Dr. Susmit Kumar


When the Soviets sent troops to Afghanistan in 1979, the Carter administration responded limited covert support of the Afghan mujahideen under the US Cold War policy. But under the so-called Reagan Doctrine, the Reagan administration proceeded to fund, train, and provide the latest weaponry to the Afghan resistance. The U.S., instead of sending American troops to Afghanistan, gave more than 5 billion dollars worth of the most modern weaponry to the Afghan mujahideen (“strugglers”) to fight against the Soviets. Saudi Arabia gave a similar amount. Other Islamic countries like Iran helped the mujahideen both in monetary as well as military terms. Shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles like the Stinger worked wonders, and Afghanistan became the Soviet Waterloo.

Although the Cold War destroyed the economies and lives of millions of people in countries like Afghanistan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Angola, Argentina and East Timor, Afghanistan suffered the most because of three factors –

1. Unlike other countries, Soviet troops were directly involved and hence the U.S. used all its resources (money as well as the latest weaponry) to defeat the Soviets.

2. In order to fight Soviets, the U.S. along with Saudis termed the war against Soviets as the war against infidels and in this process they started the culture of “mujahideens” which was not there previously. Muslims all over the world came to Afghanistan to fight against infidel Soviets. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the training centers for the mujahideens kept churning out mujahideens to fight at other Islamic hotspots world-wide like Bosnia, Kashmir, Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It is worth noting that the Saudi government did not fund the Afghan mujahideens directly and instead Saudi businessmen financed them. Because of the Saudis involvement, the Pakistan army, its ISI and mujahideens were indoctrinated into Wahhabism, the radical form of Islam followed by Saudis. After the withdrawal of Soviets, Afghanistan exported Saudi Wahhabism to other Islamic countries once the mujahideens started to return to their own countries and other Islamic hot spots. It is worth noting that the Taliban government, which ruled in Afghanistan from 1996 till late 2001 (when they were overthrown by the US-led coalition forces), was recognized by only three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

3. Its neighbor Pakistan. The U.S. administration did not give money or train Afghan mujahideens directly, and instead funded and trained them via Pakistan’s ISI and Pakistan’s army. After Soviet left Afghanistan, Pakistan used the training facilities of Afghan mujahideens for training Kashmir militants. Apart from this in order to gain control of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s ISI created Taliban in 1996. Less a year of its establishment, Talibans were able to capture almost all Afghanistan with the help of Pakistani army.

In the 1980s, the U.S. spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan school children with textbooks filled with violent images and militant teachings from the Quran. It was part of a covert attempt to spur resistance against the Soviet occupation. When the Taliban came to power, they continued using these American-produced books, though they scratched out human faces in keeping with their strict fundamentalist rules. Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under a U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) grant to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. During the period 1984 to 1994, the agency spent $51 million on the university’s education programs in Afghanistan.[1] The following was the introduction to the Persian alphabet in a first-grade language arts book:

Alif [is for] Allah. 
   Allah is one. 
Bi [is for] Father (baba). 
   Father goes to the mosque... 
Pi [is for] Five (panj). 
   Islam has five pillars... 
Ti [is for] Rifle (tufang). 
   Javad obtains rifles for the Mujahidin... 
Jim [is for] Jihad. 
   Jihad is an obligation. My mom went to the 
   jihad. Our brother gave water to the Mujahidin... 
Dal [is for] Religion (din). 
   Our religion is Islam. The Russians are the 
   enemies of the religion of Islam... 
Zhi [is for] Good news (muzhdih). 
   The Mujahidin missiles rain down like dew 
   on the Russians. My brother gave me good 
   news that the Russians in our country taste 
Shin [is for] Shakir. 
   Shakir conducts jihad with the sword. God 
   becomes happy with the defeat of the Russians... 
Zal [is for] Oppression (zulm). 
   Oppression is forbidden. The Russians are 
   oppressors. We perform jihad against the 
Vav [is for] Nation (vatn). 
   Our nation is Afghanistan.... The 
   Mujahidin made our country famous.... Our 
   Muslim people are defeating the communists. 
   The Mujahidin are making our dear 
   country free.[2] 

In the textbooks, children were taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and landmines. Even after the AID stopped funding this program in 1994, the textbooks continued to circulate in various versions, even after the Taliban seized power in 1996. One page showed a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. Above the soldier is a verse from the Quran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujahideen, who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says.[3] Some of the math problems in a third and fourth grade textbooks were as follows:

(1) “A Kalashnikov bullet travels at 800 meters per second. A mujahed has the forehead of a Russian in his sights 3,200 meters away. How many seconds will it take the bullet to hit the Russian’s forehead?” [4]

(2) “A group of mujahedin kills 178 out of 3,560 enemy soldiers in battle. What percentage of the enemy have they killed?”[5]

(3) “One group of mujahedin attacks 50 Russian soldiers. In that attack 20 Russians were killed. How many Russians fled?"[6]

Again in 2002, the State Department gave Center for Afghanistan Studies a $6.5-million contract to print 15 million textbooks having phrases from Koran. But the contract was not renewed after the criticism that fund was being used for printing religious materials.

After the collapse of the Soviet-backed Najibullah regime in 1992, dozens of mujahideen groups fought amongst themselves for power, and Kabul became a fierce battleground. Common people started saying that life during the Soviet-backed regime had been better.

Afghanistan became a battleground for proxy wars among several countries. Pakistan was actively supporting the Taliban, while Iran, Russia, and India were supporting other groups in their fights against the Taliban. It was during these years that the country became a training ground for mujahideen fighting internationally, including in Bosnia, India (Kashmir), Egypt, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia.

Aside from warfare, life in Afghanistan had been at a standstill for more than a decade until the Taliban took over. Schools and colleges in most places were closed. Children grew up knowing only the Kalashnikov culture. It was normal to see even young boys carrying AK-47s in the countryside. After his visit to Kabul in 1994, Russell Gordon wrote,

Most of the fighters in the conflict are very young. Whereas the civilians and older soldiers seemed tired of the war, the young fighters were still enthusiastic. “Many have been fighting since they were eight years old,” a former teacher said. “Now, 14 years later, they’re 22 and the Kalashnikov is the only rule they’ve ever known.”[7]

Gordon further wrote:

There was little incentive for the fighters to lay down arms. As soldiers, they get food, clothes, $21 a month, and all the ammunition they want. Each man is his own mini-emperor with, to paraphrase China’s Mao Zedong, the power that grows out of the barrel of a gun. In fact, there were few other options for young people in Kabul. Many neighborhoods have been leveled, with the schools both wrecked and looted. The intellectuals having fled long ago, the next generation is growing up armed and illiterate. When money runs low, it’s not unheard of to have entire units bought out by their opponents.” [8]

Until the emergence of the Taliban in 1996, out of a population of 15 million in 1979, about one million Afghans had been killed, two million displaced within Afghanistan, and more than three million filled refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. According to one estimate, about two million people were disabled. In fighting among various tribal factions, the civilian death toll in Kabul between 1992 and 1996 was estimated at 30,000 to 40,000—more than twice the number killed during the 40-month siege of Sarajevo.[9]

In February 1996, Afghanistan’s foreign minister, Najibullah Lafraie, whose government was overthrown the same year by the Taliban, said, “We fought against the country that Ronald Reagan called the evil empire, and it was as a result of our sacrifices that the evil empire collapsed. But afterwards we were forgotten.” [10] Lafraie’s statement indicates the complete apathy of the U.S. towards countries it used to win wars against the Soviet Union. The U.S. is therefore itself to blame for the rise of Islamic militancy and terrorism based on how it used Afghans to fight the Soviets. Region bordering Pakistan-Afghanistan, which is now the epicenter of Islamic terrorism, is a direct result of Reagan Doctrine.

The Reagan Doctrine had a narrow vision of defeating Soviets by providing overt and covert aids, and it did not care for the long lasting effects. It did not hesitate to term the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan as a religious war, but they did not realize its long term effects in the Middle East or in other Islamic countries.

For this very reason based on the analysis of the social, political and religion environments in the Middle East, I wrote in my 1995 article:

The U.S. has sowed the seeds of the next Cold War by employing the low-cost war strategy in Afghanistan. Although a rise in Islamic fundamentalist movements world-wide was inevitable, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan only hastened the process...[11]

[1] Stephens, Joe and Ottaway, David B., “From U.S., the ABC’s of Jihad; Violent Soviet-Era Textbooks Complicate Afghan Education Efforts,” The Washington Post, March 23, 2002.

[2] Craig, Davis, “A” is for Allah, “J” is for Jihad,” World Policy Journal, March 22, 2002.

[3] Stephens, Joe and Ottaway, David B., op. cit.

[4] Dehghanpisheh, Babak, “Where ‘J’ Is for Jihad,” Newsweek Web Exclusive, April 19, 2003.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Craig, Davis, op. cit.

[7] Gordon, Russell, “A People Beyond Suffering: Afghanistan After the Holy War,” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 1994, p. 59.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Burns, John, “Kabul’s misery wears a single face,” The Guardian, UK, February 6, 1996, Originally published in The New York Times.

[10] Burns, John, op. cit.

[11] Kumar, Susmit, “Christian vs. Islamic Civilization—Another Cold War?” Global Times, Copenhagen, Denmark, December 15, 1995.

Additional information