Political History of Afghanistan (1880-1978)

The borders of the territory that now form Afghanistan were established towards the end of last century. With the British and the Russian empires competing for control in the region, Afghanistan became instrumental for détente. With the establishment of new borders, the Pashtun became divided into two, one share living in British India. The undisputed Pashtun majority in Afghanistan was reduced to around half of the total population.

The Afghan state traditionally had negligible influence in Hazarajat. Abdur Rahman Khan, who acceded to the throne in 1880, set out for a change. Progressively, the state penetrated the region and established local administrations, initiating a harsh taxation practice.

The radical measures of the government affected all classes of the Hazara population to the same extent. This made it possible for the secular and clerical power holders to mobilize the vertically organized loyalty groups in joint resistance against the central government.

The Amir mobilized against the Hazara confederation, benefiting from one religious and one tribal institution. First, he obtained a fitwa, a religious decree from the Sunni clergy, declaring on war against the Shia Hazara to be a religious war against infidels,-a jihad, and a holy war. Secondly, and partly justified through the fitwa, he mobilized tribal levies, lashkar, in the Pashtun tribes. Besides the religious reward, fighters were also promised free disposition of the booty, including enslaved Hazara. Two years of full-scale war ended in full defeat for the Hazara in 1893. The immediate consequences of the war were the destruction of villages and agricultural infrastructure, the enslavement of thousands of people, as well a severe loss of human life. The Hazara were pushed back from the southern foothills, and Hazarajat was opened up to other groups. Most important, its pastures were sold to Pashtun nomads. The state set up its own administrative system in Hazarajat. Loyal administrators were placed in the district centers, establishing co-operation with local notables and effectively replacing tribal organization with local entities.

The first quarter of this century saw some decisions with positive implications for the Hazara. Populations who left their country of origin under Abdur Rahman were allowed to return to their land by King Habibullah (1901-1919). King Amanullah (1919-1929) banned the practice of slavery, and changed land rights in the disfavor of the Pashtun nomads.

When the sole non-Pashtun ruler in Afghan history, Bacha-i-Saqao, took the throne in 1929, Hazara populations largely supported the old regime. Hazarajat was practically independent for a few months. A regional government was established which presented a list of demands to the king. Central points were full autonomy for Hazarajat, cessation of land taxation and army conscription, and withdrawal of Afghan administrators.

Bacha-I- Saqao was removed by Nadir Shah, who gained support from the Hazara. Nadir Shah intensified efforts to gain administrative control in Hazarajat, escalating the conflict between local population and administration. After being killed in 1933, he was replaced by Zahir Shah. From late 1929 up to the late 1940s, Afghanistan remained relatively calm, with foreign expertise and private trade contributing to an emergent socioeconomic development. In Hazarajat, the state tightened its administration further, but there were no major counter reactions.

From 1949, there came a tentative liberalization, in response to demands from the urban elite. Freedom of the press was introduced, and newspapers became focal points of political opposition. A central ambition was to strengthen the role of the parliament. Hazara delegates united behind a list of demands, including the establishment of a distinct Hazara province with Panjao as summer capital and Bamiyan as winter capital, the closure of pastures to Pashtun nomads and restrictions on the powers of local administrators. Lastly, an end to discrimination of Hazara was demanded, with emphasis on equal access to education. However the whole democratic experiment was strangled by the ruling family in 1953, when Prince Daud Khan was installed as prime minister. Many political opponents were imprisoned.

Daud Khan was prime minister up to 1963. This was a period of political authoritarianism. By establishing a strong army Daud made the state less dependent on tribal support. Further, the government gave priority to education and economic infrastructure and foreign aid became a major source of state revenue. Hazara labor migration to the cities assumed substantial proportions. Dud invested most of the country’s political prestige in pursuing the ‘Pashtunistan-issue claiming that the border with Pakistan lacked legal status, hence the Pashtun areas of Pakistan belonged to Afghanistan.

The 10-year period from 1963 is called the ‘new democracy’. The new constitution of 1964 opened up for freedom of the press. It also included a political party’s act, which had passed both houses of Parliament by 1967, only to be vetoed by the king. Newspapers and political parties sprang up, but the government soon started to clamp down on the most radical papers. Hazara parliamentary delegates repeated their demands from the early 1950s, adding that the Jaffari Shia law school should be accepted on a par with that of the Hanafi Sunni. While these demands were not met, the open polity also benefited the Hazara. Informally, two ministerial posts were reserved for the Shia. The government’s attitude to ethnic differences seemed to be that economic modernization would lead to their gradual erosion. In general, this democratic experiment was hampered by indecisiveness, and apparently fostered large expectations, but scant political influence for the new elite.

In 1973, Zahir Shah was replaced by Daud Khan in a bloodless coup. The democratic experiment was definitely over. Many opposition leaders were driven in exile. Daud returned to his earlier course, with political authoritarianism and intense socio-economic development based on foreign aid, and the Pashtunistan-issue was returned to the agenda. This was an attempt to build an authoritarian and unitary state, which many observers see as doomed to failure because it was basically in contradiction to a traditionalist, fragmented and anti-authoritarian population.


About Hamid Hussain

Worked at London Educational Academy (Teacher), Went to Gawhershad Model High School, Lives in Quetta, Pakistan, In a relationship, Knows American English, Dari, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, From Jaghuri, Ghazni, Afghanistan, Born on July 17, 1991

Posted on March 30, 2009, in Afghanistan, Historical, Political. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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