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The Afghanistan Crisis: A Historical Overview

In April 2021, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, announced that the military forces of the country would leave Afghanistan by September. Following this, the Taliban, which had already captured and contested territories across Afghanistan, ramped up attacks on the National Defense and Security forces of the country. Despite the ongoing peace talks with the Afghan government, the Taliban rapidly seized more territory. The US military started accelerating the pace of its withdrawal in May 2021 and withdrew about 95 per cent of its troops by July, leaving only 650 for the protection of the US embassy in Afghanistan.

The Taliban further seized several border crossings and threatened government-controlled urban areas, which extended to direct assaults on multiple urban areas, including Herat and Kandahar. One by one, the Taliban captured more than ten capitals leaving only Kabul, the only major urban area under the government's control. When Taliban fighters entered the capital on August 15, the president of Afghanistan fled the country, and the government of Afghanistan collapsed.

Meeting little resistance, the Taliban took control of Kabul, and chaos and fear gripped the city, with thousands of people trying to flee the country.

But how did Afghanistan come to such a situation of fear and chaos? What led an entire population to start feeling scared for their lives in their own country? The cause of the chain of events began when the Soviet Union invaded the country after an internal conflict in the country.

Afghanistan’s Internal Conflict

In 1978, an internal conflict began between the Afghan communist government and the anti-communist Islamic guerrillas that led to the overthrow of the government in 1992. In April 1978, the centrist government of President Mohammad Daud Khan was overthrown by the left-wing military officers led by Nur Mohammad Taraki. The power of the country was then shared by the People’s (Khalq) Party, and the Banner (Parcham) Party, two Marxist-Leninist political groups. Both of these groups emerged from a single organization, which is the People’s Democratic Party.

The newly formed government had little popular support and forged a close connection with the Soviet Union. This government launched ruthless purges of all the opposition that they faced domestically. They started extensive land and social reforms that were deeply resented by the majority Muslim and anti-communist population.

This led to the emergence of insurgents against the government among the urban and tribal groups alike, which came to be known as the Mujahideen. In Arabic, mujāhidūn means “those who engage in jihad." Along with these uprisings, there were also internal fighting and coups within the government between both parties.

Soviet Union’s Invasion and Departure

The uprisings along with the coup prompted the Soviet Union to invade the country in December 1979. The Soviets sent about 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and toppled the presidency of Hafizullah Amin, the leader people’s party.

Afghanistan was now led by a Banner Party leader Babrak Karmal. Due to the presence of the Soviet forces, nationwide rebellion by the Mujahideen grew and spread to all parts of the nation. The fighters in the Mujahideen had covert support from countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States.

Initially, the Soviet Union left the suppression of the rebellion to the Afghan army. However, the army remained largely ineffective throughout the war and was beset by mass desertions.

Soon, about 100,000 Soviet troops were controlling Afghanistan’s cities and larger towns, and the Mujahideen moved with relative freedom throughout the countryside. Soviet troops tried various tactics to crush the rebellion, but the insurgents often alluded to their attacks. So, the Soviets attempted to get rid of the Mujahideen’s civil support by depopulating and bombing the rural areas.

Due to these tactics by the Soviets, a large number of people fled from Afghanistan. About 2.8 million people sought asylum in Pakistan, while around 1.5 million Afghans fled to Iran.

However, the Mujahideen used shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles supplied by the United States and were eventually able to neutralize Soviet air power.

This guerrilla war by the mujahideen against the Soviet Union forces led to their departure in 1989, and the mujahideen ousted the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan. Subsequently, they established a transitional government. However, the efforts of the mujahideen remained uncoordinated throughout the war as they were fragmented politically into a handful of independent groups.

As the group had the support of Pakistan, the United States, and other countries, the quality of their arms and combat organization gradually improved. A huge number of Afghan Arabs travelled from all parts of the world to join this opposition. After losing about 15,000 of its soldiers, the Soviet Union signed an agreement with the United States, Pakistan, and

Afghanistan, through which the Soviets would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The withdrawal was completed in 1989, and Afghanistan returned to nonaligned status.

In 1992, several rebel groups along with the newly rebellious government troops overthrew the communist president of Afghanistan, Najibullah.

Afghanistan After 1992

After the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, a transitional government was formed. This government was sponsored by several rebel factions and proclaimed Afghanistan as an Islamic republic. However, this jubilation was short-lived, and Kabul slipped into chaos very soon.

The new government of Afghanistan had arranged a power-sharing arrangement. But President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was the leader of the Islamic Society, a major Mujahideen group, refused to leave office under the agreement.

Several other Mujahideen groups, primarily the Islamic Party, which was led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, began bombarding Kabul with artillery and rockets. These attacks continued for several years.

The Taliban

As a response to the ongoing chaos in the country, the Taliban emerged at the end of 1994. The puritanical Islamic group was led by Mohammad Omar, a former Mujahideen commander, and seized control of the country systematically. In 1996, the group occupied Kabul. The Taliban had volunteers from several Islamic extremist groups. Many of these groups were Afghan-Arab holdovers from the earlier conflict sheltering in Afghanistan.

The group soon controlled most of Afghanistan except a small portion of northern Afghanistan. The northern part of the country was held by the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of mujahideen forces.

Entry of the US and the Present Condition

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the government of The United States demanded the Taliban hand over the Saudi Arabian exile Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, an Islamic extremist group. Al-Qaeda had close ties with the Taliban and was accused of launching terrorist attacks against the US, which included the September 11 attacks.

However, the Taliban refused the demands of the US to extradite Laden. Hence, the US launched a series of military operations in Afghanistan in alliance with the Northern Alliance fighters. Through these operations, the US drove the Taliban from power by December of the same year.

In 2004, a republic was established in Afghanistan after a period of a transitional interim government. However, the newly formed government struggled to keep its ground and secure centralized authority over Afghanistan against the powerful and growing insurgency.

 The American and N.A.T.O. troops stayed in Afghanistan for two decades. However, as both the troops have now left the country, the Taliban is back in power after two decades. There has been strong resistance against the newly formed Taliban government by the public of Afghanistan. With the return of the Taliban in the country, the future of the nation looks hazy with a long fight ahead for the citizens of Afghanistan.


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