Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Afghanistan /10

Deputy Premier Hafizullah Amin (on right) is shown in this series of frames swearing his allegiance to Premier Noor Mohammad Taraki in 1979, shortly before arranging to have him assassinated. Image from BBC.

Part 10: 1979-1981
A People’s History of Afghanistan

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / June 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.]

In 2010 the Democratic Obama Administration is spending another $95 billion on the Pentagon’s endless war in Afghanistan . Yet many viewers of PBS-affiliated television stations or readers of Rolling Stone magazine in the USA still probably know more about the history of rock music since the 1950s than about the hidden history of Afghanistan since 1979.

In September 1979, for example, supporters of People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA]-Khalq Premier Noor Mohammad Taraki discovered that PDPA-Khalq was plotting to kill Taraki — after political disagreements between the two PDPA-Khalq government leaders developed between March 1979 and July 1979, and Amin apparently began appointing just members of his own family to fill important Afghan government posts.

But Amin was still able to force Taraki to resign as Afghan prime minister on September 15, 1979, following Taraki’s return from abroad after attending a conference of leaders of non-aligned nations. And Amin apparently then arranged for former PDPA-Khalq leader Taraki to be killed on October 8 or 9, 1979.

When Taraki had visited Moscow in March 1979 to first request that Soviet ground troops be sent into Afghanistan to help his government’s Afghan army defeat the anti-feminist Mujahdeen guerrillas, the Brezhnev regime had refused at that time to send large numbers of Soviet troops across the border into Afghanistan.

But Taraki — who, along with Amin, had personally signed in Moscow the December 5, 1978, Treaty of Friendship between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan — had apparently been considered friendlier to the Soviet Union than the Columbia University Teachers College and University of Wisconsin-trained Amin

So after Taraki was killed, the Brezhnev regime in the Soviet Union apparently decided that the PDPA-Parcham faction leader that Amin had demoted in late June 1978 — Babrak Karmal — should replace Amin as Afghan head of state (if large-scale Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan was required to prevent the U.S. and Pakistani-backed Afghan Mujahideen militias — which by then controlled 23 of Afghanistan’s 28 provinces — from quickly overthrowing the increasingly unpopular government that had been established by the April 1978 Saur Revolution).

On December 12, 1979, the Brezhnev regime did decide to order large numbers of Soviet ground troops to cross the Soviet-Afghan border and march into Afghanistan on December 23, 1979. One result of this internationally unpopular December 1979 decision was that 13,369 members of the Soviet military would subsequently be killed (and 35,578 troops would be wounded), according to official Soviet government casualty figures.

On December 27, 1979, 300 Soviet commandos then surrounded and attacked Amin’s residence at 7 p.m.– at the same time that other Soviet troops seized Kabul’s radio station. An apparently recorded message from PDPA-Parcham faction leader Karmal, announcing that he was the new head of the Afghan government, was then broadcast over the radio — while Amin and Amin loyalists unsuccessfully fought until 1 a.m. against the 300 Soviet commandos who were attempting to arrest Amin. After being taken to Soviet military headquarters in Kabul, Amin was apparently then executed.

The Democratic Carter Administration next used the Brezhnev regime’s internationally unpopular military response to the Pakistani and U.S. governments’ covert support for regime change and the right-wing Mujahadeen insurgency in Afghanistan as a pretext for once again requiring U.S. men between 18 and 26 years of age to register for a future U.S. military draft. As Democratic President Carter explained in his January 23, 1980 State of the Union speech:

The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.

This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come… It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East…

I believe that our volunteer forces are adequate for current defense needs, and I hope that it will not become necessary to impose a draft. However, we must be prepared for that possibility. For this reason, I have determined that the Selective Service System must now be revitalized. I will send legislation and budget proposals to the Congress next month so that we can begin registration and then meet future mobilization needs rapidly if they arise…

Former Columbia University Professor and then-National Security Affairs Advisor Brzezinski then visited Pakistan in February 1980 and “met with General Akhtar, the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] chief, as well as with [then-Pakistan] president Zia-al-Haq and with CIA station chief in Islamabad John J. Reagan,” according to John Cooley’s Unholy War: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism.

But because covert CIA aid to the Afghan resistance fighters violated international law, “both Washington and Islamabad went to extraordinary lengths to cover up their” increased military “assistance to the Afghan Mujahideen,” according to Angelo Rasanayagam’s Afghanistan: A Modern History. The same book also noted that “for this reason it was decided that only Warsaw Pact weaponry would be delivered, as such weapons could not be traced back to the US…”

So “the Cold Warriors in Langley, Virginia” then “developed… a top-secret program, codenamed SOVMAT,” which “was probably unknown even to President Zia al-Haq and the holy-war commanders in Pakistan’s ISI,” according to Unholy War. The same book also described how the CIA’s secret SOVMAT program of the early 1980s operated:

Working with a vast army of phony corporations and fronts, the CIA under the SOVMAT program would buy weapons from East European governments and governmental organizations… Their acquisition and testing by the U.S. military and the CIA facilitated development of counter-measures, such as improved anti-tank weapons used by the Mujahideen…

“Officials running the CIA’s SOVMAT program provided wish lists for CIA and ISI officers operating from Pakistan, who sent their Afghan mercenaries to ransack Soviet supply depots… Some Afghan fighters were taught in their CIA-managed training by the ISI in Pakistan to strip Soviet SPETZNAZ or special forces soldiers of their weapons…

Next: “A People’s History of Afghanistan—11: 1981-1987″

[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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