Monday, March 17, 2014

Exploring The Graveyard (Part 1)

Exploring the Graveyard
Part 1: Monarchs

Thirteen years. It’s been thirteen long, dangerous, painful years that we’ve been there. We have suffered over 2,000 dead soldiers and spent virtually $700 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The polls have shown a decrease in the number of people who support the war and yet we are still there.

Due to the incompetence and complicity of the mainstream media, there is little to no serious historical or geopolitical analysis of Afghanistan and how US interests in have helped to create today’s situation.

The Monarchy

Unlike the ethnic and religious tensions that plague Afghanistan today, in the past the country was not in constant strife or under religious rule, but rather it was ruled by a monarchy. The first monarch was Amir 'Abd al-Rahman who founded his rule on divine right and laid “a theoretical foundation for the monarchy at the same time that he spread the power of the central government over the country through a centrally controlled bureaucracy, backed by a strong standing army.”[1] Over time the nature of the regime changed, but an important change occurred in the 1950s, as Afghanistan changed its regional politics and rather than turn west to the US and its allies, they turned to the Soviet Union.

Mohammed Daoud Khan became the Afghan Prime Minister in 1953. He was an admirer of the former Afghan king Aman Allah, who ruled in 1923 and whom under Afghanistan gained independence, “acquired a written constitution and various other new laws,” “entered into diplomatic, commercial, educational, and developmental agreements with foreign countries,” and “embarked on a comprehensive scheme of modernization to transform almost overnight the basically conservative society into a modern one.”[2] In the same vain as Aman Allah, Khan sought to modernize Afghanistan and with Soviet aid he grew the country’s army and infrastructure.

These changes, along with increased education and socioeconomic reforms, led to the creation of a middle class which was not content with elements of the monarchy. Sensing these sentiments, in 1962, Khan moved to propose reforms to the monarchy as to allow the people more say. Specifically he stated that “the intelligentsia desired change and various kinds of ideologies were secretly active, the present system of government was no longer viable” and that a way to change the government, but still allow for the existence of the monarchy was to transition to a “new constitution based on a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, and the legalization of either one or two political parties,”[3] with the king being the head of state, the executive branch being responsible for carrying out domestic affairs, and having an independent judiciary. 

These reforms were proposed at a time when the nation was virtually bankrupt, dependent on the Soviet Union, and a number of coups were taking place in the Greater Middle East region. The political and economic climate pushed the king to embrace the proposed reforms, however, the king was suspicious of Khan, viewing him as autocratic and thinking that the reforms would allow Khan to continue ruling the country by de facto. Only when Khan submitted his resignation did the monarch begin to implement the reforms, but they were done in such a manner that constitutionally strengthened his own position.  This self-serving change in the constitution, the king hoped, would allow him to better connect with the middle class and rural areas, but it would ultimately lead to his downfall.

Afghanistan, while having a large amount of influence from the Soviet Union, was a country of interest not just to them, but also to the United States and its neighbor, Pakistan.

Soviet Union

The Soviets first became interested in Afghanistan in the in 1950s. With the death of Stalin and Mohammed Daoud Khan becoming the Afghan Prime Minister in 1953, the regional calculus greatly changed. Khan looked toward the Soviets for “rapid economic development and a quick solution to the Pashtunistan issue.” In time, Afghanistan would become more dependent on the Soviets, especially in 1955, when the US refused to give Afghanistan military aid, the Soviet Union moved in quickly and not only pledged $100 million long-term loan but also agreed to provide military assistance.”[4] Between 1953 and 1963, the two countries became extremely friendly, with the Soviets giving developmental assistance in building infrastructure, such as roads and airfields, as well as gas pipelines that could transport natural gas from the Soviet Union to Afghanistan.

In the 1970s, the Soviets significantly ramped up aid to Afghanistan. The amount contributed to economic increased and military aid doubled, with $150 million in economic aid in 1974 and military aid going from $66 million in 1971-72 to $137 million in 1973-74. The Afghan military was now modernized and essentially a creation of the Soviet Union.

Overall, the main goals for the Soviets in Afghanistan up to 1978 were “conducting mutually beneficial trade relations,” “using Afghanistan to support the programs of Soviet foreign policy,” “using Afghanistan as a model of relations between states with different social systems,” and using Soviet aid to develop dependency and turn Afghanistan into a client state.[5]

The United States

In the 1950s and 60s, the United States strangely enough had little interest in Afghanistan, even though the Soviet Union was increasing its influence there. The US didn’t have many ties to the country as they could get no use out of an alliance or cooperation with Afghanistan. Afghanistan wasn’t an important trading partner, had no strategic resources, and didn’t provide the US with any kind of military or intelligence facilities.

While the Daoud government stated that the US refuse to give Afghanistan aid due to the Afghan government’s refusal to sign any mutual security agreements or join the Baghdad Pact, Washington argued that “some of the Afghan military wanted to join the pact but demanded assurances that they would be defended by the United States if their acceptance of arms aid precipitated a Russian invasion or major subversive efforts inside Afghanistan,”[6] this would have been problematic as the US hadn’t the regional presence or capability to aid in the defense of Afghanistan.


The problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan go back to 1947, regards demands from the Afghan government for the creation of Pashtunistan, a region incorporating parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where, historically, the Pashtun people have lived. Pashtunistan dates back to “the Durand Line in 1893 dividing Pashtun and Baluch tribes living in Afghanistan from those living in what later became Pakistan.”[7] Over the 1950s and 60s, series of small clashes took place between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with both countries (mainly Pakistan) responding with diplomatic removals and in one case, from September 1961 to June 1963, “diplomatic, trade, transit, and consular relations between the countries were suspended.”[8]  Eventually, due to Afghanistan’s deteriorating economy, the Afghan monarch, King Zahir Shah, sought the aforementioned Daoud Khan's resignation “on the basis that the country's economy was deteriorating as a result of his position regarding the Pashtun tribes in Pakistan.”[9] Daoud Khan resigned in March 1963 and was followed by Dr. Mohammed Yousuf as Prime Minister of Afghanistan, this change improved the atmosphere between the two nations and relations were restored in May 1963.

Fall of the Monarchy

On July 17, 1973, Lieutenant General (Prince) Mohammad Daoud Khan, cousin and brother-in-law of the King, along with a small number of young army officers, led a coup against Afghan king Zahir Shah.

The military went along with the coup as during the 1960s, the Soviet Union was giving military aid to the Afghans and thus Afghan officers were opened to radical ideas as they were required to “take courses in dialectical and historical material and in the history of the international communist movement. Whether these officers were really communists is highly debatable, but there is no doubt that they were against the establishment and in favor of social justice.” This, combined with the fact that junior offices were paid low wages, harshly disciplined, and in some cases given to senior officers as domestic servants, as well as that their “democratic outlook - shaped by the conditions of an egalitarian society and the Islamic concept of social justice - was reinforced by the Marxian view of social justice and morality as practiced in Russia,”[10] resulted in the junior officers viewing the monarchy as the highest form of social injustice.

On a larger societal level, many were fed up with the king as the economic situation was becoming more and more precarious due to the country becoming dependent largely on foreign aid for its revenue and from 1969-1972, a massive drought occurred and not only did it further damage the majority agrarian economy, but due to corruption, much of the relief aid that was given was siphoned off by officials who then sold the aid on the black market.

In regards to foreign policy, the Afghan public was not too pleased with the king’s decision in Afghan-Iranian relations. The government had agreed to give Iran some of the Helmand River water in exchange for oil, however, due to the drought and an increased suspicion of Iran’s regional aims, the Afghan people “a strong feeling that the government had betrayed national interests in return for financial inducements.” In relation to Pakistan, the Pashtunistan issue came to the fore once again, with “the defeat of the Pakistani army in Bangladesh in December 1971, and the dismissal of the National Awami Party government in Baluchistan in February 1973, after Iranian pressure on Bhutto.”[11] Many who were keen on the Pashtunistan issue, Daoud Khan among them, felt that this was the time for Afghan interests to be reasserted.

The monarchy was overthrown due to the fact that it was only as powerful as long as it had a loyal military backing it, as soon as those circumstances changed the power of the monarchy effectively ceased to exist.

Upon receiving news of the coup, the US became worried that it “might well change the ultimate power balance in South and South-west Asia” and openly wondered if the coup had been engineered by the Soviets, whereas the Soviet Union had a rather calm demeanor, noting in the news that Afghanistan had been proclaimed a republic and that things were generally under control.[12]

Yet, just like hate begets hate and evil begets evil, Daoud Khan becoming the President of Afghanistan via a coup would ultimately come back to haunt him less than a decade later.


[1] Hasan Kakar, “The Fall of the Afghan Monarchy in 1973,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 9:2 (1978) pg 195

[2] Kakar, pgs 197-198

[3] Kakar, pgs 198-199

[4] Khalid Nawaz Kahn, Soviet Interests in Afghanistan and Implications upon Withdrawal, Defense Technical Information Center,, June 1, 1990

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Global Security, Pashtunistan,

[8] Global Security, Pashtunistan 1961-1963,

[9] Ibid

[10] Kakar, pg 212

[11] Fred Halliday, “Revolution in Afghanistan,” New Left Review 1:112 (1978), pg 20

[12] Shaheen F. Dil, “The Cabal in Kabul: Great-Power Interaction in Afghanistan,” The American Political Science Review 71:2 (1977), pgs 474-475

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