Part 3 Chapter 24
Since time immemorial Afghanistan, the gateway between Asia and Europe, has had a history of domination by foreign conquerors and conflict among internally warring factions. The land was conquered by Darius I of Babylonia and Alexander the Great in the later years B.C. with Genghis Khan occupying the territory in the thirteenth century. However, not until the sixteenth century was the region unified into a single country. By the nineteenth century, Arab rulers had invaded the country again and introduced the religion of Islam. Britain attempted to annex Afghanistan in the later part of the century to protect its Indian empire from Russia, which resulted in a series of wars that the British finally lost in 1921 and Afghanistan became an independent nation ruled by monarchs.
In 1976, a military coup ousted the last king. Led by Mohammed Daoud Khan of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the monarchy was abolished and Khan named himself president. The Republic of Afghanistan became established with firm ties to the USSR, but President Khan was later killed in a communist coup led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, one of the founding members of the Afghan Communist Party. He took control of the country as its new president and proclaimed independence from Soviet influence, declaring his policies to be based more on Islamic principles and Afghan nationalism. Taraki did however sign a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, but rivalry between Taraki and another influential communist leader, Hafizullah Amin, led to fierce fighting between the two factions towards the end of the decade.
During this time, conservative Islamic and ethnic leaders who objected to social changes President Taraki had introduced began an armed revolt in the countryside, forming the Mujahadeen, a guerrilla movement created to battle the Soviet-backed government. They assassinated Adolph Dubs, the American ambassador, resulting in the United States cutting all aid to Afghanistan and the country plunged again into chaos. A power struggle between President Taraki and his Deputy Prime Minister, Hafizullah Amin, further complicated matters resulting in a group of Amin’s supporters killing Taraki during a confrontation. Many Afghans fled the country in despair.
Towards the end of 1976, a young married couple living in the community of Goshta in eastern Afghanistan, one of the many ethnic groups battling the Taliban in the country, fled the turmoil. Pashto and Anahita Aziz joined other refugees making their way over the hills and crossed the border into Pakistan. Unlike the others, they spent only a short time in one of the refugee camps, for a rich uncle who had already moved to London helped them to make the journey to England where they settled in the capital. As is customary in Afghan families, the rich relative had no hesitation in loaning the couple money to purchase a lease and acquire the stock on a small newsagents shop with a tiny flat above in Brixton. Through sheer hard work and thanks to their popularity in the area, they earned the respect of the local community and the shop prospered, when most other small shops were in decline or closing down. Pashto and Anahita Aziz judged the time right to start a family and they were blessed with the birth of a son, Muhammad, and a year later a daughter, Aaila. Both children would grow up with love and respect for their kind, industrious parents.
Meanwhile, back in their homeland around this time the USSR invaded the country in an attempt to restore order and bolster the faltering communist regime. Three days after the invasion, the Russians executed Hafizullah Amin and many of his followers. Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal became prime minister but widespread opposition to Karmal and the Soviets spawned violent public demonstrations. By early 1980, the Mujahadeen rebels had united against the Soviet invaders and the USSR-backed Afghan Army. Over the next nine years three million Afghans fled from the war torn country to Pakistan, and another one and a half million took flight to Iran. The Mujahadeen Afghan guerrillas, having received arms from the United States, Britain and China via Pakistan, gained control of the rural areas whereas Soviet troops held the urban areas. The fighting was sporadic but fierce, with many atrocities and acts of torture being committed, resulting in the United Nations investigating the reported human rights violations in Afghanistan.
It was about this time towards the end of the war that one of the most infamous terrorists of all time, Osama bin Laden and fifteen other Islamists in Afghanistan formed al-Qaida, meaning ‘the base’, to continue their jihad against the Soviets and others who opposed their goal of a pure nation governed by the laws of Islam. Al-Qaida believed that the Soviet’s faltering war in Afghanistan directly resulted from their ferocious attacks. They began to shift their focus to America, realising that the remaining superpower was the main obstacle to them establishing an Afghanistan state based on Islam.
In 1989 the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Soviet Union signed peace accords in Geneva guaranteeing Afghan independence and the withdrawal of over one hundred thousand Soviet troops. However, the Mujahadeen continued their fight with the Soviet-backed regime led by communist president Dr Mohammad Najibullah, who had been president of the puppet Soviet state since 1986. In 1992 the Mujahadeen, together with other rebel groups aided by turncoat government troops stormed the capital, Kabul, and removed Najibullah from power. The Mujahadeen fought hard for the future of Afghanistan and formed an Islamic state.
The Taliban, the newly formed militia of the Islamic state rose to power by promising peace and upholding traditional Islamic values. Most of the state’s male Afghans, drained by years of famine and war, supported them for cracking down on crime, limiting the education and employment of women and requiring them to be fully veiled and not to venture outside alone. Public executions and amputations enforced Islamic law, resulting in death and maiming,. However, to the chagrin of Bin Laden and its other leaders, the United States refused to recognise the Taliban’s authority and Afghanistan remained in turmoil, with ethnic groups in the south and north still battling the Taliban for control of the country. A long drought making many rural areas uninhabitable did not help matters and another million Afghans fled to neighbouring Pakistan ending up in squalid refugee camps.