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Thermidor in Afghani revolution

1. The leaders of the mujahideen

A civil war starts in the summer 1978. It is headed by the feudal landlords, the comprador capitalists, and the Islamic mullahs. To explain the meaning of these terms, it may be appropriate to give a characteristic of three leaders of the mujahideen.

Gul'budin Hekmatiyar - born in 1944 in a family of a large landowner. Studied in the engineering department of the Kabul university. According to the people who knew him at the time, his views were characterized by elements of patriotism, thinking about a progressive future for Afghanistan. In 1972 he was jailed for speaking sharply against the royal family and the aristocracy. In 1973 he was freed, after the anti-monarchist coup.

G.H. became a leader of the opposition Islamic movement when in 1973-75 there were repressions against the Islamists, after the order of M. Daud. In 1976, after an unsuccessful attempt at rebelion, he emigrated to Pakistan where, on the basis of radical "Muslim brothers" and "Muslim youth" he created Islamic Party of Afghanistan (IPA). He obtained financial help from Pakistani Secret Service. In 1979 he visited Iran, where he met with Ayatollah Khomeini.

In the course of the civil war, he became an extreme Pushtun nationalist. His eccentric character put him into a somewhat isolated position among other leaders of Afghani opposition.

In 1980's howned jewelry factories, factories which produce pumps and china. He controled drug-producing fields around Jalalabad and Khowst (in the south of the country)  and labs for heroin production. In Peshawar, Pakistan, where the leaders of the opposition were headquartered, he owned 150 rickshaws. By appropriating money from the funds which are meant to supply food, clothes and medicine for Afghani refugees, he bought stocks of large companies, deposits hundreds of thousands of dollars in Western European and American banks. For example, the "American Express Bank" in Basel, Switzerland, in February and March of 1987 accepted 245 thousand dollars form G.H. Part of his money is in "Habib Bank", Pakistan. He also sold medicine, clothing, etc. meant for the refugees.

Rabbani - till April 1978 he was a major exporter of rugs, and also involved in smuggling. In Pakistan, he owned a factories for carpet and fabric production, as well as a chicken farm. These bring him profit of 20 million rupiahs. He is also involved in smuggling commodities and drugs in Pakistan and Iran. He is one of the largest suppliers of opium and heroine into Muslim countries. Also, involved in smuggling precious stones from Badakhshān (a province of Afghanistan, located in the extreme northeastern part of the country, see map above) and  Panjshir (a valley 60 miles northeast of Kabul, controlled till 2001, by Ahmad Shah Masud (1953-2001), called the "Lion of Panjshir").

Appropriated large sums of money meant for Afghani refugees. For example, from the end of 1988 to beginning of 1989, his personal accounts in the USA and Western Europe were increased by 600 million Pakistani rupiahs. In Pakisan, he owned underground drugs laboratories.

Mojaddedi - owns "Mojaddedi goods transport company". He bought the company for 750 thousand dollars using the money stolen from Afghani refugee funds. One of his sons, Azizullah, was killed by IPA of G. Hekmatiyar, which is a reason for personal hatred between these two. Members of his clan used to cooperate with British "Intelligence service".

When refugees in two camps protested against the conditions they were living in, they were suppressed by the gangs subordinated to Mojaddedi. They were accused of betrayal and shot. (On photograph: Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan).

Thus, what is common to leaders of the mujahideen: 1) stealing money and goods from Afghan refugee funds (The rank-and-file mujahideen resented their leaders in Peshawar, Pakistan. According to one source, only 1/6 of all the money from the funds actually reached the refugees. Today, the situation is similar, or even worse, with the U.N. humanitarian organizations); 2) involvement in illegal activities such as smuggling, money laundering, drugs production. That is why we can call them "comprador capitalists".

2. The Afghani Thermidor

In the summer of 1978, the Parcham attempted to wrest power from the Khalq by means of a coup. M.F. Slinkin writes:

"As the accused testified, the goal of the coup was to remove the Khalqi government, which, in their opinion, was "above the people", "turned away from the path of socialism", to introduce to power a wider spectrum of political and social forces in the framework of a "united national front", "to create a regime which could satisfy the desires of majority of the people", and then insert certain changes into the foreign policy of Afghanistan, which would allow it to obtain "the support of all states of the world"

Some Parchamis were jailed and some were sent out of the country, for example as ambassadors to other states. This was a mistake, as they later came back on Soviet tanks and hunted down the Khalqis.

Factions within the PDPA were forbidden by a special decree of CC PDPA. This had the effect of focusing the power in the hands of the leaders of Khalq. This suppression of internal party democracy is similar to a decree passed by the Bolshevik party in 1920, forbidding factions within the party. This had the effect of stifling life inside the party. (On the photograph: Amin, on the left, and Taraki, on the right, a month and a half before the murder of Taraki).

In the summer of 1978, the cult of Taraki began to appear, promoted by Amin: money with his face were printed, in the newspaper photographs he appeared larger than other people, at the party meetings at least five posters with his portrait were hung, museums were organized in the houses where he used to live, etc. Again, we notice a similarity with the Bolshevik party, in which first we see the cult of Lenin, and later Stalin.

Under the pressures of the civil war, the leaders of Afghanistan turned to the USSR for help. They asked for military equipment and army units, pointing that the opposition was getting both men and equipment, coming over the border with Pakistan and Iran. But the Soviet leaders, eager for "detente", refused to send army units into Afghanistan, limiting help to advisors and equipment.

In the town Herat, there was a military rebellion, put down with violence. In these circumstances, Amin and Taraki fall out with each other. As Taraki left for a conference in Cuba, Amin removed from power 4 high-ranking army officers, loyal to Taraki. They found a refuge in the Soviet embassy. (On the photo: Taraki and Brezhnev at a meeting.)

"Upon returning from his trip in Cuba, on a stop over and conversations with Soviet leaders in Moscow, Taraki was warned one more time about the suspicious activity of Amin. He heard from Brezhnev and Andropov (chief of KGB) news which made him think: while he was out Amin removed from power the people most loyal to Taraki.

The Soviet leaders wanted to send for security of the General Secretary of PDPA a "Muslim" platoon. Major Kh. Khalbaev on 10 September was told to hand over all the documents, party and Komsomol I.D.'s, and to go to Tashkent airport, where the soldiers would dress into Afghani military uniform and fly over to Kabul. But when the platoon arrived at the airport, there was a reverse order. It seems that Andropov convinced Brezhnev and Taraki not to send the platoon, as Amin was going to be "neutralized" in the nearest future. However, the plot to kill Amin failed because when he went to airport to meet his "teacher", he took a different road from the one where there was an ambush. Hence, upon arriving to Kabul, Taraki saw his smiling successor."

Taraki invited Amin over to his residence. A shootout occurred in the residence of Taraki, and Amin managed to escape in a car. Amin has had control over the army, and so the Kabul garrison came into the city, surrounded the residence of Taraki, and eventually Taraki was suffocated.

In the evening Amin conducted a meeting of the CC PDPA, and then, in the morning, a plenum of the CC. The meeting was conducted by secretary of the CC PDPA the minister of foreign affairs Shah Vali. Taraki and his comrades were dismissed from all their posts and denied their party membership. Amin was elected as General Secretary.

After the murder of Taraki, there was a terror in the party and the army to remove all of Taraki supporters. Here is a Soviet Politburo report dated 31 December 1979:

Top Secret

CC CPSU

Regarding events in Afghanistan

After a coup-d'etat and the murder of the CC PDPA General Secretary and Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan N.M. Taraki, committed by Amin in September of this year, the situation in Afghanistan has been sharply exacerbated and taken on crisis proportions.

H. Amin has established a regime of personal dictatorship in the country, effectively reducing the CC PDPA and the Revolutionary Council to the status of entirely nominal organs. The top leadership positions within the party and the state were filled with appointees bearing family ties or maintaining personal loyalties to H. Amin. Many members from the ranks of the CC PDPA, the Revolutionary Council and the Afghan government were expelled and arrested. Repression and physical annihilation were for the most part directed towards active participants in the April revolution, persons openly sympathetic to the USSR, those defending the Leninist norms of intra-party life. H. Amin deceived the party and the people with his announcements that the Soviet Union had supposedly approved of Taraki's expulsion from party and government.

By direct order of H. Amin, fabricated rumors were deliberately spread throughout the DRA, smearing the Soviet Union and casting a shadow on the activities of Soviet personnel in Afghanistan, who had been restricted in their efforts to maintain contact with Afghan representatives.

At the same time, efforts were made to mend relations with America as a part of the "more balanced foreign policy strategy" adopted by H. Amin. H. Amin held a series of confidential meetings with the American charge d'affaires in Kabul. The DRA government began to create favorable conditions for the operation of the American cultural center; under H. Amin's directive, the DRA special services have ceased operations against the American embassy.

H. Amin attempted to buttress his position by reaching a compromise with leaders of internal counter-revolution. Through trusted persons he engaged in contact with leaders of the Moslem fundamentalist opposition…

Just during the period following the events of September, more than 600 members of the PDPA, military personnel and other persons suspected of anti-Amin sentiments were executed without trial or investigation. In effect, the objective was to liquidate the party.

All this, in conjunction with objective difficulties and conditions specific to Afghanistan, put the progress of the revolutionary process in extremely difficult circumstances and energized the counter-revolutionary forces which have effectively established their control in many of the country's provinces. Using external support, which has taken on increasingly far-reaching proportions under Amin, they strived to bring about radical change in the country's military-political situation and liquidate the revolutionary gains.

Dictatorial methods of running the country, repressions, mass executions, and disregard for legal norms have produced widespread discontent in the country. In the capital numerous leaflets began to appear, exposing the anti-people nature of the current regime and containing calls for unity in the struggle with "H. Amin's clique." Discontent also spread to the army. A significant number of officers have expressed dismay at the domination of H. Amin's incompetent henchmen. In essence, a broad anti-Amin front was formed in the country.

M.F. Slinkin explains the situation in the army:

"Massive discontent was most typical for the army. It manifested in various forms: sharp decline of trust towards PDPA and the existing power, a refusal to fight against peaceful population, massive desertions, splitting up of the officers corps, appearance of underground groups among the officers whose goal was bringing down the Amin regime, contacts between the army underground and civilian opposition within the party, and finally open anti-Amin uprisings by the soldiers."
One more episode opens up to us the the true character of Amin:
Because of massive repressions and injustices a number of Pushtun tribes rebelled. Amin ordered bombing them from air. When he was criticized by Soviet advisors for bombing and destroying the entire tribes, he calmly said: "You don't know our people! If some tribe has taken up arms, it will not put down the weapons. The only solution is destroying all, from young to old! Such are our traditions". In the cabinet of Amin there was a portrait of Stalin, who supposedly was his demi-god. He liked to say: "Comrade Stalin taught us how to build socialism in a backward country: first, it will be painful, but later it will be very good!"
So, essentially Amin was Afghanistan's Stalin. The coup against Taraki is Afghani Thermidor.

3. Soviet decision to invade

It is necessary to understand the peculiarity of how the Soviet bureaucracy functions to understand why a decision was taken to invade AfghanistanAmin ignored a message from the Politburo of Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and personally from L.I. Brezhnev to let Taraki live.

"But there was an unwritten rule - to communicate only that information which made 'the supreme leader' feel comfortable, to offer only that data which would correspond to the conceptions of rulers themselves about the situation in this or that country, and thus confirm their clairvoyance. Usually, people attempted to 'tail the wind', finding out in a number of ways the opinion of the leaders and acting in accordance with this opinion.

On 8th December in the cabinet of L.I. Brezhnev there was a meeting in which a narrow circle of the members of Politburo of CPSA took part: Yu. Andropov (head of the KGB), A. Gromiko (Secretary of State), M. Suslov (head of ideology department), and D. Ustinov (head of the army). They discussed "pros" and "cons" of putting the Soviet troops into Afghanistan for a long time. Arguments for need of such a measure were offered by Yu. Andropov and D. Ustinov: the CIA attempted to create a "New Great Muslim Empire", which would include the southern republics of the USSR, there was no credible air defense system in the south, which would endanger strategic objects, including the spaceport Baikonur, if the USA managed to place its "Pershing" missiles in Afghanistan, the possibility of Pakistan and Iran using the Afghani uranium mines for producing nuclear weapons, opposition imposing its rule in the northern regions of Afghanistan and uniting this region with Pakistan, etc.

No one spoke "against". Each of the members of Politburo knew what disagreement with the opinion of the General Secretary of CC CPSU meant, and hence all his proposals were "unanimously approved". There was a principle of mutual cover-up. Noticeably, A.N. Kosigyn was absent from the meeting, whose position on the question was negative...

Brezhnev, in spite of decline in critical thinking, was deeply affected by this event. Most of all, he was enraged by the fact that just on 10th September he spoke with Taraki, promised him help and support, and said that the Soviet Union has a complete trust in him. "What a scum bag this Amin, to stifle a man with whom he participated in revolution. Who is at the head of the Afghani revolution?", he asked, "And what will they say in other countries? Is it possible to trust the words of Brezhnev when his assurances of support and defense remain empty words?" Andropov told me these words, and Brezhnev said the same thing in the presence of Ustinov.

And so, the leaders made a decision for the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan.
First, elite units of KGB removed Amin from power. On the photograph: the soldiers who stormed the palace of Amin (for a detailed account of this "Spetsnaz" operation, see Lyakhovsky, "The tragedy and valor of Afghanistan", ch.2 and 3). The "Parcham" faction of PDPA was literally wheeled into Kabul on Soviet armed personnel carriers. In the words of Mark Fischer of "Weekly Worker", #403, 11 October 2001"When it eventually came in December 1979 Soviet fraternal aid took the form of a counterrevolutionary defense of the revolution". This indicates the contradictory character of the Soviet Union. (Similar dynamic is now in play in Syria, with the difference that the regime of Assad is much worse than the regime of Amin.)

The "Parcham" in power

The Parchami regime, first of Karmal, later of Najibullah, was unpopular for a number of reasons. First, the Khalqis who were the most active participants in the revolution, were repressed. The Khalqis accused the Parchamis of using them as canon fodder in the army. From a Soviet military report, January 1981:

In the Afghani army a discrimination against officers who used to belong to the Khalqi wing of the party continues. Towards them there are provocations, those who distinguished themselves are not rewarded, they are not promoted, there are attempts even to demote them...

Meanwhile, the sons of prominent Parchamis were exempt from the military service.

In 1980 alone, 24 thousand soldiers of DRA deserted. According to "Encyclopedia Encarta", "In 1978 the Afghan army numbered 110,000 men, but desertions reduced it to 50,000 by 1986." The fighting morale of the army was low. The Soviet army was demoralized as well. A Soviet general writes about his men:

They turned out to be unprepared and uninstructed for action in mountains and deserts, especially at night; also they showed poor physical and moral hardiness. In the mountains they had to carry 30-40 kg of weight, sometimes a few days. Especially poor performance was shown by reservists called to duty (the officers and junior commanders), who sometimes appeared simply helpless.
The second reason why Parchamis were unpopular is their social origin. General Gareev writes:
The Parchamis, which represented mostly the bourgeois circles of intelligentsia, were even further from the people then the Decembrists in Russia (sons of liberal landlords who attempted to overthrow the tsar in XIX century)
The third reason for low popularity of Parchamis was going back on popular economic reforms:
"The land reform was stopped. The land was returned to a number of large landowners, they were given support from the side of the government. The consequences of terror and repressions were reversed (15 thousand people were freed, property was returned to those who lost because of illegal confiscation). The peasants obtained the seeds and fertilizers, additional credit to buy agricultural machinery... The relations between the government and national entrepreneurs were strengthened. They were given back the control over trade of staple goods, and also the customs tariffs were lowered. Private investments into industrial production were promoted."

Thus, the economic measure favored the well-to-do peasants, and even the large landlords. They took away from the poor peasants the land they just gained. The Parchamis championed the interests of the "national entrepreneurs", but they worsened the living standards of the population in general.

However, we can not say that the Parchamis were totally unpopular. For example, the women understood that with the coming to power of the "jihadists", their situation in the society will be much worse. On the picture, we see Afghan women militia in Kabul in 1989, i.e. after the Soviet withdrawal.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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