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In the nineteenth century Afghanistan emerged as a buffer state between the contending British Indian and tsarist Russian colonial empires. This overwhelmingly Muslim (more than 99 percent), landlocked nation covers an area of 647,500 square kilometers consisting primarily of rugged mountains, deep valleys, deserts, and arid plateaus. Situated in the heart ofAsia, it has been an important crossroads for diverse peoples and’their cultural and religious traditions. Neither the actual size nor the ethnic composition of the population is known because no complete national census has ever been taken. In 1986/87 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated the total population at 16.7 million, with I I million living inside Afghanistan, and 5.7 million who were then refugees (2.4 million in Iran, 3.2 million in Pakistan, and I million in other parts of the world). Since April 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet-installed Communist regime in Kabul, some refugees have returned to rural areas and provincial towns. However, continuing factional fighting among the Afghan Mujahidin (Islamist resistance groups) for control of Kabul has resulted in further displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, most of them to Pakistan.

Estimates of the proportions of ethnic groups (based on language and sectarian affiliation) in Afghanistanare highly contested and increasingly politicized. In the early 1970s, Louis Dupree (Afghanistan, Princeton, 1973, pp. 58-64), offered the following estimates: Pashtun, 47 percent; Tajik-Farsiwan-Aimaq, 35 percent; Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kirghiz, 8 percent; Hazara, 7 percent; Baluch-Barahui, 2.5 percent; and other Muslim and non-Muslim groups, including Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews, 0.5 percent. Based on Dupree’s estimates, Sunnis constitute 88 percent and Shi`is (primarily Imami and some Isma’ili) 12 percent of the Muslim population. Dupree used official information provided by the Pashtun-dominated government and assumed the total population to be about 14 million. At present, by contrast, the Shi’ i political groups claim that Shi’is constitute 20 to 25 percent of the national population and are demanding proportional representation.

Historically, Muslim Arab armies penetrated the region at the turn of the eighth century CE. Many Muslim empires rose in the area during the following centuries and expanded the frontiers of Islam into Central and South Asia. Modern Afghanistanis the remnant of one of the last such great Muslim empires in the region, the Durrani empire founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani (r. 1747-1772). The Durrani empire began to disintegrate at the turn of the nineteenth century owing to bloody struggles over succession as well as growing external military and political pressures. The prolonged fratricidal wars 1800-1880) encouraged British and Russian colonial encroachments, resulting in two Anglo-Afghan Wars (1839-1842 and 1879-1880) and considerable territorial losses. These civil wars and colonial interventions left powerful legacies, notably the increasing economic, military and technological dependence of Afghan governments on European colonial and postcolonial powers.

The effects of foreign assistance and interventions began immediately after the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1879-1880), when Britain installed Amir `Abd alRahman Khan (1880-1901), a member of the Muhammadzai branch of the Durranis. With substantial annual British subsidies and technical assistance, Amir `Abd alRahman, the “Iron Amir,” consolidated power over the entire country. Unlike his predecessors, Amir `Abd alRahman believed that his power as amir emanated directly from God rather than from the support of the people or tribal khans. He took the title Zi’ul Millati wal-Din (Light of the Nation and the Faith) and claimed that God’s purpose in honoring him with his “vice-regency” was to avert the threat of foreign aggression against Afghanistan and to safeguard it from further internal disturbances. He forcibly converted the peoples of Kafiristan, the only remaining indigenous non-Muslims in the country, and renamed their territory Nuristan (LandofLight). In an attempt to pacify the recalcitrant Hazara Shi`is of central Afghanistan, he labeled them “infidels” and declared a  jihdd against them.

The Iron Amir justified his cruel policies by systematically dressing the monarchy in an Islamic cloak. As head of an Islamic state, the amir claimed to be the sole interpreter of religious doctrine and proclaimed that “whether just or despotic, the king must be obeyed, provided his commands do not violate the shari`ah.” Suspected enemies were killed, forced to exile, or detained in the capital, or their young sons were held hostage as ghuldm bachagan (court page boys). The amir’s disingenuous use of Islam in this manner was not without precedent. His policies differed only in the rigorous articulation and effective utilization of the main operative principles of Afghan political culture-ideals of kingship, kinship, and Islam, buttressed by patronclient and patrimonial practices and by politics of fear and favor (zur wa zar). He weakened the pervasive role of `ulama’ and mashdyikh (Sufi leaders) in the management of Islamic education and civil society and claimed these tasks for the state. Administration of awqaf (Muslim endowments; sg., wagf) and Muslim education were incorporated into the state apparatus.Shari`ah courts were set up throughout the country and settlement of disputes outside the state courts forbidden. For the first time in the history of the country, books of sermons and guidelines for preaching were published and widely disseminated; many of these are still used in the masdjid-i jami` (great mosques) in Afghanistan today. Tribal stratification among the Pashtun, as well as sectarian inequalities favoring Sunnis over Shi`is and Pashtun over non-Pashtun, were institutionalized. The peasantry in general and those in non-Pashtun areas in particular suffered oppressive taxation. Villages replaced tribal and ethnic communities as principal units of administration. These policies produced alienation and resignation among large segments of the rural population, giving rise to the development of smaller, villagebased, parallel power structures that enabled the villagers to limit costly contact with state authorities. Amir `Abd al-Rahman’s during the reign 1901-1919).

Toward the end of Habib Allah’s reign, however, owing to the introduction of modern schools and the press, such new political ideals as constitutionalism, nationalism, liberal secularism, reformism, and Islamic modernism entered the political culture ofAfghanistan, both to complement and to compete with the traditional ideals of kingship, kinship, and Islam. These ideals found adherents among the nascent intelligentsia, members of the royal family, the court page boys, and some `ulama’. King Amanullah (r. 1919-1929), a grandson of Amir `Abd al-Rahman and a supporter of modernistnationalist thought, introduced the first constitution ofAfghanistan(1923). He attempted to promote the idea of equality and the development of a national ideology based on traits common to all citizens ofAfghanistan, but he failed. His rule was challenged by a popular armed rebellion supported by some conservative `ulama’ and ruhdnis (spiritual or Sufi dignitaries), under the banner of a jihad against an “infidel king,” and he was forced into exile in 1929.

Muhammad Nadir Shah (r. 1929-1933) who succeeded King Amanullah after a nine-month interregnum, attributed his success to “the exclusive help of the Al-mighty God” and the “sacrifices of the peoples of Afghanistan.” Nadir Shah abandoned many of Amanullah’s western-inspired reforms, but he attempted to legitimize his own dynastic rule by constitutional means. He called a Grand Assembly (Loya Jirga) of the tribal elders, religious dignitaries, and local aristocrats to ratify a new constitution (1931). [See Loya Jirga.] He established a Jam’iyatul `Ulama’ (Supervisory Council of Muslim Scholars), ordered the country’s first printing of the Qur’an, removed restrictions on the role of the mullahs and mawlawis (Muslim scholars) in education, reaffirmed the absolute primacy of Hanafi shari`ah in the country, closed girls’ schools, and formally sanctioned gender inequalities. Reverting to Amir `Abd al-Rahman’s practices, both civil and criminal cases were brought within the domain of sham`ah courts, making them the most important vehicles of centralization. Southeastern frontier Pashtun tribes that had helped him in his bid for power were granted exemptions from taxes and conscription, and members of the influential Mujaddidi family of ruhdnis were awarded cabinet posts for their support. Discrimination against non-Pashtuns became rampant in the allocation of economic, educational, and developmental resources. Many rural aristocrats were coopted by the Musahiban monarchy by being either elected to or selected for the newly established rubber-stamp bicameral parliament (Majlis-i Shura wa A’yan).

The Musahiban rulers (1929-1978) pursued ambivalent policies toward Islam, especially in the expanding modern educational system. Islam was presented in the curriculum simply as a body of rituals and legal injunctions rather than as a vibrant religious doctrine compatible with modern living. The educational system had a secularist agenda devoid of any coherent or viable moral and political ideology aside from Pashtun-based nationalism. In the absence of a clearly articulated and commonly held moral purpose to guide state policies and political processes, nation-building and the so-called modernization programs in the form of Demokrasi-i Now (New Democracy) turned out to be nothing more than a few staged “democratic” procedures, such as voting for rubber-stamp parliaments, and a “free” press. Therefore, during the crucial decades of the 1960s and 1970s, when economic development programs were failing and development-related corruption was rampant, Afghan leaders became preoccupied with introducing Western-style governance to appease their foreign patrons, instead of extending social services and equitably meeting the needs of all citizens.

After the promulgation of the liberal constitution of 1964 and the onset of New Democracy in Afghanistan, Marxist and Maoist parties were formed. In response, Islamist movements began to emerge, not only to address the potential communist threat but also to challenge the legitimacy of the Musahiban monarchy. The rise of both communist and Islamist parties and movements-each with ideological ties and financial patrons (actual or potential) outside the country-was without precedent in the political history ofAfghanistan. The government’s dependence on foreign assistance for economic development programs and the maintainance of its large military and police forces had also reached new heights.

Specifically, the Afghan state depended overwhelmingly on Soviet patronage for its survival. Hence the government strongly opposed the Islamist movements, while the communist groups, especially the pro-Soviet Marxist parties, were given free rein. As a consequence, in July 1973 Prince Muhammad Da’ud, a former prime minister (1953-1963) and paternal first cousin of King Zahir Shah (r. 1933-1973}-also a long-time royal supporter of the pro-Soviet Marxists-staged a military coup, abolished the monarchy, and proclaimed himself president of theRepublic of Afghanistan(1973-1978). Only five years later Da’ud himself fell victim to a coup led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) that ended Durrani dynastic rule by establishing a communist government (1978-1992). The Islamist movements, already seriously weakened by the monarchy and Dd’ud’s regime, suffered devastating new attacks from the Marxist government. Ironically, however, the usurpation of state power by the PDPA and the direct military intervention of the formerSoviet Union(1979-1989) offered the fledgling Islamist movements a new lease on life.

Islamist revolutionary ideas were brought to Afghanistan from Egyptin the 1950s by a few Afghan scholars studying atal-Azhar University in Cairoand by alAzhar shaykhs teaching at the Faculty of Shard’iyat (Islamic Studies) at Kabul University. The Islamist political movement emerged on the campus of Kabul University, initially with an underground faculty wing and a public student branch, the Nahzat-i Javanan-i Musulman (Muslim Youth Movement). Unlike earlier ruralcentered jihad movements mobilized exclusively to oppose outside colonial forces or the allegedly un-Islamic policies of a particular ruler, the new Islamist movement was urban-centered, organized and led by educated youth who questioned the legitimacy of the existing political system, and it called for the positive radical transformation of power relations through the establishment of an Islamic government. The Islamist movement attracted mostly provincial and rural youth who were studying in Kabuland other major towns. Before the Marxist coup they had few active supporters among traditionally educated `ulama’ and mashdyikh, especially in the rural areas. However, following the PDPA coup, elements of the Islamist groups living in exile in Pakistan and elsewhere quickly joined with traditional tribal and religious leaders in rural areas to launch a nationwide popular armed struggle, a jihad, that eventually drove out the invading Soviet army (1989), defeated the Afghan communists, and declared Afghanistan an Islamic state (April 1992).

Their apparent military triumph, however, has gradually deteriorated into humiliating and bloody interethnic and sectarian warfare. The vastly popular Islamist armed struggle, despite its remarkable military success, did not produce a coherent Islamic ideology or political unity. The manner in which an Islamist victory by Afghan Mujahidin has turned into a spectacular political and ideological defeat raises serious doubts about the future viability of militant Islamist political struggles. This is especially true in the minds of those educated Muslim youth who saw a ray of hope after the Afghan Mujahidin triumphed.

The tensions currently undermining the Muhajidin are rooted in the recent history of Islamist movements in Afghanistan. The jihad struggle was spearheaded and sustained by two major factions of the original Islamist movement: the Jam’iyat-i Islami (Islamic Society) headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, an al-Azhar-educated former professor of Islamic studies; and the Hizb-i Islam-1 (Islamic Party) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former undergraduate engineering student at Kabul University. This factional difference mirrored in part the split in the Ikhwan al-Muslimfin (Muslim Brotherhood) movement in Egypt. Rabbani favored Hasan alBanna’s moderate populist approach seeking to effect change from the bottom up. Hekmatyar, by contrast, favored the more radical strategies of Sayyid Qutb and his more militant followers, the Hijrat wa al-Takfir faction led by Omar Abdel Rahman (`Umar `Abd alRahman), that called for change from above through capturing state power. [See Muslim Brotherhood, article on Muslim Brotherhood inEgypt; and the biography of Abdel Rahman.]

The impact of these differences in Rabbani’s and Hekmatyar’s political outlooks-combined with their distinct ethnic affiliations (Rabbani is Tajik and Hekmatyar Pashtun) and serious interpersonal tensionsbecame evident when the two leaders took refuge inPakistan. In the economically and politically volatile environment of the Afghan exile community inPeshawar, animosities and factional conflicts flourished.

Two other developments also played a significant role in the creation and perpetuation of factional divisions within the jihad movements inAfghanistan. First, the Pakistan government created or officially recognized five additional, primarily Pashtun-dominated resistance organizations. These groups included two led by traditional `ulama’ (Mawlawi Yunus Khalis and Mawlawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi), two led by ruhani families (Sibghat Allah Mujaddidi and Sayyid Ahmad Gilani) with strong ties to the defunct monarchy, and one led by another al-Azhar-educated former Kabul University professor, `Abd al-Rabb Rasul Sayyaf. In addition, at least eight Shi`i resistance groups were organized in Iran and one in Pakistan. The Iranian groups have formed an alliance called Wahdat-i Islami (Islamic Unity), led by Muhammad `All Mazar-1. Scores of other nonofficial Mujahidin groups active in the resistance complemented these groups.

Second, nearly all these groups were or still are headquartered in neighboring Pakistan and Iran and are completely dependent on outside sources, both Muslim and non-Muslim, for money and arms. Because of direct Soviet intervention, there were no shortages of foreign supporters, both covert and overt, especially during the Reagan era, to help defeat and destroy the former USSR. Mujahidin parties and organizations representing many diverse (ideological, sectarian, ethnolinguistic, tribal, regional, and local) interest groups competed with one another for the patronage of numerous international aid organizations.

The reason for the political and ideological failure of the Mujahidin was the fact that their numerous foreign patrons gradually but systematically subordinated the Islamist ideological purpose of jihad to their own anticommunist and anti-Soviet military objectives. Therefore, as soon as Soviet troops withdrew, external sponsors drastically reduced support to the Mujahidin and even encouraged factional fighting to undermine their Islamic “fundamentalist” objectives.

Undoubtedly, both Islam’s role in Afghan politics and the Mujahidin commitment to Islamist ideology faced their most serious test at the moment of their military victory. Specifically, when an arrangement between the forces of Ahmad Shah Mas’ud, a Tajik Mujahidin commander, and `Abd al-Rashid Dustam, a powerful Uzbek leader of a militia force in northern Afghanistan, brought about the collapse of Dr. Najibullah’s Marxist government in Kabul, the Mujahidin had a chance to end the war and establish a credible Islamic government. They failed because of powerful feelings of mistrust, encouraged by their foreign patrons, among the factions.

On the fall of the communist regime, the forces of the Iranian-backed Islamic Unity coalition of eight Shi’i and other predominantly Hazara groups had occupied significant areas of Kabul. Dustam, forming and leading the National-Islamic Movement of Northern Afghanistan (Junbush-i Milli-i Islami-i Shimali Afghanistan), demanded a role in the new Islamic State of Afghanistan. Similarly, other armed and newly empowered ethnic and sectarian minorities, such as the traditionally oppressed Shi`i Hazaras, asked for fair representation in the new government.

Pashtun groups, notably those led by Sayyaf and Hekmatyar, responded by armed attacks against Mas’ud, Dustam, and the Shi’i coalition forces in and around Kabul. Sayyaf, who enjoys the support of powerful Saudi patrons and has introduced controversial Wahhabi practices, began armed attacks against the pro Iranian Shi’i Islamic Unity group. Hekmatyar, formerly willing to recruit Pashtun communist officers for his failed military coups against the communist regime, condemned Ahmad Shah Mas’ud’s alliance with Rashid Dfistam’s militia. He opposed the inclusion of members of Dustam’s militia in the government while welcoming numerous high-ranking communist Pashtun military officers into his own camp. Hekmatyar’s devastating rocket attack against Kabul was apparently motivated by fear that non-Pashtun minorities might dominate the central government.

The present succession crisis has extensive historical precedents. Many Afghan leaders have employed Islam to manage kingship, kinship, and ethnicity, to further two often contradictory state goals. That is, Islam has been utilized.both to universalize, homogenize, and integrate the diverse elements of society and also to differentiate and divide groups. Leaders used Islam as a unifying force most effectively in confrontations with non-Muslim forces-offensively in the Durrani Empire’s expansionary wars in northernIndia, and defensively in jihads against the encroaching Sikhs and the British in the nineteenth century, and more recently against the Afghan communists and their invading Soviet sponsors. From these experiences, a positive and constructive relationship between Islam and the political independence and integrity of the country has emerged, albeit with heightened feelings of xenophobia. At the same time, these conditions have offered `ulama’ and ruhanis, as well as local khans, opportunities for political and military leadership. This development has generally worked against the domestic centralizing aims of the state.

Domestically, monarchs who deployed Islam to legitimize a policy of divide and rule found their efforts did not help to consolidate power and were harmful to nation-building. At the national level, the most significant examples are the Shi’i-Sunni riots in Kabul in the first decade of the nineteenth century and Amir `Abd al-Rahman’s wars against the Shi`i Hazara of central Afghanistan. On the local level, conflicts among tribal and ethnic communities (and at present among rival Mujahidin political parties and factions), or even among individuals, often escalate to moral conflicts,justified on Islamic grounds, arousing intense emotion. Conflicts between Pashtun and Hazara, as well as among Hazara and Sunni Tajiks and Uzbeks in northern Afghanistan(Turkistan) during the nineteenth century, provide additional examples of ethnic wars that escalated to jihad. Afghan governments and the outside patrons of recent jihad alike have perpetuated communal tensions in pursuit of political advantage.

From the perspective of Afghan citizens, the legitimacy of governments (hukumat) and the state (dawlat) has always depended, in the first place, on the responsibility of the state as the defender of Islam and the homeland, and secondarily on the peoples’s perception of the personal piety and dignity of the rulers and government officials. Periods of popular support coincide with the reigns of kings who were considered pious and just (such as Ahmad Shah Durrani) or of leaders who were directly engaged in defense of Islam and the nation. By contrast, popular opposition arose when the personal integrity and piety of the ruler and his officials were questioned, and when the sincerity and ability of the government to defend Islam were in doubt. The revolt against Amanullah and the recent jihad against Khalq-Parcham Marxists and their Soviet protectors are the most obvious examples.

The participation of so many international actors, Muslim and non-Muslim, during the armed resistance against the Soviets has had a mixed outcome for the Islamist movements of Afghanistan. Although outside patrons of jihad helped the Mujahidin win a military victory, these patrons also engaged, directly or indirectly, in fanning the flames of ethnic and sectarian conflicts in post-communistAfghanistan. Sadly, the flames of factional war have consumed not only Kabul but also the credibility of the Islamist ideology and with it the cherished hopes of millions of Muslims worldwide.

[See also Durrani Dynasty; Hizb-i Islami Afghanistan; Mujahidin, article on Afghan Mujahidin; and the biography of Hekmatyar.]


`Abd al-Rahman Khan. The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir ofAfghanistan(1900). 2 vols. Edited by Sultan Mahomed Khan.OxfordandNew York, 1980. Alleged autobiography of the amir, informative about his views on Afghan society and polity.

Arnold, Anthony.Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism: Parcham and Khalq. Stanford, 1983. Well-researched and documented account of the history and development of pro-Soviet Communist parties. Banuazizi, Ali, and Myron Weiner, eds. The State, Religion, and Ethnic Politics:Afghanistan,Iran, andPakistan.Syracuse,N.Y., 1986. Part i of the volume consists of four analytical essays on statebuilding, ethnicity, and Islam in Afghanistan.

Bradsher, Henry S. Afghanistan and theSoviet Union.Durham,N.C., 1985. Serious examination of Soviet involvements inAfghanistanbefore and after the intervention.

Dupree, Louis.Afghanistan.Princeton, 1980. Valuable reference on the general history and ethnography of the country.

Gregorian, Vartan. The Emergence of ModernAfghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-19¢6.Stanford,Calif., 1969. Excellent and thorough analysis of the rise and development of the Afghan state.

Kakar, M. Hasan. Government and Society inAfghanistan: The Reign of Amir `Abd al-Rahman Khan.AustinandLondon, 1979. Fine documentation of the amir’s policies, based on vernacular and Western sources.

Poullada,LeonB. Reform and Rebellion inAfghanistan, 1919-1929: King Amanullah’s Failure to Modernize Tribal Society.Ithaca,N.Y., andLondon, 1973. Useful but conventional interpretation of Amanullah’s disastrous attempt at political reform.

Roy, Olivier. Islam and Resistance inAfghanistan. 2d ed.Cambridge, 1991. Insightful analysis of the role of Islam and Mujahidin in the armed resistance against the Soviets.

Shahram, M. Nazif, and Robert Canfield, eds. Revolutions and Rebellions inAfghanistan: Anthropological Perspectives.Berkeley, 1984. Collection of essays examining the social and historical contexts of the local-level armed resistance, in various parts of the country, to Communist coup and Soviet intervention.

Tapper, Richard, ed. The Conflict of Tribe and State inIranandAfghanistan.London, 1983. Contains several excellent articles onAfghanistan.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/afghanistan/

  • writerPosted On: October 6, 2012
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