Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Afghanistan / 6

Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal meets with President Lyndon Johnson in Washington, March 28, 1967. Photo by Francis Miller / Life.

Part 6: 1953-1967
A People’s History of Afghanistan

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / May 16, 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 14-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, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are still displaced from their homes as a result of the U.S.-led or U.S.-supported military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have taken place since the Pentagon began its endless war in Afghanistan in October 2001. Yet most graduate students in history at U.S. universities were apparently never even required to take a course in the history of Afghanistan when they were undergraduates.

But in a 1953 palace revolution in Afghanistan , for example, Afghan Prince Mohammad Daoud — a cousin and brother-in-law of King Zahir Shah — became the Afghan monarchical regime’s Prime Minister, with the backing of the Afghan royal family; and Daoud then governed Afghanistan in an autocratic way between 1953 and 1963.

As a result, “avowed Marxists like Dr. [Abdul Rahman] Mahmoodi… spent the entire Daoud decade in jail” and other Afghan leftist dissidents, like Mir Akbar Khyber and Afghan leftist student dissident Babrak Karmal, “were released in 1956 on condition that they did not persist in their political activities,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History by Angelo Rasanayagam.

But after being released from prison in 1956, serving two years in the Afghan military and then becoming a student again, Babrak Karmal — the politically radicalized son of an Afghan general and provincial governor — began to recruit dissident left-wing Afghan intellectuals and activists to begin meeting in secret “study circles” inside Afghan private homes during the early 1960s.

Four secret Afghan study circles of radical left Afghan dissidents were formed, one of which was led by Karmal. Another one of the four secret Afghan study circles during the early 1960s was led by an Afghan writer named Noor Mohammad Taraki, who had become politically radicalized while working in India between 1934 and 1937, when India was still a UK colony.

After Daoud involved the Afghan government in a dispute with Pakistan’s government that provoked a closing of the Afghan-Pakistan border (which led to a decline in Afghan government revenues), Daoud was forced to resign as prime minister on March 9, 1963. A new, more democratic constitution was then drafted and promulgated in 1964 by the Afghan monarchical government.

Meanwhile, in January 1965, 30 members of the four secret study circles of dissident radical left Afghan intellectuals and activists met at Noor Mohammad Taraki’s house to secretly form the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA] a/k/a Khalq (“Masses”) and to elect a seven-member Central Committee and four alternate Central Committee members. In 1965 an election was also held in Afghanistan to choose members of a two-house Afghan parliament and Mohammad Yusuf was chosen to succeed Daoud as the new Afghan government’s prime minister.

Running as individuals, four members of the PDPA were then elected to Parliament in the early 1965 Afghan elections. In Kabul , for example, two PDPA members were elected to the lower house of the Afghan Parliament: Babrak Karmal and Dr. Anahita Ratebzad. An Afghan woman physician, Dr. Ratebzad won through election one of the only four Afghan parliamentary seats in the lower house that were reserved for Afghan women in 1965.

Both Karmal and Ratebzad also led the Afghan student demonstrators outside the opening session of parliament which demanded further democratization of Afghan political life and that the open formation of political parties in Afghanistan now be legalized.

But in October 1965 Afghan government troops opened fire on protesting students who were shouting slogans outside the home of Afghan Prime Minister Yusuf; and three of the students were killed. Dr. Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, the leader of the Hezb-I Demokrat-I Mottarki social democratic party (which was less politically radical than the underground PDPA), was then named to replace Yusef as the new Afghan prime minister in November 1965.

In 1965 — the same year that the PDPA was formed — a group of professors and teachers who were led by the head of Theology of Kabul University, Gholam Mohammad Niazi, started the Society of Islam (“Jamiat-i-Islam”). These leaders of the Society of Islam in the late 1960s were on the Afghan monarchical government’s payroll; and the Society of Islam’s student group, the Organization of Muslim Youth, “operated openly, organizing demonstrations and fighting” leftist Afghan students in the late 1960s, before winning student elections at Kabul University in 1970, according to Afghanistan: A Modern History.

Within the radical leftist PDPA between 1965 and 1967, meanwhile, two factions developed: one faction led by Karmal and one faction led by Taraki; and in May 1967, the original PDPA split apart into two parties calling themselves the PDPA, with each party having its own central committee and general secretary (Karmal and Taraki). Karmal’s PDPA faction/party was called Parcham (named after its newspaper, Parcham/”Banner”), while Taraki’s PDPA faction/party was called Khalq (named after its newspaper, Khalq/”Masses”).

Following the release from prison and death in 1966 of the “doyen of Afghan Marxism,” Dr. Abdul Rahman Mahmoodi, some followers of Mahmoodi also formed a smaller pro-Beijing Maoist party in Afghanistan, which gained some support for awhile from Afghan industrial workers that enabled it to lead some strikes of workers in Afghanistan.

Next: “A People’s History of Afghanistan—Part 7: 1968-1976″

[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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3 Responses to Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Afghanistan / 6

  1. Bob, your series hasn’t gotten a lot of comments here, and I want to say that I think it’s because we’re still trying to absorb it. An astounding and important effort, and one that deserves careful reading and thoughtful digestion.

    Are you going to collect this series into a book and publish it, say on It could be distributed at no cost there, in digital form. The first RagBlog book? You make us proud!

  2. Anonymous says:

    A ringing “amen” to Mariann’s suggestions. This is a fascinating series.

  3. b.f. says:

    Mariann,glad some Rag Blog readers are finding this people’s history of use in their current anti-war activism. I like the idea of distributing this series for free, at no cost, in digital book form.

    Thought your great biographical article about Marilyn Buck was the best one that’s been written about her personal/political history, unjust imprisonment and current situation; and I think it also provided current U.S. political prisoner solidarity activists with some interesting biographical information about Marilyn that they hadn’t known before (as well as with some photographs they hadn’t seen before). Perhaps sites like AlterNet might be interested in reposting your article for their anti-war readers?

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