Afghanistan: Political Parties in

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The development of mature political parties in Afghanistan did not occur until the 1960s, and they grew particularly upon the reforms of King Zahir Shah beginning in 1963.

Strong ties to tribal, regional, religious, or ethnic identities, the lack of class awareness, and the very small size of the intelligentsia limited the formation of political parties in Afghanistan. There were political societies as early as 1911, including the Young Afghan Party, which was centered on the personality of Mahmud Tarzi and his weekly journal Siraj alAkhbar, and in 1947 the Awakened Youth (Wish Zalmayan in Pakhtun) was formed in Kandahar by members of the Pakhtun upper class.

Political parties arose in earnest during the constitutional reforms under King Zahir Shah (19331973) in 1963, especially with the liberalization of the press laws in 1964. By the mid-1970s three types of political parties had emerged, each representing the sentiments of a relatively small educated class. One type was based on the European socialist-nationalist model and included the Jamʿiat-e Social Demokrat (the Social Democratic Society), usually called Afghan Millat (Afghan Nation), led by Ghulam Mohammad Farhad. This strong Pakhtun-oriented party led to several spin-offs, the most important of which was the Millat (Nation). The other major party of this type was the Jamʿiat Demokrate-ye Mottaraqi (Progressive Democratic Party), founded by the popular prime minister Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal (19651967). It advocated evolutionary socialism and parliamentary democracy. By the 1980s these parties had ceased to play a major role in Afghan politics, even though remnants exist today.

Socialist parties also emerged in the mid-1960s. The most prominent was the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), founded in 1965 by Babrak Karmal, Hafizullah Amin, and Mohammad Taraki. It was pro-Soviet and had a Marxist-Leninist ideology. In 1967, this party split into two factions, the Khalq (People's) faction, led by Taraki and Amin, and the Parcham (Banner), led by Karmal. In April 1978, the factions temporarily united and the PDPA led a successful coup. This party ruled Afghanistan until 1992.

Other parties on the left included the Setem-e Melli (National Oppression), led by Taher Badakhshi, which was Marxist-Leninist and strongly anti-Pakhtun. Sholay-e Jawid (Eternal Flame), another popular Marxist party, was led by Rahim Mahmudi. Both were popular among minorities (non-Pakhtun), especially the Shiʿa and the ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan. The leftist parties dominated campus politics at Kabul University and were influential in the government of Muhammad Daud that took over Afghanistan in 1973.

Islamic parties also appeared in Afghanistan in the late 1960s, partly as a reaction to the increased secularization of Afghan society and the govern-ment's growing friendship with the Soviet Union. Islam had played an important role in national politics in earlier periods, often as a means of mobilizing national sentiment against an outside force, usually the British. The Islamic parties were of two types: those of the traditional ulama, or religious scholars, and those that were hostile to the ulama and advocated a new and more radical Islam. The new and more radical parties sprung up on the campus of Kabul University, where a number of professors had studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo and had established contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin ). Those professors brought the Islamic fundamentalist message back to Afghanistan, and in 1970 they established the Javanan-e Muslimin (Islamic Youth) movement on campus. That year, Javanan-e Muslimin won the university student elections, ending several years of leftist control of student government. In 1971 the Islamist movement became a party called Jamiʿat-e Islami (Islamic Society) led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.

In 1973 Muhammad Daud Khan took over Afghanistan in a political coup, ending the democratic experiment. He incorporated many of the leftist parties into his government, but the Islamic parties were forced underground or into exile. Rabbani and Sayyaf fled to Peshawar, Pakistan, and began an armed insurrection against the government in Kabul. By 1980 the Islamic movement had split into four factions, including the original Jamiʿat-e Islami ; the Hezb-e Islami (Islamic Party), led by Golbuddin Hekmatyar; another Hezb-e Islami, led by Mohammad Unis Khalis; and Ittihad-e Islami (Islamic Union), led by Sayyaf. These political groups were more regional militias than political parties, and each of their leaders had been allied with Jamiʿat-e Islami at one time.

The traditional clergy also fled to Pakistan in the late 1970s and formed resistance parties to fight against the Marxist government in Kabul and, after 1980, the Soviet Union. These parties included Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Movement), led by Maulawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi; Jebhe-ye Nejat Milli (National Liberation Front), led by Sufi Pir Sebghatullah Mojaddedi; and Mahaze Islami (Islamic Front), led by Sufi Pir Sayyid Ahmad Gailani.

The seven Islamic parties formed a loose coalition in Peshawar, Pakistan, during the 1980s to coordinate their war effort and to attempt to form an Afghan government in exile. In February 1989 they formed an Afghan Interim Government (AIG) in Pakistan and elected Mojaddedi president. Very
soon, however, conflicts arose, and the Hezb-e Islami led by Hekmatyar withdrew from the AIG.

Other religious parties, primarily the Shiʿite parties, were excluded from the AIG. Shiʿa make up between 15 and 20 percent of the population of Afghanistan and are mostly Hazara. They have several political parties, most with ties to Iran. The first Shiʿite parties, founded in 1979, were the Shura-ye Ittifagh-e Islami (Islamic Council), led by Sayyed Beheshti, and the Harakat-e Islami (Islamic Union), led by Shaykh Asaf Mohseni. The Shura was formed as a quasi-government of the Hazarajat, and in the early 1980s it operated as such. However, by the mid-1980s the Shiʿite areas of Afghanistan, primarily the Hazarajat, were taken over by Iranian-based parties, especially the Nasr (Victory) and the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards). These parties, imbued with Islamic fervor resulting from the Iranian revolution, ruthlessly pushed out the more moderate Shiʿite parties. In the late 1980s, these Iranian-based parties united in a political front called the Wahadat (Unity), which represents most of the Shiʿite parties and is led by Ustad Karim Khalili.

In 1992, the Islamic political parties returned to Kabul to form a government, but by late 1993, any unity that might have existed among them had disappeared, and there was bitter fighting between rival Islamic parties in Kabul and other major cities for control of Afghanistan. In the chaos a new political force emerged called the Taliban, a Persianized Arabic word meaning "religious students." The Taliban movement arose among the Afghan refugee population living in Pakistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban movement also received support from elements within the Pakistan government. The Taliban preached a puritanical form of Islam that combined Wahabi-style Islamic practices with strict tribal customs regarding the proper role of women and public behavior in general. Most of its followers were from southern Pushtun tribes in the Kandahar area. The Taliban seized control of Kandahar in 1994, and although opposed at first by most non-Pushtun groups, they were able to exert their control over most of Afghanistan by 1998. The leader of the Taliban government was Muhammad (Mullah) Omar.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 in New York City, the United States began a military campaign to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan. By December 2001 the Taliban had been forced from power, and on 21 December 2001 a new government, led by Hamid Karzai, took control in Kabul. The government was originally formed as an interim government at a conference in Bonn in November 2001, then was reaffirmed, albeit in a somewhat different form, by a national council, Loya Jerga, held in Kabul in July 2002. This new Afghan government is composed of several political factions, which can be divided into three major groups: the Northern Alliance, the Rome Group, and the Peshawar parties. The Northern Alliance holds the majority of the important cabinet positions in the interim government, except for the presidency. It includes the Jamiʿat-i-Islami, a predominantly ethnic Tajik group officially led by former president Burhanuddin Rabbani; the Shurai-Nizar, composed of Panjshiri Tajiks who were followers of the late Ahmad Shah Masʿud; Jambish-iMelli, a predominantly ethnic Uzbek militia led by General Rashid Dostum; and Hezb-i-Wahadat, a predominantly Hazara militia led by Mohammad Karim Khalili. The Rome Group is composed primarily of followers of the king, who was in exile in Rome. The Peshawar parties consist of those resistance groups that fought against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s out of the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

As many of the older parties that orignallly had been organized essentially as military militias were attempting in early 2003 to reinvent themselves as electoral parties, new parties were emerging to vie for seats in the new parliament. These parties included the National Council of Peace and Democracy of Afghanistan, which was composed of students, university professors, liberal republicans, and nongovernmental agency (NGO) workers; and the Nizati-Milli, formed by Younus Qanooni, the former interior minister, and Wali Masʿud, the brother of the assassinated leader Ahmad Shah Masʿud.

see also amin, hafizullah; awakened youth; gailani, ahmad; hazara; hekmatyar, golbuddin; hezb-e islami; jamiʿat-e islami; karmal, babrak; khalis, mohammad unis; mohammadi, maulawi mohammad nabi; mojaddedi, sebghatullah; parcham; people's democratic party of afghanistan; rabbani, burhanuddin; revolutionary guards.


Arnold, Anthony. Afghanistan's Two-Party Communism: Parcham and Khalq. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1983.

Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan: A New History. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 2001.

Farr, Grant. "The New Middle Class as Refugees and Insurgents." In Afghan Resistance: The Politics of Survival, edited by Grant Farr and John Merriam. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.

Roy, Olivier. Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. New York; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Grant Farr