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Afghanistan Modern History

The fall of the Communist regime in 1992 has been followed by continued warfare in Afghanistan, in other forms and with other participants. The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime, which took power in 1996, became not only a threat to its own people, but to the entire world. The US and its allies' attempts to rebuild the country after overthrowing the Taliban in 2001 have only partially succeeded.

The mujahedin groups (mujahedin = "those fighting") who had joined forces to overthrow the Soviet-backed communist regime in Kabul were only able to hold together as long as they had a common enemy in the form of the Soviet Union and as long as they were under pressure from Pakistan and the US to cooperate (see Older history). Then they turned their weapons toward each other.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Afghanistan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Following the takeover of the mujahedin groups in 1992, the settlements quickly broke down on how management would switch between the organizations. Alliances within the alliance also shifted. Almost immediately, internal fighting erupted, which destroyed parts of Kabul. The city was divided between the movements and similarly in practice the whole country fell apart in a series of small empires, ruled by local warlords.

The absence of a functioning central government led to chaos and enormous war fatigue among the population. This in turn created a ground for the so-called Taliban movement, which was formed in the summer of 1994 in southern Afghanistan. While in the central and northern provinces there were relatively quiet areas, ruled by ethnic militias, the Pashtun South was dominated by a multitude of local militias and criminal leagues. Travel was dangerous. Murders, robberies, kidnappings and rapes occurred constantly.

Contemporary History of AfghanistanThe Taliban

The Taliban is the Pashtun plural form of the Arabic word talib, which means roughly "the one who seeks religious teachings," that is, Koran students. The core of the movement consisted of a small group of conservative religious men who recruited soldiers among refugees in Quran schools in Pakistan, and who were strongly supported by the Pakistani military security service ISI and traders. It was in Pakistan's interest to stabilize southern Afghanistan to facilitate trade with the newly independent Central Asian states.

The Taliban were greatly helped by the religious party Jamiat-e Ulema-i Islam (JUI) taking place in the Pakistani government in 1993. For many years JUI had run Koran schools in the border areas for young Afghans. These schools taught a radical, literal interpretation of Islam. Through the pressure of JUI, Pakistani support for Afghanistan was largely ruled over to the Taliban.

The Taliban quickly gained broad popular support as they disarmed militias and executed fearful bandit chiefs and warlords. They moved from province to province and in just a few months settled in the southern part of the country. For most civilians, a time of relative calm and security followed.

In September 1995, for the first time, the Taliban gained a foothold outside the Pashtun-dominated area when they conquered the city of Herat and neighboring provinces in the west. A year later, they entered Kabul after a rapid advance from the east. The old government fled north and the Taliban began to transform Afghanistan into the world's most pure Islamic state. Former Communist leader Najibullah was arrested and killed.

Taliban regime and al-Qaeda

The Taliban's power holdings became a tragedy for the country. The new leaders were not interested in running a modern state. Their ideal was the true, pure Islamic society, which they assumed must have looked like during Prophet Muhammad's time. Therefore, they banned "Islamic" phenomena such as TV and music, kite flying and shorts covered football players. Girls were forced to leave school after elementary school and women were not allowed to go out without the company of a male relative, and then only if they wore a full veil.

While the Taliban initially received a cautious positive response from many directions, they gradually became more isolated. The United States first considered them a stabilizing factor in Central Asia that could benefit US economic interests (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Among other things, their reactionary women's policy soon caused them to lose US support, but above all, it was the Taliban's increasingly close ties with foreign terrorists that drove them into isolation.

During the war against the Soviet Union, young Islamic activists from many countries had been attracted to Afghanistan to fight the "wicked" communists. Among them was Saudi billionaire Usama bin Laden, who was suspected of being behind attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. There was no known link between the Taliban and bin Laden's terror network al-Qaeda (the base) from the beginning, but The Taliban's isolation from the outside world, which did not want to recognize their government and give them Afghanistan's place in the UN, made them increasingly dependent on bin Laden's financial support. There were elements of both traditional Pashtunian hospitality and being open despite the Taliban's refusal to extradite bin Laden. This led to the introduction of financial sanctions against them first by the United States and then by the United Nations.

Taliban violence is overthrown

At the same time, Afghanistan suffered from its worst drought in decades. Hundreds of thousands of people were barred and driven to camps outside the cities. The Taliban regime showed almost nonchalant handfall before suffering and lost almost all support. By this time, people were also distracted by coercion and freedom.

The terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 became a watershed in Afghanistan's history. On October 7, US flights began to bomb Afghanistan to crush al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime.

In early November, the United States gave full support to the Northern Alliance - basically the same militias for ethnic minorities that held power until 1996 - and attacked the front lines of the Taliban, prompting the Taliban violence to quickly collapse. In connection with the regime's fall, massacres of captured Taliban and foreign volunteers were massacred in the country's northern parts.

In the political vacuum that arose, the outside world was in a hurry to try to create a new regime. The Pashtun clan leader Hamid Karzai was appointed provisional leader at a UN-led conference in Germany in December 2001. The meeting included Afghans from various political and ethnic groups.

Isaf is established and expanded

The United States continued its hunt for al-Qaeda. A number of NATO countries participated with smaller unions on the US side. At the same time, with the UN's approval, an international peacekeeping force called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) of about 4,500 men was set up with the task of protecting the Provisional Government and maintaining the order in Kabul. In August 2003, NATO assumed responsibility for Isaf and the force began to step up. At the end of the year, operations were extended for the first time outside Kabul. From the spring of 2004, Sweden contributed around 50 soldiers in Mazar-i-Sharif. In the following years, the Swedish force became tenfold and was given responsibility for security in four northern provinces.

At a traditional council meeting, Loya Jirga, Hamid Karzai was appointed provisional president in June 2002. He formed a government in which he tried to balance the peoples' groups against each other, but contradictions from the war years caused continued wear and tear both within the government and between the central government and strong provincial leaders. Several murders - including the vice president - shook the regime, whose confidence in the population was also undermined by the brisk progress of American soldiers and sometimes indiscriminate bombings that demanded many civilian lives. Public confidence in the United States diminished even more after data on prisoners being beaten to death on US military bases.

In several provinces power struggles broke out between rival warlords. President Karzai was criticized for not doing away with local leaders who sabotaged the country's reconstruction.

A new loyal jirga approved a new constitution with strong presidential power in January 2004 and in October the country's first presidential election could be held. Hamid Karzai prevailed by more than 55 percent of the vote.

Taliban forces are being strengthened

Parliamentary elections and elections to the 34 provincial assemblies could only be carried out in September 2005 and preceded by increased violence. Following Karzai's decision, no political parties were allowed to vote on the ballot papers; only individual individuals were allowed to run. The election gave the House of Commons, wolesi jirga, a majority that supported the president.

Although Afghanistan had a democratically elected leadership for the first time in 2006, the violence increased. Towards the end of the year the situation was worrying. The Taliban forces appeared more well-organized and capable of fighting than before.

In October 2006, Isaf took command of all military operations in the country and most of the US soldiers were placed under NATO command. In February 2007, an American general was placed at the head of Isaf, which in practice became part of the US warfare.

One consequence of the severely deteriorating situation was that the work to combat drug production was made more difficult. Opium accounts for much of the financing of not only the Taliban's operations, but also of local militias and purely criminal leagues.

Karzai is increasingly contentious

During the 2008 election campaign, US President Barack Obama had promised to invest more in Afghanistan. In addition to a troop reinforcement, he promised economic development, diplomacy to Pakistan and better coordination with the US international partners in Afghanistan.

The next presidential election in 2009 became chaotic and marked by obvious cheating, largely intended to benefit Karzai. The UN-supported Electoral Commission, with partly foreign staff, rejected so many votes that the president's figures had to be adjusted down. Karzai then fell below 50 percent and reluctantly agreed to a decisive election round against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. While the preparations were underway, Abdullah announced that he had no confidence in the election system and therefore did not stand. The dropout made Karzai victorious, but with much reduced authority.

From 2009, even leading Americans began publicly voicing skepticism about the possibility of winning the war. Despite the presence of 145,000 foreign soldiers in 2010, terrorist acts increased and the Taliban gained ground. NATO's strategy seemed to have failed, and the Afghan security forces did not keep up.

At a donor conference in Kabul in July 2009, participants from some 70 countries still supported President Karzai's ambition that the Afghan security forces should take over responsibility for the country in 2014.

Talk to the Taliban

A months-long delayed parliamentary elections were held in September 2010 under strong threat from the Taliban. About 40 percent of voters still ventured to the polling stations. About 5,000 protests against cheating were filed and almost one quarter of the votes were rejected during the process. The Pashtuns were severely underrepresented, as the electoral fraud was the worst in their provinces and the Taliban's threat to the electorate had the greatest effect on the Pashtuns.

In September 2010, Karzai appointed a "peace council" that would try to initiate talks with the Taliban. Among the members were several former warlords. In October, the president said that there had been some unofficial contact with the Taliban for some time, and the Isaf leadership confirmed that NATO helped the Taliban leader get to Kabul. However, the Taliban maintained their public position that no negotiations were possible until the foreign troops left the country.

In 2011, the Afghan army began to take over responsibility for parts of the country from the NATO forces.

In June of that year, the US government confirmed that it had initiated "preliminary talks" with the Taliban in order to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict ahead of the planned troop retreat in 2014. At the same time, the UN Security Council tried to encourage the Taliban to join a reconciliation process equating them with al-Qaeda in the context of sanctions. In July, the Security Council Sanctions Committee removed 14 Taliban leaders from the list of people who were banned from traveling abroad and whose foreign assets were blocked.

In June, President Obama also announced that 10,000 American soldiers would leave Afghanistan in 2011 and a further 23,000 by the summer of 2012. The remaining approximately 65,000 would then be allowed to travel home incrementally until 2014. Spokesmen, among others, cited that 20 Qaeda's 30 top leaders had been killed in the past year. However, senior military officials feared that the president's decision was based more on political considerations than on the realities of the field.

Promises of long-term support

In 2011, several other countries also began planning a step-by-step retreat from Afghanistan.

The President of the Peace Council, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed on September 20, 2011 by a suicide bomber. The deed was seen by many inside and outside Afghanistan as a severe blow to the opportunities for peace. Although it was not clear that it was the Taliban who were behind the murder, it prompted members of the Northern Alliance to immediately declare that the Taliban could not be trusted.

Exactly ten years after the Bonn conference that outlined how Afghanistan would be governed after the fall of the Taliban, around 100 countries and international organizations gathered in December in the former West German capital to pledge further assistance. Afghanistan received guarantees for continued international support for ten years after the foreign forces' retreat in 2014, ten years known as "a decade of transformation" during which the country would "consolidate its sovereignty". Afghan leaders had estimated that the country would need at least $ 10 billion a year from 2015, including to afford planned defense forces of 352,000 soldiers. The support of the outside world provided that the authorities could protect the civilian population, that law and order and security would prevail and that corruption would be fought with a completely different determination than hitherto. President Karzai promised that this would happen.

Thousands of civilian victims

These commitments were formalized in a Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by Afghanistan and US presidents when Obama made a lightning visit to Kabul in May 2012. The agreement guaranteed that the Western world would not turn its back on Afghanistan after 2014. But at the same time, it marked a readiness to continue fighting Taliban and al Qaeda, through continued support for the Afghan domestic forces, kept it open for talks with the Taliban on a political settlement.

The promise to continue assisting Afghanistan after 2014 was reaffirmed once again at a NATO meeting in May 2012. It was also stated that Afghan forces would take over command of the country around the turn of the year 2013, later until spring 2013. Civilian Afghan society was promised $ 16 billion until through 2015.

A UN survey showed that in 2012, the number of civilians killed in the war decreased by 12 percent from the previous year, to 2 754. According to the report, more than 80 percent of civilians killed fell victim to militant groups' violence. The decrease in the civilian casualties was explained with a slightly lower intensity in the war, slightly fewer suicide attacks and fewer airstrikes. But in 2013, the number of civilian victims increased again to almost 3,000 killed. A new tendency was, according to the UN compilation, that more and more civilian victims were persons caught in a crossfire between government forces and Taliban.

2004

October

Karzai wins the first presidential election

Provisional President Hamid Karzai wins the country's first presidential election. He gets just over 55 percent of the vote already in the first round.

June

Swedish soldiers to the north

A Swedish Isaf force of just under 50 is stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif.

March

International support

Afghanistan is promised $ 8.2 billion in international reconstruction aid over three years.

January

New constitution

A new loyal jirga adopts a new constitution with strong presidential power after several weeks of negotiations.

 
 

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