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The bootlickers of the old and new imperialism are treacherously struggling to nip our popular government in the bud. They think that since we took over power in ten hours, they would, perhaps, capture it in fifteen hours. But they must know that we are the children of history, and history has brought us here.
Nur Muhammad Taraki, President of the
Woe to the children of history. Still exultant four months after the coup d'etat that brought his Marxist party to power in Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki could boast to an assembly of army officers that he and his comrades had been raised to their position by transcendental historical forces. Fifteen months later, Taraki was dead-assassinated by his own Portege Hafizullah Amin-and a month after that the Soviet Union landed an invasion force in Kabul in a vain effort to try to resuscitate Taraki's faltering revolution with an infusion of troops and military hardware. History, it would seem, was a harsh and capricious parent. Or perhaps it was Taraki's Marxist vision of history that was defective. With every passing year, it is more difficult to recall or comprehend that as late as 1978 many people still believed that history had a motive force, that it moved inexorably forward in progressive, dialectical, even sentient fashion. Though many of his comrades, Hafizullah Amin included, may have had a more cynical take on the Marxist vision of history, there is good reason to think that Taraki at least believed this much to be true: that history was moving toward a resolution and that he was part of the vanguard of that process.
Like all parents, history, in fact, did have lessons to teach, but they were of a local nature and not the sort of universal lessons that Taraki had in mind when he spoke in August 1978. There were many such lessons, including one about how Afghans treat outsiders who try to control their homeland and another about how they feel when people in authority interfere in their domestic affairs. And Taraki himself would have benefited, if he had only listened, from the many tellings and retellings of the stories of rulers who trusted too much in those around them. Afghan history is replete with moral tales from which value can be gained. But Afghan children, like all children, often do not want to listen, and this was certainly the case with the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan; but so too was it true of its enemies-the tribes and ethnic coalitions that rose up in the first months against the new regime and the Islamic militants who eventually succeeded in taking control of the anticommunist resistance until they too lost out to the Taliban militia, which controls Kabul and much of Afghanistan today. This book is about the Marxists and their enemies and about how they all came to ruin in part at least because of their failure to heed the lessons of the past. As different as they were, the factions that fought for supremacy in the first, pivotal years of the Afghan conflict shared this in common: in their eagerness to seize the present and shape the future they all forgot both about the past and what it might teach them and about their own society-its contours, its potential, its limits.
My objective here is to place the history of the present against the history of the past in order to gauge what happened in Afghanistan and why the forces that in the first years of the war seemed between them to control the destiny of the country have all been destroyed. The originative form of history for Afghans is the genealogy, and I have framed my own exercise in historical understanding in genealogical terms. Through genealogies Afghans figure not only relatedness but, more important, their moral responsibilities in the world. Through scores of generations, people have learned how to comport themselves on the basis of genealogies. Genealogies are the blueprint, the map, the skeleton of relationships. Friendship, authority, love, even enmity are volatile until they have been transmuted into genealogical form, which traditionally and in the first instance is what Afghans-particularly tribal Afghans-"think with" and act on. Likewise, in the world of Islam and the world of governance, genealogies have long played the same central role. In mystical and clerical circles, genealogies are kept that indicate the passing on of knowledge and the relationships of spiritual and scholarly succession. In the calculations of rulers, would be and real, claims to authority have historically had to have a genealogical basis to be given credence, and pretenders without such credentials have tended to be short-lived.
My own claim to credence is also based on a genealogical approach to Afghan history. This approach is premised on the belief that we can learn much that would otherwise be obscure by looking at individual lives and trying to understand their connection to larger historical and cultural processes. In all that has been written about the war in Afghanistan, there has been little of note about individuals or about how the war was seen from ground level. The lives that I look at are not those of"ordinary people." Though attention to the experiences of noncombatants, women in particular, is needed, I was not in a position to conduct the necessary research to produce such a work. I was able to examine the war from the vantage of men who participated in it and who sought to achieve through political and armed engagement goals that they viewed at the time as transcendent.
As in my first book, Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier, which looked at three legendary figures from the turn of the previous century, I am concerned with men in positions of authority to whom other men looked for leadership. But few of the men involved in this war could be viewed as"heroes" in the sense I used the term previously. This was a war of attrition, a war in which relations of loyalty and enmity repeatedly shifted. It was also a war of changing purposes and principles that were confusing and alienating to those viewing the war from a distance, as they were for those directly affected. Even in Afghanistan, on the edge of the global, this is an overexposed age of hype and bombast, of exaggerated promises and deflated expectations. It is not a time conducive to the perpetuation of myth or the growth of new legends. But the men of today have still had to contend with the myths and legends of the past, and this book focuses on how three leaders who came to prominence in the first years of the war sought to square with the past as they endeavored to shape the future.
Genealogies are also about origins, about how things got to be the way they are based on the way they"originally" were. In this book, I use a genealogical method to try to uncover the origins of the jihad. The war in Afghanistan went through a number of phases, and to understand those phases one must also understand what came before. The starting point for this book is the inqilab-i saur, the Saur Revolution of 1978, which brought Taraki and his allies to power. But in order to understand the significance of this event and the demise of its revolutionary promise, it is important to consider prior understandings of the role of rulers in Afghan society and their relationship to those they ruled. The second phase involved the first tribal and regional insurrections (qiyyam) against the Marxist state, from late 1978 through early 1980, which were precipitated by a variety of factors and organized on different social bases in different areas. This period was brief, as Islamic political parties took control of the local rebellions and provided their organizational and ideological stamp to the scattered purposes of insurrection. This period of party control is the phase of jihad, of"struggle in the path of Islam." But, far from the implication of that term, there was little unanimity as to what the struggle was about or how it should be directed. To the contrary, this period was characterized by internecine struggle as much as it was by conflict with the government in Kabul, and the final objective of this book is to make sense of how and why jihad proved as inadequate a conceptual framework for unifying the Afghan people as"revolution" and"insurrection" had previously shown themselves to be.
Before Taliban is in many respects a sequel to my first book, and so it is only natural that the people I thanked in the acknowledgments of that book deserve thanks here as well. Rather than list all these names a second time, I will simply express my gratitude to those people again for their various and sundry acts of kindness and assistance, while singling out several whose names have come up before but who had a special impact on this book. These include Nancy Hatch Dupree, who has been a friend and inspiration for more than twenty-five years and who generously made available to me photographs from the Khalilullah Enayat Seraj collection. Nasim Stanazai introduced me to Qazi Muhammad Amin, the party leader whose life forms the principal focus of Chapter Six, and made it possible for the interviews with Qazi Amin to take place. I also want to thank once again Sayyid Shahmahmood Miakhel, my longtime friend and collaborator, who has assisted me from the start of my Afghan research in 1982 to the present and who helped arrange a trip through eastern Afghanistan in 1995, which is described in the first note in Chapter Eight.
In addition to those people I acknowledged before, additional friends and relations have provided help more recently, and I would like to take the opportunity to mention them. In particular, I want to thank Samiullah Safi, who shared with me the stories from his youth and war years that are the foundation of Chapters Four and Five, and the aforementioned Qazi Muhammad Amin. Neither of these men had to take time to talk with me, and I believe that each did so because he honestly wanted the story of the war in Afghanistan told with some sensitivity and accuracy. In trusting in me, an American whose personal agenda and political orientation they could only guess at, these two men took a leap of faith. I cannot guarantee that I have told the story the way they would have wanted it told, but I can say that I have done my best to minimize my personal biases and have tried to relate their histories faithfully.
In addition to these men, without whom this book would not have been possible, I also want to acknowledge other Afghans who agreed to shorter interviews and whose testimony has helped flesh out historical aspects of this work. These include, for their help on the situation in Pech and Kunar, Aman ul-Mulk, Dr. Delawar Sahre, Commander Abdur Rauf Khan, Commander Abdul Wahhab, Yusuf Nuristani, Ghazi Chopan, and Hashim Zamani; for their assistance on various aspects of Islamic belief and practice in Afghanistan, Agha Jan Senator, Hazrat Abdul Shokur, Muhammad "Ali and Sayyid Muhammad Sahibzadgan, Maulavi Abdul Hakim Zhobul, Dr. Abdul Qader Suleimankhel, Wasil Nur, Mirajan Saheqi, Maulavi Fazel Hadi Shinwari, Sayyid Hakim Kamal Shinwari, Maulavi Abdul Ahad Yaqubi, Maulavi Muhammad Gul Rohani and Maulavi Ahmad Gul Rohani, Shams-ul Haq Pirzada, Sayyid Hissam, Muhammad Qayem Agha, Maulavi Amirzada, Fazel "Ali Mujadiddi, Engineer Ahmad Shah, Abdul Sabur Azizi, Sayyid Isaq Gailani, Nur Agha Gailani, Sayyid Mahmud Gailani, Rohullah, Qari Taj Muhammad, Sayyid Abdullah Tora, Maulavi Abdul Aziz, Maulana Qiyammuddin Qashaf, Sayyid Mahmud Hasrat, Maulavi Habibullah from Logar, Abdul Bari Ghairat, Maulavi Wula Jan Wasseq, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Dr. Inayatullah Eblagh; and, for their assistance on Afghan matters generally, Dr. Zahir Ghazi Alam, Qasim Baz Mangal, Sayyid Shamsuddin Majrooh, Sayyid Bahauddin Majrooh, Ustad Khalilullah Khalili, Abdul Jabar Sabet, Rasul Amin, Hakim Taniwal, and Haji Zaman. I also want to thank the party leaders who granted interviews to me, including Hazrat Sibghatullah Mujadiddi, Maulavi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi, Engineer Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Maulavi Yunus Khales. I apologize to anyone whom I have left out and for any errors of omission or commission that might be present in this work.
During the writing of this book, I have benefited from being able to spend a year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the School of American Research. Doug Schwartz and his staff provided a wonderful setting to complete this work, and I offer my thanks to them and to my fellow scholars who shared the year in Santa Fe with me: Alan Goodman, Roberta Haines, Nathan Sayer, Frank Salomon, and Ana Celia Zentella. In the final stage of manuscript preparations, I was able to incorporate useful comments and advice from various anonymous reviewers and especially from Margaret Mills, whom I met in Kabul while searching for a used bicycle to buy and who has remained a friend and valued colleague ever since. My first exposure to Afghan oral history was at a talk given by Margaret in Kabul in 1976 on Herati versions of the Cupid and Psyche myth. Ever since that time, Margaret has provided inspiration through her own work and her insightful editorial comments.
I also want to acknowledge the financial assistance of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided the fellowship that allowed me to spend the year at the School of American Research; Williams College, for its sabbatical support; and the Williams Class of 1945, whose World Fellowship enabled me to take an additional semester of leave to complete the writing of this book. Finally, I want again to thank my wife, Holly, and my children, Nick and Melody, who put up with frequent office detours so that I could jot down an idea or write a paragraph. Their tolerance and love are acknowledged with much gratitude.