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Mainstream, VOL LX No 1, New Delhi, December 18/December 25, 2021 (double issue)

Afghanistan in the historic context: From Saur Revolution and its Immediate Aftermath | Sumit Chakravartty

Friday 17 December 2021, by Sumit Chakravartty


Now that the Taliban have established their sway over the whole of Afghanistan after capturing the capital, Kabul, I am reminded of the days of 1979 and 1980 when the country was in a different set-up under the impact of the Saur (April) revolution that saw the end of the Zahir Shah and the Daud dynasties and the ushering in of the rule of People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). My first visit to Kabul was in August 1979 when an international peace conference was held in defence of the historic transformation in Afghanistan that was sought to be defeated by reactionary forces both inside and outside the country.

In July 1983, appeared my book on Afghanistan, titled Dateline Kabul: An Eyewitness Report on Afghanistan Today with a foreword by the eminent historian-scholar-and noted diplomat P.N. Haksar. In his foreword, he wrote:

“Afghanistan had to face the 20th Century with its most antiquated tribal structure and a mediaeval social and political order. Even attempts made by King Amanullah to bring about certain elements of modernization met with such reactions that he had to flee the country. Successive generations of younger, educated Afghans anxious to create a new Afghanistan were thus driven underground. In these circumstances the Saur Revolution was born without upheaval at the base of the society. A revolution from the top is always beset with difficulties. It had to find its roots or allow itself to be annihilated. The Soviet involvement in Afghanistan is connected with the decision not to allow the revolution to be annihilated.

“The historic problem in Afghanistan is whether the Government of Babrak Karmal will succeed in creating an appropriate social base for itself. It is in this context that the account given by Sumit Chakravartty is of extreme interest. It is sober, realistic and credible. Both his account and the interviews he has recorded disclose the anatomy of the new social processes set in motion in Afghanistan. It also shows that the Karmal Government in Afghanistan has a volition of its own and is engaged in bringing about a structural transformation of the mediaeval Afghan society.”

And he concluded the preface with the following words: “So far as we in India are concerned, our interests would be better served by the successes of the Karmal experiment than if it were to be snuffed out by a combination of mullahs and the atavism of Afghan society hag-ridden with its tribal feuds and Islamic fundamentalism.”

These words are highly valuable in the present context when Afghanistan has encountered tremendous changes and has been overrun by the Taliban.

Among the appendices included at the end of the book was an interview of Babrak Karmal, who was then the President of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, in February 1983. In the course of the interview, he said: “We want what the decisive majority of our people demand of us. That is to say, we want to safeguard the independence and freedom of our country and to ensure progress and prosperity for our homeland. We respect the religious sentiments of our compatriots and would endeavour to ensure with all available means conditions in which every working man of the country can live and work freely and happily, can have food, clothing and shelter and enjoy peace in the country and the happiness of his own family. In the context of the carrying out of national democratic reforms we have in hand, in spite of the continued undeclared war of imperialism and regional reaction against our country, short-term and long-term plans for the building of a new society in our country.”

Thereafter, he explained “it is natural that we need an atmosphere of peace, time and efficient, material and moral strength for liberating our people from the backwardness which is the result of the past rule of the anti-popular and reactionary regimes and an ominous legacy of the long sway of colonialism.

“To this end we will make use of cooperation of friends and the selfless and unconditional foreign assistance for the progress and advancement of our society. The traditional friendly relations which we have with India make us desire its assistance for developing our society in diverse fields as also an expansion of the scope of the present cooperation.”

After the end of the Karmal Government came the Government of Mohammad Najibullah. One had visited Afghanistan during Najibullah’s time and had met him. At that time, there was a lot of talk of UN troops being stationed in Afghanistan to oversee the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the country. When I asked him, if he agreed to that proposal, Najibullah opposed it on the ground that there was a saying in his language that they would not allow alien troops before the cave “because that becomes the den of the snake”. In 1992 Najibullah appealed to the U.S to help Afghanistan become a bulwark against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. He said: “If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many more years. Afghanistan will turn into a centre of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a centre for terrorism.” However, his warnings were ignored, as his daughter Muska Najibullah narrated and pointed out that “with the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in February 1989, virtually all Western nations abandoned their embassies and ostracized my father’s regime, calling him “a communist puppet, a murderer, a traitor. He found himself isolated, fighting a very lonely war.” A decade later, Muska noted: “his (Najibullah’s) premonitions came true. Triggered by the 9/11 attacks, the U.S invaded my country to fight Islamic terrorism and began what would be its longest war.” In this backdrop, Muska asked: “I wonder, had the world listened to him, would it all have turned out differently.”

This is the story of Afghanistan as we see it today. This is an integral part of its chequered history. I still remember my Afghan friends – Rahim Rafat (to whom I had dedicated my book on Afghanistan), Karim Haqooq and M. Yasin Bidar. Both Rafat and Haqooq used to work in the PDPA Central Committee’s International Department while Bidar was the correspondent of the Afghan news agency Bakhtar in New Delhi. I do not know where they are today. But like Muska Najibullah I too believe that they will one day return – soon, Inshallah!

End Note:

Saur Revolution --- It was carried out by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in April 1978. That is why it is also called April Revolution. The PDPA was at that time led by the Khalq (People) faction of the organisation and Nur Mohammad Taraqi was its leader. Soon, however, Taraqi was ousted from power which went into the hands of Hafizullah Amin. Amin remained in power till the end of 1979 when the Soviet troops entered Afghanistan to defend the revolution. The entry of the Soviet troops into Afghanistan took place on December 27, 1979. Just before that Amin was dislodged from power which was taken over by the Parcham (Banner) faction of the organisation and Babrak Karmal was elected its leader. Subsequently power was taken over from Karmal by Mohammad Najibullah who was elected as the new leader. Najibullah remained in power till September 1996 when the Taliban entered Kabul, and executed him after taking him captive from the UN headquarters where he was lodged at that time.

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