The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Dec 1979 was one of the significant events that punctuated the closing years of the Cold War. The nine year long Soviet-Afghan war which lasted from Dec 1979 to Feb 1989 was fought between the Soviet army and Afghan communist government on one side and the Islamic insurgent groups who called themselves the “Mujahideen” on the other. This resulted in millions of killings and mass exodus from the country. The Cold War that lasted between 1945 and 1991 was an intense period of geopolitical rivalry and tensions between what came to be known as the Western Bloc (the US and its allies, primarily from the western world) and the Eastern Bloc (the erstwhile USSR and other countries aligned with its communist ideology).
Mohammad Daoud Khan, the Prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1953 to 1963, helped overthrow the Musahiban monarchy in the country in 1973 and established a republic. He then declared himself the President of the country. In April 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and other left-wing military officers led a coup d’état against the rule of President Mohammed Daoud Khan and overthrew him. The PDPA, though largely divided into the People’s (Khalq) and Banner (Parcham) factions, had held strong communist ideologies. The revolution resulted in the accession of a new communist government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as the President.
The Taraki government immediately implemented a slew of reforms that deemed traditional Islamic practices “feudal” and sought to ban them. The Sharia law was abolished and the people were encouraged to follow what was considered a “modern but un-Islamic” lifestyle. These reforms were vehemently opposed by the majority of the population, particularly in rural Afghanistan. All opposition was dealt with ruthlessly by the government which grew increasingly unpopular.
The Islamic population in Afghanistan, though a majority had been very diverse and hitherto divided. The immensely resentful populace now started to grow united and soon insurgent groups in both the cities and rural regions of Afghanistan stated to cause immense trouble for the newly formed government. These Islamic insurgent groups called themselves the mujahideen, a name borne by “those engaging in jihad or holy war for Islam”. Furthermore, the internal rivalry between the Khalq and Parcham factions increased Afghanistan’s challenges.
The presidency of Taraki was short-lived and in September 1979 Hafizullah Amin overthrew him. Amin’s attempts to pacify the Islamic populace were not well received by the communists. Tariki’s ties with the erstwhile Soviet Union were strong. On the night of Soviets to invade the country on the night of December 24, 1979, 30,000 Soviet troops stormed through Kabul unseating Amin and installing Babrak Karmal as the new leader (Operation Storm-333). The main aim of the USSR was to rescue the communist regime in Afghanistan from annihilation.
By this time the, US decided to enter the fray and back the Mujahideen by supplying them arms and ammunitions. The Afghan War quickly spiralled out of control. The urban areas were under Soviet control but the guerrillas sought shelter in rural tracts. The Soviet bombing of rural Afghanistan led to a mass exodus from the country. By the late 1980s, a crumbling Soviet Union was under grave pressure, having failed to establish a popular communist regime in Afghanistan but having drained finances and manpower over the protracted war. In 1988, the USSR finally signed an accord with the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan agreeing to withdraw and on February 15, 1989 Soviet troops left Afghanistan.