Mujahidin (mojahidin) is the plural form of the Arabic term mujahid, who is a person who wages jihad. According to doctrinal and historical applications of Islamic law, jihad indicates military action for the defense or expansion of Islam. While in the course of Islamic history the term mujahidin has been used by different groups to identify their struggles to defend Islam, the term gained global currency in the latter decades of the twentieth century after the leftist coup d'état in Afghanistan on 27 April 1978. The resistance groups first opposed the Afghan communist regime, declaring it atheist. They then turned their attention to the Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan on 27 December 1979. Fighting the Soviet Red Army, they collectively referred to themselves as mujahidin waging jihad against a communist power occupying an Islamic land.
The Afghan mujahidin were divided into two main groups: (1) those based in and backed by Pakistan with substantial financial and military assistance from Saudi Arabia and the United States, who mainly represented the Sunni majority; and (2) those based in and supported by Iran, representing the Shi ite minority. The Pakistan-based group of mujahidin included Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Movement), Hizb-e Islami (Party of Islam) led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, Hizb-e Islami led by Muhammad Yunus Khalis. Hikmatyar and Khalis initially jointly led the Hizb-e Islami, but later split the party, both retaining the same name. Itihade Islami (Islamic Union), Jam˓iyat-e Islami (Islamic Society), Jabha-e Nijat-e Milli-ye Afghanistan (National Liberation Front of Afghanistan), and Mahaz-e Milli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan).
In 1988, the Afghan Interim Government (AIG)—a loose alliance of the seven groups listed above—was achieved through pressure by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. However, various attempts to unite these and other smaller Pakistan-based mujahidin groups ultimately resulted in failure. In Iran, there were a multitude of mujahidin groups until 1989, when, owing to Iranian pressure, they united into a single party, Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islam-ye Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan).
In February 1989, the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan and on 28 April 1992, the Afghan mujahidin finally achieved their main objective by capturing the capital, Kabul. Sibghatallah Mujaddidi, leader of Jabha-e Nijat-e Milli, was proclaimed president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan for a two-month period, to be followed by a four-month presidency of Burhan al-Din Rabbani, the leader of Jam˓iyat-e Islami. Thereafter, elections were to be held. However, Rabbani refused to leave office, barred elections, and ruled in Kabul until 27 September 1996, when a splinter mujahidin group, the Taliban, captured the city.
From 1992 to 1996, various mujahidin groups battled each other in every corner of Afghanistan. In the ever-shifting alliances and frontlines, the country was transformed into decentralized fiefdoms ruled with increasing brutality by warlords. Moreover, with the absence of a common enemy, the jihad gave way to an ethno-sectarian war. Another legacy of the Afghan mujahidin was the influx of foreign fighters, mainly from Pakistan and Arab states. After the mujahidin victory in 1992, most of these groups reorganized and became involved in places such as Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya, and Kashmir.
Beginning in 1989, Pakistan supported and organized the transfer of Afghan and Pakistani mujahidin groups to Kashmir, in order to have more direct control over the militants that were fighting for either the valley's independence from India or for union with Pakistan. The largest of these groups were Harakat al-Ansar (Movement of the Ansar—Helpers of prophet Muhammad in Medina), Hizb al-Mojahidin (Party of Mojahidin), and Lashkar-e Taiba (Army of Pure). The involvement of these and other mujahidin heightened the religious dimension of the Kashmiri conflict. By 1993, the largest and most popular Kashmiri insurgent group, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which advocated independence and secularism for Kashmir, lost its military edge to the Hizb al-Mojahidin, which advocated either the establishment of an Islamic Kashmiri republic or union with Pakistan.
In the case of the Afghan resistance in the 1978–1992 period, the term mujahidin gained popularity, as did the groups themselves, not only in Islamic countries but also in the West. In the Islamic context, the Afghans waged a true jihad; and in Western minds, they were a liberation army fighting Soviet expansionism. Since 1992, however, the term mujahidin lost its religious and political currency internationally, as the Afghan mujahidin became associated with international terrorist figures who had once fought in their ranks, such as Usama bin Ladin. In the Kashmiri case, the groups claiming the title of mujahidin did not enjoy support in most Muslim countries, with the exception of Pakistan, and were seen in the West as either terrorist or rebel organizations.
Roy, Olivier. Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.