US President Joe Biden announced on July 8 that the United States military mission in Afghanistan would conclude on August 31. “We’re on track to meet that target,” President Biden said during a White House briefing
Will this be an end to Afghanistan’s long history of foreign domination? Only the future will tell.
Afghanistan, which the British attempted to annex between 19th-20th century to protect its neighbouring Indian empire from Russia, became an independent nation in 1921. The British — beleaguered in the wake of World War I — were defeated in the Third British-Afghan War (1919-21).
The United States, however, formally recognised Afghanistan in 1934. At the time Zahir Shah was the king of Afghanistan.
The king’s cousin Gen. Mohammed Daoud Khan, a pro-Soviet, became the prime minister. He brought a number of social reforms, including the upliftment of women. As part of his reforms, women were allowed to attend university and enter the workforce.
The Afghan Communist Party formed with Babrak Karmal and Nur Mohammad Taraki at the helm.
The last king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was overthrown by Khan in a military coup and his People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan came to power. He abolished the monarchy and named himself the president. The Republic of Afghanistan was established with firm ties to the then USSR.
Khan proposed a new constitution that granted women rights and allowed the modernisation of the largely communist state.
After Khan was killed in a communist coup, Taraki, one of the founding members of the Afghan Communist Party, became the president, and Karmal the deputy prime minister, went on to become the president in 1979. Proclaiming independence from the Soviet influence, they declared their policies based on Islamic principles, Afghan nationalism and socioeconomic justice.
On the other hand, conservative Islamic and ethnic leaders began an armed revolt in the countryside against the social changes, introduced by Khan. Guerrilla movement Mujahadeen was created in June 1978.
A power struggle between Taraki and communist politician Hafizullah Amin begins. Taraki is killed during a confrontation with the supporters of Amin on September 14.
The USSR invaded Afghanistan on December 24. On December 27, Amin and many of his followers were executed. Karmal became the president. The series of strife began with violent public demonstrations against Karmal and the Soviets.
The Mujahadeen rebels united against the Soviet invaders and the Afghan Army backed by them.
Some 2.8 million Afghans fled from the war to Pakistan and another 1.5 million to Iran. Afghan guerrillas gained control of rural areas, while Soviet troops marched in urban areas.
In his first official trip, Saudi Islamist Osama bin Laden reached Afghanistan to aid anti-Soviet fighters.
The UN investigated reported human rights violations in Afghanistan.
The Mujahadeen began receiving arms from the United States, Britain and China via Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden and 15 other Islamists formed al-Qaida, or “the base”, in September, for their jihad, or holy war, against the Soviets and those against their goal of a nation governed by Islam.
The US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union signed peace accords in Geneva. They guaranteed Afghan independence and the withdrawal of 1,00,000 Soviet troops. But the Mujahadeen continued their resistance against the Soviet-backed regime of President Dr Mohammad Najibullah, who was elected in 1986. Afghan guerrillas named Sibhatullah Mojadidi as the head of their exiled government.
The Mujahadeen and other rebels, along with some turncoat government troops, stormed Kabul and ousted Najibullah. The UN offered protection to Najibullah. The Mujahadeen formed a largely Islamic state with Professor Burhannudin Rabbani as president.
The newly formed Islamic militia, the Taliban, rose to power on the promise of peace. But the Islamic law is enforced via public executions and amputations. Najibullah was executed in 1997. The US refused to recognise the Taliban.
Another million Afghans escaped to Pakistan. But some ethnic groups fought the Taliban for control of the country.
The year also marked an Al-Qaeda and Taliban nexus.
The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1267 on October 15, creating the “al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee”, terming them as terrorist entities. The council imposed sanctions on their funding, travel, and arms shipments.
On September 11, al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington, DC. Around 3,000 people were killed. None of the 19 hijackers, however, were Afghan nationals.
On October 7, the US military, with British support, initiated a bombing campaign against the Taliban. The Global War on Terrorism was officially called the “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF). Canada, Australia, Germany, and France pledged their support. The war’s early phase was assisted by the Northern Alliance and ethnic Pashtun anti-Taliban forces. The first wave of conventional ground forces arrived 12 days later.
After the fall of Kabul in November, the UN invited major Afghan factions to a conference in Bonn, Germany. On December 5, they signed the Bonn Agreement, endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1383. The agreement, reportedly reached with substantial Iranian diplomatic help, installed Hamid Karzai as the interim administration head, and created an international peacekeeping force. The UN Security Council Resolution 1386 on December 20 established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The Taliban regime ended on December 9 with the surrender of Kandahar and its leader Mullah Omar fleeing the city. However, al-Qaeda leaders continued to hide out in the mountains.
Karzai, chairman of Afghanistan’s interim administration, was picked to head the country’s transitional government.
In its first operational commitment outside of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) assumed control of ISAF in Afghanistan on August 8. The number of ISAF troops grew from an initial 5,000 to around 65,000 from 42 countries, including all 28 NATO member states.
In January, 502 Afghan delegates agreed on another constitution for Afghanistan, voting for a strong presidential system to unite the country’s ethnic groups.
On October 9, Karzai became the first democratically elected head of Afghanistan. Voters turned out in huge numbers despite threats of violence and intimidation. Karzai won with 55 percent of the vote. Afghans had not gone to the polls since 1969 during the reign of King Mohammed Zahir Shah.
Following a disputed presidential election on August 20, President Hamid Karzai won another term.
On May 1, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by the US forces in Pakistan, following which calls for a hastened drawdown of the US troops from Afghanistan gained momentum.
On June 22, President Barack Obama outlined a plan to withdraw 33,000 troops by the summer of 2012. Obama confirmed that the US was holding preliminary peace talks with the Taliban leadership.
In June, Afghan forces took the lead in security responsibility nationwide. The US-led coalition shifted its focus to military training and special operations against terrorism. President Karzai suspended negotiations with the US.
But in 2017, after Donald Trump became the US President, he signalled a prolonged Afghan war in his Afghanistan policy. He invited India to play a greater role in rebuilding Afghanistan.
In February 2019, negotiations took place between the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and top Taliban official Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar centre on the withdrawal of its troops in exchange for the Taliban blocking international terrorist groups from operating on Afghan soil.
But on February 29, Khalilzad and the Taliban’s Baradar signed an agreement, paving the way for a significant drawdown of the US troops and guarantees that the country won’t be used for terrorist activities.
On September 12, intra-Afghan peace talks began for the first time in Doha, Qatar, after nearly 20 years of war. The government pushed for a cease-fire, while the Taliban reiterated its call for governance through an Islamic system.
On November 17, the US finally announced the withdrawal of troops by half by mid-January, days before President Biden took charge.
On April 14, President Biden decided to complete the withdrawal of troops by 9/11.