Afghanistan Table of Contents

Its Social Basis, A Segmented Society

Resistance to the Kabul Marxists and Soviet occupation forces came from the virtually all sectors of the Afghan population, but overwhelmingly from the rural communities. Cultural, historical and religious factors combined to make the reaction chaotic, but persistent and effective.

Centralized government and foreign authority has been consistently and often successfully resisted by Afghanistan's physically and demographically segmented society. For the vast majority of the population, all communities are alien except those directly known. The narrow confines of mountainous valleys, isolated oases, and tribal lineages kept them separated from each other. Social institutions generally reinforced the niche pattern of the forbidding landscape. Distinct religious and social codes, authority structures, and economic arrangements fostered inward looking mentalities which favored survival in a harsh physical environment.

Political changes over the past century have lessened Afghanistan's fragmentation. Noncoercive interactions from travel, trade, resettlement, educational opportunity, and economic diversification had begun to open social networks beyond the family, lineage, village and valley. Suspicion of government was softening as services began to complement coercion, but the institutions and beliefs sustaining resistance remained firmly in place. Political autonomy from central government buffered by the mediating functions of local notables remained the norm of experience for most Afghans. Consequently, when abrupt political change at the center brought sudden, unwelcome interference, the reaction was widespread and varied, but often violent. When the Soviets invaded, there were no large formations of rebels converging on the capital. Reactions against the Marxists had been local. Connections with the police and civil authorities which linked them to the capital had been severed. Repression of such an atomized rebellion required crushing resistance everywhere. Ultimately, that is why Soviet repression failed, but the process that enabled chaotic, isolated resistance to prevail also destroyed the delicate fabric of Afghanistan as a national community that had been tentatively woven in the previous two generations.

Among the most serious of the casualties has been the loss of a large segment of the elite and middle class which had begun to think and act nationally. Many were lost in the orgy of political murder at the outset of the Saur Revolution. More escaped to permanent exile. Their loss was catastrophic. Perhaps worse was the alienation which accompanied it. Afghanistan's rural society saw betrayal in the behavior of school teachers, civil officials and exiled professionals. Afghanistan's experiment in modernization had brought disastrous politics and a foreign invasion of the countryside. The beneficiaries of modern opportunities had either perpetrated these evils or had fled seeking such opportunities elsewhere. Rage and resentment became serious barriers to reconciliation between the rural majority and what was left of the urban elite.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress