Afghanistan’s history tells of hard battle for independence

Liz Kohman

The tension between the United States and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is just another strand in the tangled web of international relations.

The history of Afghanistan tells the story of a country that has successfully fought foreign influence and invasion. Alliances with different countries have helped Afghanistan maintain its independence.

Afghanistan’s terrain – land-locked between five other countries – also provides protection. Mountain ranges and desert regions present inhospitable conditions for attacking armies.

Eric Sheppard, a University geography professor who studies the Middle East, said Afghanistan has a proud history of repelling invasion, and that there is a confidence which comes from history.

The Soviet Union learned the hard way.

During the Cold War, the United States and Afghanistan had a common enemy, the Soviet Union and communism.

In the early 1970s, Afghanistan remained neutral in the Cold War, receiving assistance from both the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and installed Soviet-supported President Babrak Karmal.

The Soviets withdrew from the country 10 years later, beaten by guerrilla warfare and rough terrain.

Approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers died during the war. Afghanistan lost more than 1 million lives, and about 5 million Afghans left the country as refugees.

The war has been described as the Soviet Union’s version of the U.S. conflict with Vietnam.

Ragui Assaad, a professor in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the Soviets lost the war because they were fighting in difficult terrain, and the Afghans were unafraid of dying because they were defending their religion.

The United States, China and Saudi Arabia financially supported Afghan Muslims’ fight against Soviet communism.

Sheppard said the United States provided support in collaboration with Pakistan by shipping arms and providing military service. U.S. aid also went to refugee camps and military schools.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the extent of the U.S. involvement,” Sheppard said.

The Soviet Union “withdrew in disarray” after 10 years of trying to maintain a government, Sheppard said.

He said the war undermined the Soviet Union and accelerated the country’s demise.

While the war hurt the Soviet Union, it also took its toll politically and economically on Afghanistan.

After the Soviet Union withdrew from the country, several alliances fought for control of Afghanistan. In 1996, the Taliban gained control over enough of the country to declare itself the official government.

The United States withdrew its support from Afghanistan after the Taliban gained control.

Sheppard said the Taliban believes a “right society is a religious society,” and that it’s very important to realize the Taliban represents a minority viewpoint of Islam.

wLiz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]