Just Another Proxy War

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Afghans wait outside the Kabul central Pulicharkhi prison on January 14, 1980, days after the Moscow-installed regime of Babrak Karmal took over. (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Many things happened in 1978 that lead to the invasion of Afghanistan. Nur Mohammad Taraki took over the government with a coup. He was a member of Afghanistan’s communist party and had a very nice relationship with the Soviet’s prime minister Brezhnev. The Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Friendship with Afghanistan to try to install a pro-Soviet regime in place. Taraki did not last long as the leader. He was widely unpopular because of his “Soviet-like” reforms including “secular education, equal rights for women, land reforms, and other administrative reforms” (von Geldern). He also did little things massacring unarmed civilians, executing thousands of policial prisoners, and suppressing opposition. You know only the small stuff (Giles). So you could see where the Afghans disagreed and by 1979 they were in open rebellion against Taraki.

Taraki was overthrown and executed by Hafizullah Amin and the Soviets did not take that well. And this is when the Soviets decided that they would deploy their army to Afghanistan which started the 10-year conflict that eventually turned into a proxy war. They came into the capital and immediately executed Amin and installed Babrak Karmal which did not go well with the Afghans or the West. Since this was during the Cold War, any invasion by the Soviets to a country was seen as an act of aggression against the West. The United States and Saudi Arabia started funding the Afghan mujahideen fighters. This became another proxy war between the Soviets and the United States for the next 10 years.

There were many unintended consequences that this war lead to for the Soviets:

  • The government was forced to increase the size of its armed forces
  • Tens of thousands of soldiers died (and hundreds of thousands of Afghans)
  • Diverted funding from the stagnant civilian economy
  • Destroyed their rocky relationship with the West
  • and undermined Soviet relations with developing countries (von Geldern)

All of this for their withdrawal from the country only 10 years later with a war failure. What was it all for?

 

Sources:

Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. I.B.Tauris. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-84511-257-8.

von Geldern, James. “Invasion of Afghanistan” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 29 Dec. 2015, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/invasion-of-afghanistan/

10 thoughts on “Just Another Proxy War

  1. Claire, I think you did a great job explaining the build up and the consequences of the invasion into Afghanistan. I like how you mentioned the US support for the Mujahideen, showing how this war was about the US and the USSR and not as much about Afghanistan at all. You mentioned at the end “what was it all for”– do you think, given the political tensions at the time, that the Soviets realistically would have let the coup go without doing anything?

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  2. This was a very informative post! You went into good detail and i was able to follow the build up which transitioned into the consequences of the war. I am wondering though, how do you think this would have an effect today if the Soviets would have won?

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  3. Great post as always, Claire. I always look out for your posts! It was well explained. I especially loved the bulleted list of the consequences; it showed what the Soviets gave up just for the withdrawal.

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  4. Claire, great post, really found this was interesting and intriguing. I am also a fan of how relaxed you make your writing sound. It is somewhat of a conundrum how after all that fighting, and a occupation of 10 years, the US thought it too could figure out how to invade Afghanistan. It says a lot about the relationship the US and the USSR had with other countries during the Cold War and the Cold War mentality that followed after. It is crazy how far they were both willing to go during the Cold War to ensure regime change was beneficial. I know they did a lot in Latin Ameria, it is interesting the Soviets had not learned of the mistakes the US made during Vietnam.

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  5. Claire, this is a really fascinating post, especially because the ripples of these interactions can still be witnessed now. A lot of conflict and controversy between the Soviet Union and the United States comes from the fear of communism and the policy of containment; do you think that perhaps if the United States had not intervened, we would currently be as involved in the Middle East? And further, are our contributions to the Middle Eastern conflict derivative of our conflicts with the Soviet Union?

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  6. The points I wanted to make have already been raised here — by Caroline, who notes that we see don’t see this as an Afghan issue (which is a problem, IMO!), and by Cameron, whose questions about the US’s involvement are right on point.
    Did you check out the Current Digest and see how this episode was covered in the Soviet press?

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  7. War. What is it good for? This was a really cool post, and I think it carries some pretty obvious parallels with current events. It seems that when either the US or USSR tried to install puppet regimes into nations, it generally backfired pretty violently. Your was great in breaking down the causes and effects of the conflict in a fun format. Thank you for this post.

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  8. This was a really relaxed and well-written post about the invasion and its aftermath. I really liked how you broke down how it started and the lasting effects it had for the Soviet Union, as well as how the situation became an international conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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  9. Claire, I loved your sarcasm in the first paragraph about the “minor” things that the new leader did that led to revolt. I also thought your post was informative because I think a lot of people have a basic knowledge of the war in Afghanistan and the Soviet’s involvement, but not really the backstory/what started it. So I felt like I learned more about this conflict from reading your post. I thought the picture you found was a great image, and would have been interested if you had found any primary sources.

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  10. It doesn’t surprise me that a part of the world that is generally considered very religious would resist communism, but I do wonder why the Soviet backed leader wouldn’t try and adapt the system to fit his people better? Growing up there, he must have known how religious people were, and how much they would oppose any sort of atheist society.

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