Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and left in utter defeat in February 1989. It is believed that 1.5 million Afghanistanis were killed. Soviet losses were estimated to be 15,000 killed. It was an extremely brutal war, marked by the largest use of anti-personnel mines since World War Two, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

The Soviets were defeated by a combination of mujahideen [a loose confederation of Afghanistani tribes], with massive covert support from the US, Pakistan, China and a number of Arab states. The mujahideen held to no particular ideology prevalent in the west, but rather were united by a desire to repel the invaders, and, generally, adhere to Islam.

The Soviet defeat and withdrawal left a huge power vacuum in its wake. Afghanistan was ruined. Almost immediately the tribal warlords began to contend for power and domination, but nine years of war left the country exhausted. Anarchy prevailed. A small group of tribal leaders formed the Taliban, who were initially perceived by the weary Afghanistanis to be “Robin Hoods.” At first they brought a degree of relative stability, peace, and the rule of law to Afghanistan after they destroyed the last of the warring tribal leaders.

Between 1989 and 1994 they emerged as the new rulers of Afghanistan. Afghanistan fell off the radar of the US as we reveled in the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the vaporous feeling of a new world of American hegemony. But, other countries and other people did not share our feelings of the end of almost forty years of Cold War.

Pakistan began to see the Soviet defeat and anarchy in Afghanistan as an opportunity to gain strategic dominance over Afghanistan and a shift in the geopolitical power equation in South Asia. Control over Afghanistan would give the Pakistanis and edge over its historic enemy, India. In the period before and after 1994, Pakistan supported the Taliban in very way possible: training, arms, schools, sanctuary, money, and cover. It fair to say that the Taliban that emerged after 1994 was a creation of Pakistan’s Interservice Intelligence Agency [ISI], known as Pakistan’s “CIA.” Except the ISI is deeply embedded within Pakistan’s army which runs the country. During this time the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, led the army and ISI in its support of the Taliban. 

The Cold War may have ended, but peace was as illusory as ever.

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