Causes of the Afghan Civil War

Mohammad Haseeb Daudzai

Who destroyed Kabul? The Afghan Civil War which started in 1989 and ended in 1992 was one of the bloodiest and most destructive wars in Afghan history. This war had two phases. The first phase was fought between the Afghan government and the Mujahedeen, and the second phase was fought between different parties of the Mujahedeen. The Afghan Civil War which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and the destruction of Kabul was caused by various factors some of which were: Afghan people, Afghanistan’s economy, Afghan politicians and foreign involvement.

First of all, Afghanistan is a multicultural country with more than ten ethnic groups and more than thirty languages. Afghans have some differences in their culture, too. The majority of Afghans follow either of the two schools of fiqh (schools of Islamic law) namely Jafari and Hanafi. The literacy rate is also very low in Afghanistan. These cultural differences, religious issues and low literacy rate make racism a common phenomenon amongst the people and it’s very easy for anyone to provoke a war in Afghanistan. In 1992, racists from different ethnic groups started inviting their ethnic groups to fight against other ethnic groups, so they could gain power in Afghanistan.

The economy of Afghanistan was very weak in 1989 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was leaving Afghanistan. Unemployment reached its peak. Although Dr. Najibullah planned different strategies for making a stable economy in Afghanistan, but because gas wells were under the control of the Mujahedeen, the government was completely dependent on the USSR aid, hence most of those strategies failed. As a result of unemployment, people started starving in some parts of Kabul, so they started protesting against the government in Kabul. These protests gave the Mujahedeen a good excuse for attacking Kabul which marked the first phase of the Afghan Civil War.

Back in 1980s when the USSR had full control of Afghanistan, eight parties were formed in opposition to the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) which was directly supported and under the influence of the Soviet Union. All these eight parties called themselves Mujahedeen (Holy warriors). These parties fought against the USSR for nine years. After nine years of fighting in Afghanistan, the USSR lost the war to the Mujahedeen and were forced to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. In 1989, before leaving Afghanistan, the USSR selected Dr. Najibullah to be the president of Afghanistan after they left. Dr. Najibullah was a member of the PDPA, hence his government was not acceptable to the Mujahedeen and they continued to fight, which provoked a civil war between Afghan army and the Afghan Mujahedeen. More than 20,000 Afghans were killed in this first phase of the Afghan Civil War. In 1992 Dr. Najibullah resigned from his position. Afghan warlords knew Dr. Najib would finally resign and every one of them wanted to take his place so they organized a gathering in Peshawar, Pakistan. This gathering resulted in forming a new government and a cabinet which was supposed to take power after Dr. Najibullah resigned. Additionally, Ahmad Shah Masood formed a supervising council known as Shura e Nazar, which was composed of 120 military generals from different parts of northern Afghanistan, to supervise the activities of the upcoming government. In 1992, the new government gained full control of Kabul and major parts of Afghanistan. Sibghatullah Mujadeedi was appointed as the new president of Afghanistan, but due to his poor leadership skills he was soon replaced by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Rabbani was a member of Shura e Nazar and except Tajik warlords no one wanted him to be the President of Afghanistan. After a month, the second and bloodiest phase of the Afghan Civil War began. More than 50,000 civilians were killed only in Kabul and it was divided into different parts, each part controlled by a different party. As an example Kart e Parwan district was controlled by Ahmad Shah Masood’s forces and only Tajik people lived there, Taimani district was controlled by Abdul Ali Mazari’s forces and only Hazara people lived there and if anyone from Kart e Parwan dared to go to Taimani or vice versa, the opposite party would kill him. After two months of Rabbani’s government the Mujahedeen started firing rockets across the streets of Kabul as result no one was safe anywhere in Kabul. Meanwhile Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who was supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, wanted to be the president of Afghanistan, hence he started fighting the government and Abdul Ali Mazari joined him.

The Civil War in Afghanistan was part of the Cold War. According to George Crile, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) launched Operation Cyclone to fund the Mujahedeen against the USSR. In 1980 the amount of these funds reached $30 million per year and in 1987 this amount rose to $630 million per year. The CIA also provided weapons including Type-56 rifles and FIM-92 stingers to the Mujahedeen. The first stinger which proved to be a very effective weapon, was launched in 1986 near Jalalabad by the Mujahedeen, hence 500 additional stingers were provided to the Mujahedeen by the CIA. Pakistan also started supporting the Mujahedeen which resulted in the USSR providing additional AK 47s to the Afghan army. The USSR also provided more than 2500 SCUD missiles to the Afghan government. Dr. Najibullah used the SCUDs against Pakistan and gave the AK 47s to the Afghan army. Hundreds of missiles were fired on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a response to Pakistan’s support of the Mujahedeen and the US weapons supplies to the Mujahedeen that came through Pakistan. In 1992, Dr. Najibullah resigned. Dr. Najib’s resignation marked the end of the first phase of the Afghan Civil War. Pakistan continued supporting Gulbudin Hekmatyar against the Afghan government and asked him to keep fighting against the government till he gained full power in Kabul and replaced Rabbani. Saudi Arabia also started supporting Hekmatyar. The second phase of the War began after Hekmatyar started shelling Kabul. Relations between Shura e Nazar and General Abdul Rasheed Dostom who now had the full support of Uzbekistan, had soured and Dostom had to leave Kabul. After leaving Kabul, Dostom started shelling Kabul from the gates of Kabul. More than 50,000 civilian were killed in Kabul in blind shelling (1) (also called rockety koor ([blind rockets]).

To conclude, during these two phases of the Afghan civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 1992, more than 100,000 Afghans were killed, thousands of Kabul citizens were injured and lost their homes and nothing was seen in Kabul except bombarded buildings and signs of different weapons used during the war. The Afghan Civil war was caused by four major factors, the Afghan people, Afghan economy, Afghan politicians and foreign powers.