Since the Civil War broke out in Afghanistan on 27 April 1978, the country has had little to celebrate. Afghanistan was a paragon of cruelty. It grappled with political violence, dysfunctional government, and economic development. Flagrant human-rights violations trammelled the transition to democracy. Although these problems were ubiquitous in all Central Asian countries, beneath it all there was the brutalization of Afghanistan life. Their craving for the material trappings of the modern world was a figure of speech only amid the subversive intellectuals and scientific interests. However, ruling circles lashed out at dissent. A few years earlier, Afghanistan took comfort from the solid financial and political backing of both the US and the USSR. The Soviet Union had surged ahead of the rest of the world when it was time for decisive measures and Afghanistan was in the grip of a gun battle. However, it could not manage to prop up the Afghanistan government without getting bogged down in the war.

The emergence of Pakistan after Britain’s withdrawal from India led to serious foreign-policy conflicts. According to Tanner (2009), “A fledgeling state encompassed the Pashtun areas to the north of the Indus River, which used to be under Afghanistan’s jurisdiction”. Afghanistan conducted its foreign affairs cautiously and ostentatiously in the early 1950s, manoeuvring between the USSR and the US. The latter gradually ratcheted down its economic assistance to Afghanistan because it was unsatisfied with the progress that the country made in resolving territorial dispute with Pakistan over the Pashtun areas. The Soviet Union simultaneously expressed the willingness to throw its weight in Afghanistan’s favour and took up the cudgels for the country immediately. It started rendering economic assistance to Afghanistan, the bulk of which was spent on the revival of infrastructure and the public road network in particular. Maley (2002) argues, “Two highways Serhetabad-Herat-Kandahar and Termez-Mazari-Kabul-Jalalabad were firmly on the mend”.

According to Barfield (2010)

“The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) with communist ideology was established in 1965”. Two years later, under the onslaught of fissiparous sentiments, it divided itself into two several sects, the biggest being the Khalqs (the people) and the Parchams (the ensign). Babrak Karmal, a son of the Afghan Armed Forces general, headed the pro-Soviet fraction Parcham.

On July 17, 1973, the monarchy was no more – Mohammad Daoud Khan staged a coup d’état vis-à-vis his cousin. Griffiths (2009) states that “on April 27, 1978, Daoud was himself overthrown as a result of the military putsch orchestrated by the factions of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan”. Daoud and 30 members of his family were executed. The Saur Revolution of 1978 resulted in the communist takeover of political power in Afghanistan by Nur Muhammad Taraki who spearheaded the party at that time. Babrak Karmal was appointed as the vice-president initially, but after the ensuing bifurcation of both fractions, he was sent as an ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Taraki obtained economic and financial assistance with no strings attached from the USSR. Moreover, the Soviet Union steered a plethora of its advisers to Afghanistan. The communist leadership was on fire with enthusiasm to transform Afghanistan into a contemporary socialist state. The fledgeling government attempted to carry out social, land, and education reforms, but this precipitated program did not come to fruition in the long run. Both the Khalqs and the Parchams tried to drum up the necessary amount of pious Muslim supporters but to no avail.

“In April 1979, a year since the Saur Revolution, people took to the streets in a popular uprising against the communist regime” (Griffiths, 2009). The government managed to bridle the revolutionary sentiments in big cities but lost control over the tucked-away provinces and hard-to-reach central areas of the country. In May 1978, the newly minted Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin embarked on an arduous suppression of the uprising. Penitentiaries were filled, but the rebellion continued to assume dimensions. Radicalized rebels expected the collapse of the communist regime. While the Western powers remained oblivious to the problems of the Afghani people, the Soviet leadership became anxious about such a perspective and fulminated against it. Fiasco of Kabul and transition of power to the Islamic fundamentalists could have caused public unrest and disorders among the Muslim population of the Soviet Central Asian Republics in the first place and sank the country deeper into a violent morass in the second. According to Lester and Gress (2002), “Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan are geographically and religiously closer to Afghanistan than to the USSR”.

Political Landscape

Political landscape in the region was severely affected by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini’s accession to power that severed diplomatic relations with the US. Soviet politicians lambasted at the idea of the US imposing crippling sanctions or exerting political clout over Afghanistan. Moreover, they could not tolerate the idea of the US intervening in Afghanistan to fill a gap created by the treacherous demarche of Iran. Even the slightest perspectives of abutting one more bellicose nation, which gravitated toward the West, perturbed the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which had no more patience to wait until the political conflagration burnt itself out.

Soviet invasion followed the same pattern as the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. “On December 24, 1979, first units of the 105th Guards “Vitebsk” Airborne Division landed at the airport at Bagram airfield 25 miles from Kabul” (Lester, Gress, 2002). At the same time, Soviet advisors were neutralizing Afghan units. On the plausible pretext of replacing armaments, they incapacitated Afghan tanks and dismantled communication lines, while the army top brass was convened for celebrations with an accompanying festive meal. The whole 105th Airborne Division arrived at Bagram by transport aeroplanes the next day. The Soviet Union started deploying the troops more plainly soon.

At the beginning of 1980, Soviet troops became unwittingly involved in the hostilities. The Kunar Operation, which erupted in Kunar province of Afghanistan in February 1980, was the first armed clash with the participation of the Soviet combatants. According to Maley (2002), “A powerful assault conducted by two motorized infantry battalions along the homonymous valley raised the blockade of Asadabad, a stronghold of the Afghan 9th Infantry Division, dispersed pretty large forces of the insurgents, and forced them to withdraw to Pakistan”. However, the results of the operation were not consolidated, which resulted in the escalation of hostilities in this area later. By and large, it was Soviet troops that borne the main brunt of the relentless Afghan conflict in its first stages. The Afghan Army, which had a scattered distribution across the administrative centres and was supposed to protect the lawful authorities, had little experience of fighting, lacked morale and stamina and was constantly exposed to the ideological propaganda and brainwash on the part of Afghan insurgents. The Soviets had to form the Afghan Army from scratch. Besides operations in Kunar province, hostilities engulfed other areas as well. The Mujahideen attempted to be up-front at first, but were forced to reform and fall back on covert tactics soon for they could not successfully participate in direct skirmishes. Tanner (2009) argues, “The Soviet 40th Army took over the initiative by substituting short-term, space-challenged operations for a full-blown war”.

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 A few days into the abbreviated contingent deployment in Afghanistan, the US Fourth Estate launched a public awareness campaign to animadvert on the actions of the senior leadership. America appeared too busy grappling with the economic crisis to figure out that the “Evil Empire” had been preparing to intervene in Afghanistan. This was the biggest blunder of the American President according to the press. On the other hand, mass media ardently supported build-up of the American military presence in the Third world countries as well as elaboration of the so-called Carter Doctrine, which was a resolute response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. It stipulated a series of political and economic measures to bring pressure to bear upon the USSR. First, the Carter administration imposed an embargo on the sale of grain and technology to the Soviet Union. Second, they intended to ratchet down an exchange in scientific, technical, and cultural spheres, which was in its infancy anyway. Thirdly, the overwhelming majority of Western states led by the US boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow. Fourthly, the US exerted its pressure on European states and Japan, demanding that they stop granting loans to the USSR.

According to Rashid (2008)

“The Carter Doctrine declared the Persian Gulf to be vital for the US economy, which authorized Americans to go to every expedient, including potential use of weapons, in order to protect its national interests in the region”. However, the stipulated measures could not work out because the stability of some European economies (France, Federal Republic of Germany etc.) hinged on the export of heavy industry products to the USSR. Refusal to continue adequate commercial relations with the Soviet Union could have had severe economic repercussions for these countries. The grain embargo administered a harsh blow on the American and Canadian economies. Griffiths (2009) argues, “Though 65 countries refused to participate in the Moscow Olympics, the event took place more or less successfully”. All these factors thwarted the US efforts to flex its political and economic muscle vis-à-vis the USSR and impacted on the internal situation in the US itself. The Reagan administration had no choice but to demolish the Carter Doctrine and advance its own instead.

By and large, being a response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, new foreign-policy strategy of the US resulted in an abrupt aggravation of the international situation, precipitated the arms race, and left the parties locked up in the intense negotiations over retrenchment of armaments. As a result of this political course, the USSR bogged down in a disastrous for its extensive agriculture arms race, which brought forward the date of a profound economic and political limbo, dissolution of the USSR, and collapse of the communist regime.


In January 1980, the US took the initiative to make a speech at the UN Security Council meeting, which qualified the demarche of the USSR as an unlawful use of the Armed Forces beyond its boundaries and military intervention. According to Barfield (2010) “The Soviet Union vetoed the UN Security Council Resolution and was supported by five other members of the Security Council”. At the Special Session of the UN General Assembly held on 14 January 1980, the UN Security Council Resolution was approved by 108 votes, designating downright and complete diplomatic debacle of the USSR. Only semi-colonial and evidently sycophantic countries backed up the USSR. Western powers and Third World countries, including the Arab and the Muslim, came out in a unified front, which voted in favour of the UN Security Council Resolution. Even Iraq, which prospered on the back of military and technical assistance from the Soviet Union for a long time, turned away from its one-time patron.

In 1987, Afghan authorities started to implement the policy of national reconciliation, which was endorsed at the plenary session of the Central Committee of the PDPA. According to this policy, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan disavowed public monopoly as well as passed several essential legislations. Griffith (2009) argues, “Since January 1987, Soviet troops were no more on the offensive, and resorted to hostilities only if their positions were attacked”. General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev during his official visit to the US in December 1987 stated that the political decision to pull back Soviet troops from Afghanistan was on the anvil. Soviet, American, Afghan, and Pakistani delegations took to the bargaining table to elaborate political settlement of the Afghan crisis. The ensuing agreements that came into force on 15 May, 1988 stipulated that Soviet troops had to leave Afghanistan while the US and Pakistan, which would become a bridgehead for American forces later, obliged to stop bankrolling Afghan mutineers. “The USSR fulfilled all its commitments meticulously” (Lester & Gress, 2002). Events that ensued from the withdrawal of Soviet combatant forces borne out the claims that the status quo in Afghanistan was maintained only thanks to the colossal efforts of Soviet troops.

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The opposition would have been fatuous if it had not availed itself of the opportune moment. As the Soviet leadership started to withdraw its troops, the opposition changed beyond recognition, at least in terms of defiance and impertinence. It conducted more and more large-scale attacks while the Afghan Army failed to cement tentative gains.

Predictions of the Western powers that the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul would fail following the discontinuance of the Soviet military presence and that ousting of the “communist plague” by a coalition government of Mujahideen groups would lead to a comprehensive peace in the region that, acceptable to all the parties concerned, turned out to be unsubstantiated. Indeed, “the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 did not trigger the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan but rather fueled intensification of armed hostilities” (Tanner, 2009). Offensive operations of the Mujahideen were on the rise. However, the government forces managed to repulse the attacks and launched counteroffensives in several provinces, which allowed them to hold sway over the country for three years. The opposition was emaciated due to several factors. First, the withdrawal of Soviet combatant forces bereft it of the ideological basis, which stirred up the Afghans to struggle against conquerors and infidels. Second, the aggressive tendencies of Pakistan spawned some patriotic sentiments and dissuaded the bulk of insurgents from fighting the government. Third, the USSR continued to supply arms, though in fewer quantities. It would be wise to assume with a certain degree of precision that the Marxist regime in Afghanistan did not rely on the foreign bayonets only, but obtained certain pillars of support inside the country.

Despite the fact that the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan relied on the settlement of problems by force, it was lackadaisical in military operations. The energetic subversive activities of the opposition in the Afghan Army, the penchant of the Afghans to ascribe all troubles to the Saur Revolution, and the overall fatigue made the Najibullah regime collapsed in 1992.

According to Crews (2009)

“The Taliban movement controlled most of Afghanistan, including the seat of government, since 1996”. Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist at the time, was granted asylum in Afghanistan. The Taliban refused to extradite him after the 1988 United States embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush presented the Taliban with an ultimatum to hand bin Laden over to the American justice. On September 21, 2001, the Taliban rejected the ultimatum, stating that the US had not provided sufficient inculpatory evidence of al Qaeda’s involvement in the September 11 attacks. Crews (2009) argues, “On September 22, two countries that used to recognize the Taliban regime (UAE and Saudi Arabia) severed diplomatic relations with Afghanistan”. Afghan refugees started flocking to Iran and Pakistan in droves.

On October 7, 2001, American and English troops launched a military campaign in Afghanistan, which was aimed at putting the Taliban to rout and searching for Osama bin Laden. However, the US managed to entangle NATO and some others countries in its military gamble soon. Rashid (2009) states, “Around 50 states appeared to be tightly bound by the Afghan blood”. The war in Afghanistan is largely an asymmetric warfare between the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), supported by the Afghan Northern Alliance, and the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political movement, which used to control a large part of Afghanistan. ISAF acted according to the UN Security Council Resolution 1386. 

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The initial period of war borne the US and its satellites some (though, as it turned out later, delusive) fruit. According to Crews (2009), “American troops have driven the Taliban from power and delegated the authorities to Hamid Karzai”. However, this demarche steered the war into the most disadvantageous for the US direction – the guerilla variant. In February 2008, the US tottered on the brink of unconditional defeat but managed to take control of the situation.

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Three basic levels of analysis were used in the process of writing this paper: individual, domestic, and systemic levels. Individual-level analysis in this paper focuses on human actors on the world stage and explains the personal aspirations of the leaders to gain power (Hamid Karzai, Mohammad Najibullah, Babrak Karmal, Hafizullah Amin, etc.). The domestic level of analysis construes broadly various characteristics of the domestic system in the US, the USSR, and Afghanistan.  It deals with the Muslim and Christian religions, economic interests of the parties, and corresponding political ideologies on the local level. The interrelationships amid states constitute the systemic level of analysis. This level of analysis explains which states closed their ranks with other states and the reasons behind such alignments as well as the interests they pursued. In this paper, the systemic level of analysis was also applied to the talks carried out in Geneva with the participation of Afghan, American, Pakistani, and Soviet delegations. Risk of the failed state, phenomenon that could have occurred in Afghanistan in 2008, is another domestic level factor. The withdrawal of Soviet combatant forces from Afghanistan in 1989 can be explained by the energetic American lobbying at the UN Security Council meeting. To analyze this event, two approaches may be used, namely the individual and systemic levels. American decision to make a speech at the UN Security Council meeting represents the interests of a particular country (individual level), while the support that this initiative gained is a matter of the systemic level of analysis. Also, a fringe level of analysis was utilized – class level. It was used to illustrate how different ethnic groups and classes of Afghan people (the opposition, the Mujahideen, the Afghan Army etc.) were divided along antagonistic lines.

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In order to explain the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a few of the suggested theories (peace studies theory, security theory, decision-making theory) may be applied. However, security theory seems to be the most substantially and logically relevant. The US decided to deploy its military forces in Afghanistan after the notorious September 11 attacks. Terrorism was declared one of the most daunting challenges to world security, while Afghanistan was believed to have harboured al Qaeda, the most dangerous and recalcitrant terrorist group. Since the early 1990s, al Qaeda started plaguing adjacent countries, but its activities soon spilt over into other regions. The US fell before the juggernaut of military triumph and launched a crusade against terrorism, which by that time had assumed new dimensions and started undermining the security of the whole planet.

It would not be wise to suggest that the War in Afghanistan is marked with dashed expectations and unfulfilled promises. The US has achieved its national interests in Afghanistan, but the latter has not. Indeed, Afghanistan is beset with economic instability, soaring corruption, deepening inequality, and senior leadership that lacks vision or capacity to respond to the emerging challenges. On the other hand, the tradition of oppression dates back to far before the American invasion; the country has always been inured to corruption. The mounting litany of problems haunts American decision-makers, so the odds are still on the American military presence in Afghanistan being continued. “After 11 years spent waging war on terror in Afghanistan, almost $1,5 trillion in direct costs and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, the Western public feels it has learned a hard lesson”(Dow, 2012, p. 11). It would make economic sense if the US withdrew its troops in 2014, but there is no guarantee that this is about to happen. Afghanistan is no more a springboard to worldwide mayhem, but its citizens are still entrapped in dependency. The Taliban is a hydra-headed group, which means that it will take advantage of the US withdrawal to continue terrorizing the Afghans. The Obama administration and his national security advisers understand this well and will work themselves into a frenzy over finding a rationale good enough to postpone the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

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