Germany in the 30s: they demanded that Afghanistan expel all personnel from Axis nations. Perceiving the demand as insulting and illegitimate, Zahir Shah nonetheless sat up and took note when next-door Iran ignored a similar Allied demand and found themselves invaded and occupied in 1941. Opting for a policy of strict neutrality in order to avoid giving the Allies any pretexts, Muhammad Hashim (via Zahir Shah) ordered the expulsion of everyone hailing from any of the belligerent nations, then convened a Loya Jirga to show the world Afghanistan's united voice.
Muhammad Hashim's policies guided Afghanistan through the difficult task of maintaining neutrality on a battlefield of titans; at the end of the war, he was replaced as Prime Minister by a younger brother, Shah Muhammad, who brought a more vigorously extroverted set of sensibilities to the office. He's the guy who oversaw the first major Afghan-U.S. interaction, in the form of the Helmand Valley Project, a massive irrigation development program in the southeastern part of the country. He's also the guy who got stuck dealing with the issues surrounding the creation of Pakistan and the problems it created vis-à-vis the now-firmly-ensconced Durand Line (link clickers are cautioned that this site is pretty Afghanocentric - u.m.).
The Durand Line of 1893 had created a particularly vexing problem, given the loyalty-to-tribe-rather-than-king mentality of the Pashtuns who found themselves on either the British or Afghan sides. To give some idea of the complexities involved in splitting India off from Britain, and then Pakistan off from India, let me quote the Library of Congress again:
Although the issue became most vexing during partition, British policy in the area before 1947 also aggravated the Pashtunistan problem. In 1901 the British had created a new administrative area, the North-West Frontier Province, which they detached from the Punjab. This new province was divided into Settled Districts and Tribal Agencies, with the latter ruled by a British political agent who reported directly to Delhi.
In 1934 Britain extended self-government to the North-West Frontier Province. By this time, the Indian National Congress (Congress Party), which many Muslims saw as a predominately Hindu organization, had expanded its political activities to include the province. The links between the political leaders of the North-West Frontier Province and the Hindu leaders of Congress were such that a majority in the North-West Frontier Province assembly originally voted to go with India in the partition, a decision which probably would have been rejected by the voting majority in the province. In July 1947, the British held a referendum in the Settled Districts of the province offering the population the choice of either joining an independent India or a now-inevitable Pakistan. An estimated 56 percent of the eligible voters participated and over 90 percent elected to join Pakistan. A loya jirgah was held in the Tribal Agencies. Offered a choice between joining India or Pakistan, the tribes declared their preference for the latter.
That didn't settle things, of course: In 1949, while engaged in tribal suppression operations, a Pakistani Air Force plane bombed a village on the Afghan side of the line, provoking a hastily-summoned Loya Jirga to denounce the Durand Line as null and void, once and for all. Cross-border attacks - and, significantly, a three-month blockade of petroleum shipments - continued for the next couple of years, until Afghanistan's attention was diverted northward by the signing of a major agreement with the Soviets.
Opening Up and Cracking Down
The first few post-war years saw something of a renaissance in Afghanistan, as the new Prime Minister allowed for a fledgling political opposition to grow and gave signs that he would tolerate at least moderate dissent. In Kandahar, a group known as the Wikh-i-Zalmayan (Awakened Youth) lent its voice to a student union that
?not only provided a forum for political debate but also produced theatrical plays critical of Islam and the monarchy. Newspapers criticized the government, and many groups began demanding a more open political system.
Perhaps the liberal mood sweeping the nation in the early fifties came about as a result of warming Afghan-Soviet relations, perhaps not, but what is certain is that there was a much greater Soviet presence after the two nations signed a trade agreement in 1950. Soviet engineers countered the U.S.-backed Helmand Valley Project with a massive effort to make Afghanistan more self-reliant (and thus less prone to Pakistani disruption) in terms of petroleum, while expansive markets opened up for products from both nations. Economically, if not socially, things were looking up as a result of the "liberal parliament" that had been seated in 1949.
When the vociferous young political parties got too loud to bear (or perhaps the satire a little too stinging), Shah Muhammad tried to counter by launching a government-backed party of his own, but he got so pissed when no one showed up that he started crashing everybody else's. Newspapers were shut down, opposition leaders were jailed; the typical story of repression, in fact - right down to creating a disaffected bunch of radicals who would surface years later to lead a revolution and topple the government.
Beating One's Head Against a Pashtun Wall
Muhammad Daoud, the king's cousin and brother-in-law, was a representative of a new generation of Western-educated Afghan leaders. This shouldn't, however, be taken to mean that "Western-educated" is synonymous with "liberally tolerant" - Daoud continued the crackdown policies of his predecessor in the PM's chair after the latter was forced out in a rather embarrassingly public family rift - though he did bring some decidedly unpopular concepts into the debate. He offended religious conservatives with his support for the de-veiling of women at a Loya Jirga, and further consternated them when he demanded that they show him a line in the Koran which obligates women to wear the veil. They couldn't, so when they continued to protest, Daoud had them jailed for a week. He also moved gradually closer to the Soviet end of the world balance of power, though he continued to give full support to the American efforts (read: investments) going on in the Helmand Valley.
Daoud's drift toward Moscow was partly a result of his hostile relations with Pakistan, and in one of those chain-reaction kind of things, it helped to drive the Pakistanis deeper into the American sphere. The Pashtunistan issue, which had never really died, was to provide a never-ending source of things to disagree (and occasionally shoot at one another) about:
- 1955: Kruschev visits Kabul, promises US$100 million in aid
- 1955: Afghanistan refuses to sign on to U.S.-sponsored Baghdad Pact of allied Muslim nations, takes $25 million in Soviet military aid instead
- 1953-1958: Border closed on at least two occasions due to turmoil over realignment of Pakistan's internal political structure
- 1960: Daoud launches a poorly planned, poorly executed invasion to force the Pashtunistan issue before newly-installed strongman (est. 1958) General Mohammad Ayub Khan; Afghani forces routed despite outrageous propaganda to the contrary
- 1961: Traffic between the two nations is severed just as the grape and pomegranate crop is ready for transport to India; Soviets win propaganda war over who cares more
- 1963: Daoud, who probably could have resisted, defers to the King's request that he resign over the fact that his obsession with Pashtunistan had wrecked the economy
Though the King appointed a couple of different Prime Ministers over the next ten years, the departure of the last of the Musahibans truly marked the point at which Zahir Shah - on the throne lo, these 20 years now - finally was able to govern according to his own wishes. His liberal intent became clear only two weeks after Daoud's departure, when he convened a commission to re-draft the constitution, which he promulgated at a Loy Jirga in 1964. Some issues played well in Pashtunistan (like a significant shrinking of royal family, but not kingly, power), but there was significant consternation of many sticking points:
Although a lengthy debate ensued over whether the word Afghan should be used to denote all citizens of Afghanistan (many people regarded it as a reference only to Pashtuns), the loya jirgah agreed that this term should apply to all citizens. The constitution identified Islam as "the sacred religion of Afghanistan," but it was still necessary to persuade many conservative members that their religion had been enshrined in the constitution. Although Article 64 decreed that no law could be enacted that was "repugnant to the basic principles" of Islam, Article 69 defined laws as a resolution passed by the houses of parliament and signed by the king, with sharia to be used when no such law existed.
Weird Historical Sidenote: Time has an interesting (but copyrighted) slideshow of Afghan women through the 60s and 70s here
The new constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with significant opportunity for public input and political dissent, but the government it set up leaned quite heavily toward the "monarch" side of the "constitutional monarchy" equation. Still, it allowed for the formation of opposition parties, and on January 1, 1965, a group of Marxist-Leninists with avowed pro-Moscow leanings founded the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Led by some of those disaffected activists from the heady days of the early 50s hinted at above, the PDPA won four seats in parliamentary elections later that year. One of those men, Mohammad Tariki, even started a short-lived (read: one-month) communist newspaper, Khalq (Masses).
But alas, alliances are tenuous things in Afghanistan:
In 1967, only a year and a half after its founding, the PDPA had split into several factions. The two most important of these were the Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Taraki and the Parcham (Banner) faction headed by [Barak] Karmal. Although the split was couched in ideological terms, it was largely due to personality differences between Taraki and Karmal and to their respective preferences in organizing tactics. Taraki favored a Leninist-type party based on the working class, while Karmal wanted a broad democratic front. Supporters of Khalq were primarily Pashtuns from rural Afghanistan, while Parchamis tended to be from urban areas, to come from a better socio-economic background than Khalqis. Unlike the Khalqis, Parchamis included many non-Pashtuns who spoke Dari (Persian) in their ranks.
The monarchy did not treat both factions equally. Karmal's Parcham faction was allowed to publish its own newspaper, Parcham, for more than a year (from March 1968 to July 1969) while the Khalq faction had its paper banned. As a result, Khalq accused Parcham of having connections with the king and bitterly denounced its rival as the "Royal Communist Party."
The factionalizing at the party organization level was representative of the country as a whole (politically speaking) during the period from 1963 to 1973. The King was personally popular, but he didn't support his own Prime Ministers and - unsurprisingly - found dealing with an Afghan representative parliament much like trying to herd cats. So it was that as hardy hippies made their across the country on their way to Shangri-La (or Kathmandu, or Goa, or?), and Afghans themselves grew restless at the pace of the non-change, Muhammad Daoud plotted to set things right again.
(Historiorant:The Wikipedia entry on Zahir Shah is really unflattering: It lists his primary achievements as sustaining the Helmand Valley Project and seeing to it that a grand total of 50 kilometers of roads in the entire country had been paved with asphalt. Lonely Planet has a great set of rights-reserved posters by Stephanie Victor at their site, showing some pretty harsh devastation that's been wreaked upon the King's old palace)
The End of a 226-year Run
Daoud made his move by launching a nearly bloodless coup while the King was undergoing eye surgery in Italy. Throughout his reign, the King had often shown a love for Italy, and over the years acquired several properties there - which engendered a predictable reaction from his taxpaying subjects - and it was to Italy that he went into exile after abdicating in August. In so doing, he brought to an end both the Barakzai Dynasty and the monarchy established by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747, but history wasn't quite done with Zahir Shah just yet: after the demise of the Taliban, he was brought in to open the Loya Jirga of 2002, but was pressured by both representative voting and the United States not to seek a return to the throne. This was probably a sustainable stance for the U.S. to hold - the King was 88 at the time of the Loya Jirga, and by January of this year was reported to be bedridden and very ill.
Daoud had learned the lessons of his past mistakes; he wasn't prone to getting wild hairs over the Pashtunistan thing anymore. Rather, he concentrated on repressing leftists, promulgating a new constitution which declared an official end to the monarchy and the establishment of a presidential, single-party state, and playing the superpowers off one another to Afghanistan's advantage. His foreign policy (with regard to trade, anyway) was best summed up in one of his quotes:
Regrettably for the Soviet match industry, relations between the two countries deteriorated due to intransigence on both international policy- and personal levels. Leonid Brezhnev and Muhammad Daoud really didn't like one another; an April,1977, meeting between them in Kabul degenerated into little more than Afghanistan's venting of frustration with Soviet support for underground communist parties/potential armed insurgents, countered by Soviet anger over Afghan-U.S. relations that had warmed to the point that there were NATO "advisors" along the Soviet-Afghan frontier. Soviet support for a unification of the rival communist opposition parties, the Pacham and the Kahlq, continued unabated, leading Daoud to seek military cooperation somewhere else.
In particular, he turned to Egypt - which was already on Moscow's watch list of countries that were too uppity for its hegemonic tastes - by signing a treaty of military cooperation. Afghan troops began to undergo training under Egyptian supervision - and to the KGB, the point a which the camel's back gets broken had now been reached?
And so another week goes by, and I'm a day late in arriving at only the doorstep of a library I was supposed to have explored in some detail. Alas, this contextual stuff will be the end of me yet! Please forgive me, and overlook this transgression to tune in on Sunday at the regular bat-time for a nice, long look at the Soviet invasion, the Taliban, and maybe even something akin to an historioranter shouting "BREAKING!!!"
Apologies to those of you who might have been looking for this diary last night - in addition to a certain degree of distraction-inducing harriedness going on a around the Cave this weekend, there's a certain, special reason I wanted to delay this posting until Monday...just a hint: It has to do with all the dedications in the earlier parts of this series...
Historically hip entrances to the Cave of the Moonbat can be found at Daily Kos, Progressive Historians, Never In Our Names, and The Impeach Project
Maps (ethnolinguistic Afghanistan, Afghan provinces, and Pakistan) courtesy of rktect, who was kind enough to post them in the comments attached to my last Afghanistan diary.
Dar-ul-Aman, palace of King Amanullah via Institute for Resource and Security Studies' Health and Social Reconstruction in Afghanistan, Field Research in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 2004 (Photograph by IRSS Field Representatives Kerry Saner and Palwasha Kakar)
Other photo and image sources from the public domain at Wikipedia Commons