KABUL, Afghanistan — June 14 marked the first democratic transfer of power in the history of Afghanistan. After 13 years of presidential service, Hamid Karzai hung up his trademark blue chapan and lambskin hat and looked to a life of retirement.
Tensions between Karzai and the west, especially the U.S., have risen over the last decade. What Karzai sees as American interference — and what the U.S. considers uncooperative actions — have soured trust to bitterness. There are not many American leaders who will be sad to see Karzai go. And yet, not many expect a new president to usher in an age of peace in Afghanistan. The following gives a brief explanation as to why.
In the 1800s, a recently unified Afghanistan suffered nearly a century of British occupation. It was not until the 1920s that the power dynamics changed. Great Britain, weakened after WWI, left Afghanistan entirely at the end of the third Anglo-Afghan war.
The first Afghan leader following British withdrawal was Amir Amanullah Khan. Intent on modernizing the nation, he declared a monarchy and himself a king. But introducing such sudden reform and limiting the power of the Loya Jirga, the National Council, caused strong opposition. By 1929, Khan was forced to abdicate. He fled when armed Pashtun forces stormed the capital.
In 1933, a man named Zahir Khan took the throne, from which he would oversee nearly 40 years of stability. His cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan, became Prime Minister in 1953 and began implementing social reforms. Perhaps most notable among these reforms was the admittance of women into universities and work spheres. He forged an alliance with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, a somewhat ironic move, in hindsight.
Just a few years later, without the knowledge of Khrushchev, Zahir or Mohammad Khan, two men named Nur Mohammed Takir and Babrak Karmal formed the Afghanistan Communist Party.
Mohammad Khan led a military coup in 1975, eventually overthrowing his cousin Zahir. Forming the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, he drafted a new constitution. His goal was, again, to modernize Afghanistan. It was both heavily influenced by communistic ideology and progressive.
Unhappy with the party and the constitution, the previously-mentioned Communist Party orchestrated a second coup, killed Mohammad Khan and installed Takir as president. Karmal was made Deputy Prime Minister, and Afghanistan was declared independent of Soviet influence. The year was 1978, and tensions were high.
In 1979, things collapsed. On September 14, Takir was killed by the supporters of a political opponent. The opponent became president until December of that year, when the USSR invaded to bolster their collapsing regime and executed him. A wildly unpopular Karmal was made Prime Minister, sparking violent demonstrations.
In the midst of the Cold War, the U.S. and United Kingdom, along with several other nations, threw support behind Mujadeen forces, who were fighting Soviet troops. The 1980s were years of war. Millions of Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan and Iran. Amid the chaos rose Saudi national Osama bin Laden, who founded Al-Qaeda in 1986.
With the signing of the Geneva accords in 1989, all Soviet troops were removed from Afghanistan, but the internal conflict was not resolved.
Two more transfers of power occurred before the Taliban, a militia promising peace, rose and gathered strong public support. Islamic law was enforced, often under pain of death. At that time, the greatest opposition force to the Taliban was the Northern Alliance, which was supported by Hamid Karzai.
In 1998, the Clinton administration ordered missile attacks on bin Laden’s Afghan training camps. Sanctions against Afghanistan were enforced because of the Taliban’s refusal to hand their leader over. Following the destruction of the World Trade Centers, bombings in Afghanistan became frequent.
In 2001, the Northern Alliance took Kabul and forced the Taliban into Kandahar. Taliban rule was at an end. One year later, NATO-backed Hamid Karzai was sworn in as president.
The following years were only slightly less bloody. NATO continued its occupation and missile strikes in an effort to eradicate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and to keep the new government secure. A constitution, written in Pashto and Dari, was created with the participation of over 500,000 Afghan citizens. Parliament was established.
Now, NATO is withdrawing the last of its forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda continue to hide in the Afghan mountains, and the Karzai regime is said to be less than free of 13 years’ worth of corruption.
The election on June 14 was a manifestation of the progress and triumph of the Afghan people. But the world is aware that they are not out of the woods yet.