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  • 21 August, 2021

  • 15 Min Read

Afghanistan Civil War 2021

Afghanistan Civil War 2021

Historical Background

  • Afghanistan was never ruled by a single ruler. It has had a history of conquests by Alexander (330 BC), Mongol Empire (13th Century), Mughal conquests, Three Anglo-Afghan Wars (1839-1842; 1878 – 1880 and 1919 respectively), Panjdeh incident (which was an armed engagement between the Afghanistan and Russian Empire in 1885 and the first major incursion into Afghanistan by Russia), etc.

  • During the Modern era, 1973 Afghan coup d’etat occurred. In a relatively bloodless coup, King Mohammed Zahir Shah was deposed on 17 July 1973 and the Republic of Afghanistan was established and Monarchy was abolished.
  • The coup was executed by the then-Army commander and prince, Mohammed Daoud Khan who led forces in Kabul along with then-chief of staff General Abdul Karim Mustaghni to overthrow the monarchy while the King was convalescing abroad in Ischia, Italy.
  • Daoud Khan was assisted by leftist Army officers and civil servants from the Parcham faction of the PDPA, including Air Force colonel Abdul Qadir.
  • King Zahir Shah decided not to retaliate and he formally abdicated on August 24, remaining in Italy in exile. More than two centuries of royal rule (since the founding of the Durrani Empire in 1747) ended.

Saur Revolution, 1979

  • Saur Revolution aka April Revolution or April coup was a coup d'état (or self-proclaimed revolution) led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against the rule of Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27–28 April 1978.
  • Daoud Khan and most of his family were killed at the presidential palace by military officers in support of the PDPA.
  • The revolution resulted in the creation of a Soviet-aligned government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as President (General Secretary of the Revolutionary Council).
  • The revolution was ordered by PDPA member Hafizullah Amin, who would become a significant figure in the revolutionary government; at a press conference in New York in June 1978, Amin claimed that the event was not a coup but a revolution by the "will of the people".
  • The coup involved heavy fighting and resulted in many deaths.
  • The Saur Revolution was a significant event in Afghanistan's history, marking the onset of 43 years of conflict in the country.

The aftermath of the Saur Revolution, 1978

  • Power was thereafter shared by two Marxist-Leninist political groups, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party, which had earlier emerged from a single organization, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and had reunited in an uneasy coalition shortly before the coup.
  • Taraki’s government introduced many modernisation reforms that were considered too radical and left them unpopular, especially in the rural areas and with the traditional power structures.
  • The new government, which had little popular support, forged close ties with the Soviet Union, launched ruthless purges of all domestic opposition, and began extensive land and social reforms that were bitterly resented by the devoutly Muslim and largely anti-communist population.
  • Insurgencies arose against the government among both tribal and urban groups, and all of these—known collectively as the mujahideen (Arabic: muj?hid?n, “those who engage in jihad”)—were Islamic in orientation.
  • The communist party itself experienced deep internal rivalries between the Khalqists and Parchamites; in September 1979, People's Democratic Party General Secretary Nur Mohammad Taraki was assassinated under orders of the second-in-command, Hafizullah Amin, which soured relations with the Soviet Union.
  • With fears rising that Amin was planning to switch sides to the United States, the Soviet government, under leader Leonid Brezhnev, decided to deploy the 40th Army across the border on 24 December 1979.

Soviet-Afghan War: Deployment of Soviet Army (1979 – 89)

  • The Soviet-Afghan War was a conflict wherein insurgent groups (known collectively as the Afghan mujahideen), as well as smaller Maoist groups, fought a nine-year guerrilla war against the Soviet Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government throughout the 1980s, mostly in the Afghan countryside.
  • Arriving in the capital Kabul, the Soviet army staged a coup (Operation Storm-333), killing General Secretary Amin and installing Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal from the rival faction Parcham. The Soviet invasion was based on the Brezhnev Doctrine. Later Babrak Karmal was installed as the new President who was a Soviet Ally.
  • But the Mujahideen rebellion grew in response. The Soviets initially left the suppression of the rebellion to the Afghan army, but the latter was beset by mass desertions and remained largely ineffective throughout the war.
  • This intervention was seen as an invasion by the USA and other western nations.
  • While the Soviet army had control of the cities and towns, the insurgency groups called the Mujahideen had the rural parts of Afghanistan under their control.
  • A bitter war was fought between both groups. The Soviet Union, which had planned to stay in for 6 months to a year in Afghanistan found itself stuck in a war that was proving to be too costly.
  • The Mujahideen did not relent in their pursuit to ‘drive out the Soviets. They had the support of many countries like the USA, Pakistan, China, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
  • They were given assistance like arms and training needed to fight the Soviets.
  • The soviets followed a policy of wiping out the rural regions in order to defeat the Mujahideen. Millions of land mines were planted and important irrigation systems were destroyed.
  • As a result, millions of Afghan refugees took refuge in Pakistan and Iran. Some came to India as well. It is estimated that in the Soviet-Afghan war, about 20 lakh Afghan civilians were killed.
  • In 1987, after the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, he announced that his government would start withdrawing troops.

Geneva Accords (1988)

  • The Geneva Accords, known formally as the agreements on the settlement of the situation relating to Afghanistan, were signed on 14 April 1988 at the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the United States and the Soviet Union serving as guarantors.
  • The accords consisted of several instruments: a bilateral agreement between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of Afghanistan on the principles of mutual relations, in particular on non-interference and non-intervention; a declaration on international guarantees, signed by the Soviet Union and the United States; a bilateral agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the voluntary return of Afghan refugees; and an agreement on the interrelationships for the settlement of the situation relating to Afghanistan, signed by Pakistan and Afghanistan and witnessed by the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • The agreements also contained provisions for the timetable of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
  • It officially began on 15 May 1988 and ended on 15 February 1989, thus putting an end to a nine-year-long Soviet occupation and Soviet-Afghan War.
  • The United States reneged on an agreement it had made, with White House clearance, albeit aloofness, in December 1985 to stop the supply of arms to the mujahideen through Pakistan once the Soviet withdrawal was complete.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev felt betrayed, but the Soviet Union was determined to withdraw and so the accords were supplanted with a contradictory "understanding" that the arms supply would continue.

  • The final soviet troops were withdrawn on 15 February 1989.
  • The Afghan resistance, or mujahideen, were neither party to the negotiations nor to the Geneva accords and so refused to accept the terms of the agreement. Now, the government of Afghanistan was left alone to fight the Mujahideen.
  • As a result, the civil war continued after the completion of the Soviet withdrawal. The Soviet-backed regime of Mohammad Najibullah failed to win popular support, territory, or international recognition but was able to remain in power until 1992 when it collapsed and was overrun by the mujahideen.
  • In April 1992 various rebel groups, together with newly rebellious government troops, stormed the besieged capital of Kabul and overthrew the communist president, Najibullah, who had succeeded Karmal in 1986.
  • Again, the Mujahideen had different factions within and they could not agree on power sharing. The country collapsed into a bloody civil war.

Afghan Civil War (1989 – 1996)

  • This article covers Afghan history from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan on 15 February 1989 until 27 April 1992, the day after the proclamation of the Peshawar Accords proclaiming a new interim Afghan government which was supposed to start serving on 28 April 1992.
  • Mujahideen groups, some of them more or less united in the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen, in the years 1989–1992 proclaimed their conviction that they were battling the hostile "puppet regime" of the Republic of Afghanistan in Kabul.
  • In March 1989, the mujahideen groups Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin and Ittihad-e Islami in cooperation with the Pakistani ISI Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) attacked Jalalabad but they were defeated by June.
  • In March 1991, a mujahideen coalition quickly conquered the city of Khost. In March 1992, having lost the last remnants of Soviet support, President Mohammad Najibullah agreed to step aside and make way for a mujahideen coalition government.
  • One mujahideen group, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, refused to confer and discuss a coalition government under the Pakistani-sponsored Peshawar Peace Accords and invaded Kabul.
  • This kicked off a civil war, starting on 25 April 1992, between initially three, but within weeks five or six mujahideen groups or armies.
  • On 25 April 1992, a civil war had ignited between three, later five or six, mujahideen armies, when Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) refused to form a coalition government with other mujahideen groups and tried to conquer Kabul for themselves. After four months, already half a million residents of Kabul had fled the heavily bombarded city.
  • In the following years, several times some of those militant groups formed coalitions and often broke them again.
  • By mid-1994, Kabul's original population of two million had dropped to 500,000.

Rise of Taliban

  • Partly as a response, the Taliban (Pashto for “Students”), a puritanical Islamic group led by a former mujahideen commander, Mohammad Omar, emerged in the fall of 1994.
  • In 1995–96, the new militia the Taliban, supported by Pakistan and ISI, had grown to be the strongest force. Many of them were trained in Pakistan when they were in refugee camps.
  • By late 1994, the Taliban had captured Kandahar, in 1995 they took Herat, in early September 1996 they took Jalalabad, and eventually, in late September 1996, they captured Kabul. By 1998, almost entire Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban.
  • Fighting would continue the following years, often between the now dominant Taliban and other groups.
  • The Islamic State of Afghanistan government remained the recognized government of Afghanistan by most of the international community, the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan however received recognition from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. The defence minister of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud, created the United Front (Northern Alliance) in opposition to the Taliban.
  • The United Front included all Afghan ethnicities: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmens, some Pashtuns and others.
  • Many of the Mujahideen warlords fled to the north of the country and joined the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban.
  • This time, Russia lent support to the Northern Alliance, though they were fighting against them earlier.
  • During the conflict, the Taliban received military support from Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan militarily intervened in Afghanistan, deploying battalions and regiments of its Frontier Corps and Army against the United Front.
  • Al Qaeda supported the Taliban with thousands of imported fighters from Pakistan, Arab countries, and Central Asia.
  • The Taliban ruled the country under strict interpretation of the Sharia law and many of the progress with regard to women and education which the country had seen earlier, were reversed.
  • Girls were forbidden from attending schools and women were banned from working.
  • The Taliban-ruled country also became a safe haven for international terrorists.
  • Only Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia recognised the Taliban government.

9/11 Attacks and invasion by the USA

  • Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, carried out the largest terror attack ever conducted on US soil. Four commercial airliners were hijacked. Two are flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, which collapses. One hits the Pentagon building in Washington, and one crashes into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
  • In 2001, a US-led coalition defeated the Taliban in response to 9/11 and US attacks of 2001 and established another government in place.
  • After the initial objectives were completed, a coalition of over 40 countries (including all NATO members) formed a security mission in the country called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, succeeded by the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in 2014) of which certain members were involved in military combat allied with Afghanistan's government.
  • The war mostly consisted of Taliban insurgencies fighting against the Afghan Armed Forces and allied forces; the majority of ISAF/RS soldiers and personnel are American.
  • The war was code-named by the US as Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–2014) and Operation Freedom's Sentinel (2015–2021).
  • Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, then-de facto ruling Afghanistan, hand over Osama bin Laden.
  • The Taliban's refusal to extradite him led to Operation Enduring Freedom; the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies were mostly defeated in the country by US-led forces, and the Northern Alliance which had been fighting the Taliban since 1996.
  • At the Bonn Conference, new Afghan interim authorities (mostly from the Northern Alliance) elected Hamid Karzai to head the Afghan Interim Administration.
  • The United Nations Security Council established the ISAF to assist the new authority with securing Kabul.
  • A nationwide rebuilding effort was also made following the end of the Taliban regime.

Reorganization of Taliban

  • Following defeat in the initial invasion, the Taliban was reorganized by Mullah Omar and launched an insurgency against the Afghan government in 2003.
  • Insurgents from the Taliban and other groups waged asymmetric warfare with guerrilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces.
  • The Taliban exploited weaknesses in the Afghan government to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan.
  • From 2006 the Taliban made further gains and showed an increased willingness to commit atrocities against civilians; ISAF responded by increasing troops for counter-insurgency operations to "clear and hold" villages. Violence escalated from 2007 to 2009.
  • Troop numbers began to surge in 2009 and continued to increase through 2011 when roughly 140,000 foreign troops operated under ISAF and US command in Afghanistan.
  • NATO leaders in 2012 commenced an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces and later the United States announced that its major combat operations would end in December 2014, leaving a residual force in the country.
  • On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended ISAF combat operations in Afghanistan and officially transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government. The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support was formed the same day as a successor to ISAF.

Doha Peace Deal

  • On 29 February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a conditional peace deal in Doha which required that US troops withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months so long as the Taliban cooperated with the terms of the agreement not to "allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including Al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies".
  • Additionally, insurgents belonging to al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and ISIL-K would continue to operate in parts of the country.
  • The Afghan government was not a party to the deal and rejected its terms regarding release of prisoners.

  • After Joe Biden became president, he moved back the target withdrawal date from April 2021 to 11 September 2021 and then to 31 August 2021.
  • During the 2021 offensive, the Taliban took over Afghanistan. On 15 August 2021, the president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani fled to Tajikistan and the Taliban declared victory and the war over.
  • According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, as of April 2021, the war has killed 171,000 to 174,000 people in Afghanistan; 47,245 Afghan civilians, 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan military and police and at least 51,000 opposition fighters.
  • Between 2001 and 2021, Afghanistan experienced improvements in health, education and women's rights.
  • According to the U.N, after the 2001 invasion, more than 5.7 million former refugees returned to Afghanistan, however, since the renewed Taliban offensive of 2021, 2.6 million Afghans remain refugees or have fled, mostly in Pakistan and Iran, and another 4 million Afghans remain internally displaced persons within the country.

Source: Aspire IAS Newspaper Notes

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