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History, Civil War

Ahmad Shah Massoud, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Dostum, shuras, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

The mujahideen, who did not sign the agreement concerning the Soviet withdrawal, maintained their fight against the Afghanistan central government with weapons that they continued to get from the United States via Pakistan. They rejected offers from Najibullah to make peace and share power, and refused to consider participating in any national government that included Communists. Thus the civil war continued. The United States and Pakistani sponsors prompted the Peshawar-based rebels to besiege Jalalabad, a strong point for Najibullah in southern Afghanistan. After months of fighting, however, the Afghan government scored a clear victory. A March 1990 coup attempt also failed to bring down Najibullah. He continued to receive Soviet food, fuel, and weapons to help maintain his control. However, rebels persisted in terrorizing the civilian population by rocket bombardment of Kabul and other cities. Finally in late 1991 the USSR and the United States signed an agreement to end military aid to the Kabul government and to the mujahideen rebels.

In 1992 as the resistance closed in on Kabul, the Najibullah government fell, in part because of the defection of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek from northern Afghanistan whose militia had served the PDPA government. Two mujahideen parties from Peshawar, both considered fundamentalist, joined forces with Dostum and Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik military commander, in the north and central mountains of Afghanistan. They won control of Kabul, and Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, became interim president from July through December 1992, taking office as full president in January 1993. A strong attempt was made to keep the Pashtun leaders, who traditionally held the power in Afghanistan, out of the most important government positions. Kabul was besieged beginning in 1992, first by various mujahideen groups and then by the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, which sought to reestablish Pashtun dominance in the capital.

The Taliban emerged in the fall of 1994 as a faction of mujahideen soldiers who identified themselves as religious students. The movement started in the south and worked its way toward Herat in the northwest and Kabul in the east. It made outstanding military gains using armor, heavy rocket artillery, and helicopters against government forces. The Taliban’s stated mission was to disarm the country’s warring factions and to impose their strictly orthodox version of Islamic law. Some experts suspected the Pakistani government of supporting the Taliban, in order to keep the combat within Afghanistan and out of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, which is a major part of the Pashtun homeland. During the many vagaries of shifting alliances, as Afghans sought a new political equilibrium, one fundamentalist and one moderate party from the Peshawar-based mujahideen groups contributed considerable personnel to the Taliban.

The term of Rabbani’s government expired in December 1994, but he continued to hold office amid the chaos of the civil war. Factional fighting since the beginning of January 1994 kept government officers from actually occupying ministries and discharging government responsibilities. Most cities outside of Kabul were administered by former resistance commanders and their shuras (councils). In June 1996 Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had resigned as prime minister in 1994 to launch a military offensive against forces loyal to Rabbani, again assumed the post, this time to help Rabbani’s government fight the Taliban threat. Despite their efforts, the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996.

Rabbani and Hekmatyar fled north to join the northern-based anti-Taliban alliance led by the military commanders Massoud and Dostum. The alliance was a coalition of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras who were opposed to the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. The alliance took the name United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, commonly known as the United Front or the Northern Alliance. Massoud was the military commander of its chief political wing, Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society). The Taliban advanced north toward the mountain strongholds of the Northern Alliance and by the late 1990s had taken control of almost all of Afghanistan. Northern Alliance forces held a small portion of the country’s territory in the north.

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