24 May 2010

Bob Feldman : A People's History of Afghanistan / 7

Demonstration at Kabul University, late 1970. Photo by Louis Dupree / BBC.

Part 7: 1968-1976
A People’s History of Afghanistan

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / May 14, 2010

[If you're a Rag Blog reader who wonders how the Pentagon ended up getting stuck "waist deep in the Big Muddy" in Afghanistan (to paraphrase a 1960s Pete Seeger song) -- and still can't understand, "what are we fighting for?" (to paraphrase a 1960s Country Joe McDonald song) -- this 15-part "People's History of Afghanistan" might help you debate more effectively those folks who still don't oppose the planned June 2010 U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan? The series so far can be found here.]

Since Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, between 500 and 800 people have been killed by Pentagon drone attacks in Pakistan, as a by-product of the U.S. War Machine’s endless military intervention in Afghanistan. Yet much of the history of people in Afghanistan since 1968 may not still be widely known, even by many readers of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.

In 1968, for example, when student revolts broke out in the United States at Columbia University, in France, in Mexico, and in other countries of the world, student revolts also broke out in Afghanistan and “student strikes that began in Kabul spread to provincial centers, where students who had returned to teach and work had become carriers of a new politically radicalized militancy,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History by Angelo Rasanayagam.

The following year, Afghan workers also struck for better pay and better working conditions in the few places in Afghanistan where some factories existed. Between 1965 and 1973, 2,000 meetings and demonstrations -- mostly led by activists of the secular leftist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA] factions/parties -- were held in Afghanistan which demanded more democratic reforms and modernization efforts in Afghanistan.

But right-wing Islamic opponents of democratic reforms and modernization efforts in Afghanistan also mobilized between 1965 and 1973 in Afghanistan . In 1971, for example, the University of Kabul “was closed for six months as a result of the bitter confrontation between Islamic and leftist radicals,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History. The same book also recalled that in the early 1970s in Afghanistan:
The Islamic backlash also took the form of attacks instigated by the mullahs on women wearing Western dress. They were incensed by the campaigns for female literacy and women’s rights led by the All-Afghanistan’s Women’s Council. According to a senior leader of the Council interviewed by George Arney, the mullahs declared in 1971 that women should stay in the house. Reactionaries sprayed acid on women’s faces when they came out in public without a veil. And when women wore stockings they shot at their legs with guns with silencers...
By the early 1970s, dozens of Afghan political groups existed on campus at the University of Kabul. In addition, around 2,500 people in Afghanistan were also members of the PDPA faction/party [Khalq] led by Noor Mohammad Taraki and 1,500 to 2,000 Afghans were members of the PDPA faction/party [Parcham] led by Babrak Karmal.

The number of people in Afghanistan who were members of the secular Maoist party was also between 1,500 and 2,000 in the early 1970s. But the Islamic party in Afghanistan still only had between 1,500 and 2,000 members. Yet, as James Lucas noted in an article titled “America’s Nation-Destroying Mission in Afghanistan," that was posted on March 5, 2010, on the www.antiwar.org site, “according to Roger Morris, National Security Council staff member, the CIA started to offer covert backing to Islamic radicals as early as 1973-1974.”

Nearly all the members of the PDPA faction/parties, the Maoist party and the Islamic party in Afghanistan in the early 1970s, however, were still just members of the educated urban middle class; and all of these political groups still did not have much of an organizational presence or mass base outside of Kabul, in the rural areas of Afghanistan.

Yet many people in the countryside were suffering from the effects of a drought in Afghanistan between 1964 and 1972, which developed into a famine in 1971 and 1972. One result of this famine in Afghanistan in 1971 and 1972 was that between 50,000 to 500,000 people starved to death. And 75 percent of Afghanistan ’s land was still owned by only three percent of Afghan’s rural population in 1973.

Backed by Afghan military officers, Mohammad Daoud (the brother-in-law of Afghan King Zahir Shah who had previously been the Afghan monarchical regime’s autocratic prime minister between 1953 and 1963) then seized control of the Afghan government from the Afghan king (who had been sitting on the throne since 1933) in a July 17, 1973 coup -- while Zahir Shah was on a holiday in Europe.

After his 1973 palace coup abolished the monarchy, Daoud next “set up an authoritarian regime which made the government isolated” and “moved rapidly to undermine all the representative institutions” in Afghanistan “and, in particular, Parliament,” according to Revolution Unending: Afghanistan: 1979 to the Present by Gilles Dorronsoro. The same book also recalled that “to avoid any challenge Daud systematically suppressed the opposition, both legal and illegal” in Afghanistan and “following the coup the former Prime Minister and leader of the social democratic Hezb-I Demokrat-I Mottarki party, Dr. Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, who had been in power in 1965-67, was arrested in September 1973 and executed.”

Yet long before the U.S. government began to covertly arm the anti-feminist Mujahideen guerrillas during the Democratic Carter Administration -- following the 1978 Afghan Saur ("April") Revolution and prior to the December 1979 Soviet government’s military intervention in Afghanistan -- even the non-communist, autocratic Daoud monarchical regime and the post-1973 non-communist Daoud authoritarian regime felt that it was in Afghanistan’s national economic interest to align itself with the Soviet Union during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. As Afghanistan : A Modern History recalled:
Economic hardships caused the Afghans to turn to the Soviets for help… A four-year barter agreement was signed in July 1950, with the Soviets providing petroleum products, cement, cotton cloth and other essentials in return for wool, raw cotton and other Afghan products. The Soviets also agreed to the free transit of Afghan exports through their territory, and offered to invest in oil exploration...
After lending the Afghan government money to construct a grain silo, a flour mill, and a bakery in Kabul in 1954, for example, the Soviet government followed up with loans for constructing an oil pipeline and three oil storage facilities, for road-building equipment, and for an asphalt factory and equipment to pave Kabul’s streets. Nearly $1.3 billion in Soviet economic assistance, mostly in the form of loans, was given to the non-communist Afghan government between 1956 and 1978; and an additional $110 million was received by the Afghan government from other Eastern bloc governments during the same period.

The U.S. government, in contrast, only began to provide some economic assistance to the non-communist, autocratic Afghan monarchical regime in 1956; and, after 1956, also began awarding some Afghan students grants to study at certain U.S. universities. But, according to James Lucas’s recent article, “America ’s Nation-Destroying Mission In Afghanistan”:
The CIA... recruited Afghan students in the U.S. to act as agents for them when they returned home. During this period at least one president of the Afghanistan Students Association (ASA), Zia H. Noorzay, was working with the CIA in the U.S. and later became president of the Afghanistan state treasury. One of the Afghan students whom Noorzay and the CIA tried in vain to recruit, Abdul Latif Hotaki, declared in 1967 that a good number of the key officials in the Afghanistan government who studied in the U.S. "are either CIA-trained or indoctrinated."
Coincidentally, the Afghanistan Student Association [ASA] also apparently received part of its funding from the CIA’s Asia Foundation conduit [on whose board sat then-Columbia University President Grayson Kirk] during the Cold War Era.

In addition, between the mid-1950s and 1978, the Teachers College of Columbia University -- under a U.S. Agency for International Development [AID] government contract -- was involved in training teachers, developing educational curriculum, and producing textbooks for the Daoud regime’s Ministry of Education in both Afghanistan, at the Ibn Sinn Teacher Training Institute in Kabul, and at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.

Military assistance was also given by the Soviet Union to the Afghan regime during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Between 1956 and 1978, for example, the Afghan government “received the equivalent of $1.24 million in military aid from the USSR, mostly in the form of credits” and “by 1978 some 3,725 Afghan military personnel had been trained in the Soviet Union,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History.

But after the Shah of Iran’s regime agreed to provide the Afghan government with $2 billion in economic aid in 1975 and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 1976, the Daoud regime apparently began to reverse Afghanistan ’s post-1950 policy of aligning with the Soviet Union.

Next: “A People’s History of Afghanistan—Part 8: 1977-1978"

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s.]
  • Previous installments of "A People's History of Afghanistan" by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog can be found here.
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