Afghanistan – The Difficult Modernization

By | December 16, 2021

Due to its strategic position, as the gateway to India, the new Afghan state greatly interested Great Britain, which cared to prevent a rival power from settling there. In 1809 the first Anglo-Afghan treaty was stipulated, aimed at preventing a possible French or Persian invasion of India. The subsequent expansion of the influence of Russia, which the Afghan rulers relied on to counterbalance the British influence, caused fluctuations in the attitude of Great Britain, which found itself forced twice (1839-42 and 1878-79) to direct intervention; Thus there was the First and Second Afghan Wars, which both ended not with a military occupation, but with a confirmation of British influence.

The most notable 19th century Afghan ruler was Abd ar-Rahman Khan (1844-1901). It was he who broke the feudal power of the tribal leaders and set the country on the path of modernization. Abd ar-Rahman and his successor, Emir Habib Ullah, remained faithful to the treaty by which the Second Afghan War ended in 1880, according to which Afghanistan enjoyed full internal independence and received subsidies from the government of ‘India but was tied to Britain in foreign policy. For Afghanistan 2010, please check

At the outbreak of the First World War, the British government invited Habib Ullah, of Europeanizing tendencies but scarcely attracted to the care of the state, to remain neutral; he made this commitment on condition that Afghanistan’s security and independence were respected. However, this policy was destined to arouse discontent among the Afghan population, especially among the youth groups penetrated by Muslim fanaticism and Turkish influence. Turkey’s defeat, which many believe could have been avoided if Habib Ullah had attacked India, turned much of public opinion against him. Having escaped an assassination attempt in 1918, he was murdered during a hunting party the following year.

After a disputed succession, Aman Ullah, who proclaimed holy war against Great Britain in May 1919, took his place. The Third Afghan War ended in the following August with the treaty of Rawalpindi by which Great Britain, although victorious, it once again recognized the independence of Afghanistan. In domestic politics, Aman Ullah began a hasty work of Westernization. His reforms, especially in the field of education, shocked conservative circles, which encouraged a tribal revolt that starting in 1928 caused a long period of terror and continuous political upheaval. The situation was restored only in 1933 with the ascension to the throne of Muhammad Zahir. Under him Afghanistan experienced a further,

After the Second World War, Afghanistan found itself having to face two main problems: the economic one, linked to the extreme poverty of the country, and that of the determination of borders. As for the first point, it obtained loans and economic aid from the USSR, the United States, the United Nations, while a technical and economic cooperation agreement with Beijing marked the beginning, in 1965, of a technical and financial assistance program. by the Chinese. The problem of border determination is more complex, especially the southern one with Pakistan, painstakingly resolved with a series of successive agreements, inserted in a general vision of foreign policy inspired by a prudent equidistance between the two blocs.

On the level of internal politics, the Constitution of 1 October 1964 should have instituted parliamentary democracy, but the conflicts between the traditional forces prevented its application. The regime change that took place starting from the coup d’etat of General Muhammad Daud (July 17, 1973), inspired by the need to reform the country’s structures, did not bring appreciable results, despite the economic aid of the Soviet, Chinese and Islamic states. Not even the Constitution establishing the Republic (February 1977), which conferred ample powers on the president, was not able to stem the internal conflicts, all the more serious due to the delicate international balance.

A new coup d’etat (April 27, 1978) brought the Communist-inspired secretary of the People’s Democratic Party, Nur Muhammad Taraki, to power, proclaiming the Democratic Republic while a revolutionary council assumed legislative power. The introduction of an agrarian reform met the hostility of the traditionalist Islamic classes, however opposed to the cultural penetration of Marxism, to the point of fueling a widespread mass guerrilla warfare and forcing the government to rely more on the USSR.

Tensions within the regime led to two further coups in 1979, with the second of which Babrak Karmal, pro-Soviet leader of the People’s Democratic Party, assumed power. The extension of the guerrilla warfare, which by now resulted in a real civil war, determined the Soviet decision to enter directly into the conflict in support of the government of Kabul by sending (December 1979) about 100,000 men from the Red Army.

External intervention by the Soviet Union strengthened the unity of the opposition. The long phase of fighting saw the many guerrilla organizations (the mujahideen, framed on an ethnic and territorial basis and supported by Pakistan) to engage Soviet soldiers and regulars in a conflict that progressively radicalized both on a military and ideological level, until the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev to the political summit in Moscow (1985), the growing international isolation of the USSR, as well as the high costs in terms of expenditure and human lives favored a change of direction and the decision to leave the Afghan territory. The Soviet disengagement came gradually: the repatriation of the troops ended only in February 1989, about ten years after the armed intervention. Among the consequences of the long war, in addition to the destruction, we must consider the death toll of hundreds of thousands of deaths, including 14,000 men from the Red Army (Soviet sources),

Afghanistan - The Difficult Modernization