The Mujahidin Parties

Afghanistan Table of Contents

Political parties did not exist in Afghanistan before the 1960s. Their organization and methods of operation were alien to Afghan political experience. Traditionally, power had been generated by primordial affiliations: dynastic patronage and spiritual charisma or social interactions within tribes, clans, lineages or villages. Implementation of power was hierarchical and authoritarian. Ascribed roles and customary practice determined how discussion was conducted and information evaluated and who made decisions and carried them out. Tribal jirgahs permitted vigorous arguments, but consensus was reached through inherited procedures.

Royal authority was remote from most Afghans. The qawm, their most cohesive and intimate group, exercised much more immediate authority over each member. It was the primary source of identity and affiliation. Roy has argued that the authority of the qawm renders interactions outside of it secondary and hence without validity should a conflict with qawm interests arise. Outside interactions are seen as opportunities for aggrandizing the qawm such as winning favors from a government official or robbing a passing traveler. In such a cultural environment, the players lack the autonomy to play by rules that enable parties to function, such as openness to persuasion, tolerance of overlapping loyalties, discipline based on acquired convictions, freedom to join and to leave groups that exercise power, etc.

It has been widely noted that members of Khalq differed from Parchamis more on account of their Ghilzai or Eastern Pushtun cultural identity than because of their greater ideological radicalism. Recruitment of party activists based on traditionally ascribed affiliations tended to make the parties, themselves, creatures of the pre-existing communities from which they were drawn. The agendas of these prior groups could strongly influence the actions and purposes of such culturally marginal entities as political parties. Individuals had, also, a hierarchy of qawm affiliations radiating from primary ones. The behavioral and intellectual demands stemming from the values motivating party politics might require a radical shifting of such hierarchies. Afghans have had slightly more than a generation to make such an adjustment.

The parties that waged war against the Soviet forces and the Kabul regime reflected the difficulties of making such a cultural transition. For the most part they have been extensions of political actors. They have operated as an authoritarian command structure.

Circumstances also obliged them to function as expatriates. This fact had a major impact on their politics. They became dependent for funds on foreign governments or private interests. This situation inevitably exposed the politics and conduct of the war to foreign interference. Expatriate circumstances also meant that the parties fought the war virtually on a proxy basis. They were unable to direct or control the fighting. They served instead as conduits of supplies from foreign donors which Pakistan's intelligence service controlled. With one exception (Khalis), their senior leadership had no direct involvement in the war. Together, this isolation from the resistance fighting inside Afghanistan and their vulnerability to foreign pressures threatened to marginalize the parties. It left them without preparation for the political challenge of the Soviet withdrawal.

Other principal functions of the parties included articulating the resistance cause and representing the three million refugees stranded in Pakistan. They were well equipped to express the power of jihad. They used the refugee camps as laboratories for enforcing their political and religious doctrines. The practical needs of the refugees were attended by the Pakistan government and a large community of international humanitarian agencies.

Scores of fledgling political groups sprang to uncertain life in the aftermath of the Marxist coup and the Soviet invasion. Nationalist and ultra-Marxist networks briefly flourished in Kabul before being crushed by security police in 1980. Shia parties took autonomous control of the Hazarajat.

Many more aspiring political groups gathered in Pakistan, mostly in or near the frontier city of Peshawar. Among the millions of rural refugees were tens of thousands of educated, urban expatriates, many of whom eventually found opportunities to emigrate to Europe or North America. Many of rest joined the seven expatriate parties that were officially recognized by Pakistan. Groups who failed to get recognition lost the chance for significant funding. Most wasted away--some nationalist and socialist splinter-groups managed to maintain a lively criticism of their foreign supplied rivals.

War against forces identified with atheism inevitably aroused a passionate commitment to jihad, the Islamic obligation to overcome evil. The need for unity in this most segmented society moved the political climate toward religious leadership. Jihads waged against the British in the nineteenth century and King Amanullah in the twentieth had had the same effect. Moreover, Afghanistan's secular leadership was gone or compromised. When the Marxists seized power, the social and political basis for opposition fell almost exclusively on religious critics of modern, secular government.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress