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Afghanistan: The 40-year-war (and counting)

Nadeem F. Paracha takes a visual journey through the past and present of a war-torn country, hoping that peace would return some day.


A communist revolution/coup in Afghanistan overthrows the nationalist government of Mohammad Daoud Khan. The revolution is led by Afghanistan’s main communist party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and its supporters in the Afghan armed forces.

Women in Kabul celebrate the 1978 communist take-over.


Communist sympathizers in the Afghan military march on the streets of Kabul in 1978.


Fighting breaks out within the PDP. Hafizullah Amin and Nur Muhammad Taraki of the party’s radical Khaliq faction take control of the government. But Amin topples Taraki by getting him killed. Political chaos ensues and Soviet forces roll into Kabul ‘to defend the revolution.’

Leader of the radical wing of the PDP N M. Taraki.


December 1979: Afghans pour out on the streets of Kabul after receiving the news that Soviet forces were rolling into town.

Soviet troops moving towards Kabul.


The Soviets put Babrak Karmal – the leader of PDP’s moderate faction, the Parcham – into power. Karmal reverses some of the Khaliq faction’s more radical socialist policies. Encouraged and strengthened by Soviet forces, Karmal announces a more left-liberal program. The United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia decide to back newly-formed groups of anti-communist Afghan insurgents. The insurgents begin to call themselves the Mujahedeen and want to ‘liberate Afghanistan from the clutches of atheists.’

Babrak Karmal of PDP’s moderate-wing, the Parcham, was handed over the presidency by the Soviets.


Normalcy returns: The Kabul University in 1980.


Early Afghan Islamic insurgents crossover into Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas in 1980.


Fighting between Soviet/Afghan forces and the Mujahedeen groups intensifies in the countryside. Mujahedeen leaders are headquartered in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The US and Saudi Arabia increase their funding of the Mujahedeen.

‘Jihadi’ literature also begins to emerge. It is largely published in Texas (United States) and then distributed by the Pakistani authorities to attract more recruits for the Mujahedeen.

Men from other Muslim countries begin to arrive in Peshawar to fight alongside the Mujahedeen. They come from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and many other Arab countries. Many young Pakistanis from mainstream religious parties and newly-formed radical Islamist outfits too join.

The CIA greatly increases its funding to train and arm the Mujahedeen. This move is mainly coordinated by a right-wing, and, ironically, pro-Israel American socialite and anti-communist crusader, Joan Herring. She also becomes a close associate of Pakistani dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq.

Urban Afghanistan remains firmly in the hands of Soviet forces.

An Afghan Mujahedeen group parade two captured Soviet soldiers near the Pak-Afghan border (1982).


A Russian teacher with Afghan students at the Kabul University in 1982.


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A Mujahedeen group surround and display a captured ‘local Soviet agent’ in a village near Jalalabad in 1983.


Pakistani dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, with American anti-communist socialite, Joan Herring in 1983. Herring who had a lot of influence in the CIA and Whitehouse was an ardent supporter of Zia. She also helped acquire Israeli weapons for the Mujahedeen.


A 1984 anti-Soviet poster (printed in the US and distributed by Pakistan to Afghan insurgent groups).


A Soviet air assault unit takes off for the countryside from Kabul Airport in 1985.


The Pakistani ISI and American CIA inform Whitehouse that many Mujahedeen units were being hit hard by Soviet helicopter attacks. US President Ronald Regan agrees to supply the insurgents with anti-aircraft Stinger missiles. The missiles become effective in downing Soviet helicopters. Soviet troops are pushed back.

Najibullah, former head of Afghan intelligence agency, Khad, replaces Babrak Karmal, as President.

Soviet economy begins to buckle, causing severe food shortages in the Soviet Union.

In 1987, a huge car bomb kills dozens of civilians in a marketplace in the Pakistani city of Karachi. The Pakistan government accuses Khad for planting the bomb.

Saudi billionaire, Osama Bin Laden, forms the Al-Qaeda in Peshawar.

In 1988, the US, Pakistan and the Soviet Union agree to end the conflict. They sign a peace accord. Soviet forces begin to move out of Afghanistan.

In August 1988, Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq is killed in an air-crash. Sabotage is suspected. Democracy returns to Pakistan.


Two Afghan insurgents with their brand new Stinger in 1986.


A Soviet helicopter plummets after being hit by a Stinger missile (1987).


A marriage ceremony at a hotel in Kabul in 1987.

Najibullah replaced Babrak Karmal as Afghan President.


Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan.


Civil War continues in Afghanistan, with Najibullah’s Afghan troops holding Kabul against Afghan and Arab insurgent groups.

In 1992, Najibullah is toppled. He takes refuge in a United Nation’s building. Mujahedeen groups begin to move into Kabul.


Najibullah strikes a defiant pose in Kabul in 1990.

A fashion show and pop concert in Kabul in 1990.


Residents of a house in the outskirts of Kabul guard their adobe as Mujahedeen groups move closer to the capital.


1992: Najibullah is toppled and the Mujahedeen groups take over Kabul.


1992-95 The Mujahedeen groups soon split on ethnic and sectarian lines. Kabul is completely destroyed as various formally allied groups fight vicious battles against each other in the streets.

Many Mujahedeen leaders become warlords with their own militias and businesses. These include gun-running, extortion, banditry, poppy cultivation and heroin smuggling.

Mujahedeen groups turn against each other on the streets of Kabul (1993).

War between former allies raged in Kabul (1993)

Battles between Mujahedeen groups turned Kabul into rubble (1994).

Many former Mujahidin leaders became warlords with their own private militias.


As war between former Mujahedeen groups rage, an elusive militia made up of Afghan fighters indoctrinated in madrassas – that were set up for recruiting purposes in the northern areas of Pakistan in the 1980s – suddenly emerge and rapidly begin to push back the quarrelling Mujahedeen groups.

The militia is led by an enigmatic figure called Mulla Omar and is propped up by Pakistani authorities and Saudi funds. The militia calls itself the Taliban.

The Taliban take control of over 90 percent of Afghanistan. It then sets up a harsh regime according to its own puritanical understanding of ‘Islamic Sharia.’

Though the looting ends, it is replaced by severe punishments and laws like public executions, whippings and stoning; banning of all kinds of sports and games, and of all forms of music; and compulsory head-to-toe burqas for women, and beards for men.

Osama Bin Laden bankrolls the Taliban regime and sets up Al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Kabul. Due to Taliban regime’s gross human rights violations, it is not recognized by any country. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE recognize it.

However, in 1996-97, a large US petroleum company was dealing with the Taliban to lay the multi-million-dollar Turkmenistan-Pakistan-Afghanistan-India pipeline. But the company was asked by US government to move out of Afghanistan in 1998.

Thousands of Afghans escape to other countries as the conduct of the Taliban regime becomes harsher.

The elusive leader of the Taliban, Mulla Omar.

Najibullah was dragged out of the UN building and hanged.


A Taliban leader announces new laws and rules to a crowd in Kabul.

A women being executed in public.


Osama in suburban Kabul in 1998.


Al-Qaeda conducts an audacious terrorist attack in New York. More than 3000 Americans die.

US launches an invasion of Afghanistan and is facilitated by Pakistan. The Taliban regime parishes. A “moderate democratic set-up” is put in place. Hundreds of US/NATO troops pour in. Osama and Omar escape.

As US involvement and stay in Afghanistan deepens, the Taliban begin to regroup. Al-Qaeda begins to engineer terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

The horrific 2001 attacks in New York masterminded and funded by Al-Qaeda from Kabul.

US troops invade Afghanistan and push out the Taliban.


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US troops searching trucks near Kabul in 2003.


Girls returned to schools in Afghanistan after almost six years.


Kabul in 2005.


2006: An anti-US riot erupts in Kabul after a US military vehicle causes a road accident.


The Taliban regroup and manage to win back large swaths of land outside Kabul. A Pakistani version of the Taliban is formed in 2007, calling itself, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As Afghan Taliban intensify their attacks against the US troops, the TTP launches terror attacks in Pakistan against civilians and security forces.

The Afghan government accuses Pakistan of not acting against Afghan Taliban hiding on the Pakistan side of the Pak-Afghan border.

In 2009, the TTP begins controlling almost all of Pakistan’s Swat valley.

The Pakistan military launches an offensive against the TTP in Swat, pushing TTP’s Swat-based leaders out. These men cross over to the Afghanistan side of the border.

US President Barak Obama promises to reduce US forces in Afghanistan. He uses drones to fire missiles to exterminate Afghan Taliban leaders.

TTP attacks in Pakistan dramatically increase and so do terror attacks (by Afghan Taliban) in Kabul.

In 2011 Osama Bin Laden is killed by US forces. Unknown to Pakistani security forces, he was hiding in a walled compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

US soldiers and Afghan police outside a building in Kabul which was attacked by the Taliban in 2007.

Students with newly-acquired laptops at the Kabul University in 2009.


A car bomb planted by the Taliban goes off in Kabul in 2009.

Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2008.


Pakistan military takes back Swat valley from the Pakistani Taliban in 2009.

A child plays near the compound in Abbottabad where Osama had been hiding. Osama was killed here in a midnight operation by US Special Forces.


Mulla Omar dies from illness. In 2015 Pakistan military and air force launch an extensive operation against the TTP. By 2016, TTP is all but wiped out. The number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan witness a drastic decrease. But Afghan Taliban attacks in Kabul increase.

Afghan and US governments accuse Pakistan of not taking action against Afghan Taliban on the Pakistan side of the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan accuse the Afghan regime of not acting against TTP militants operating from the Afghan side of the border.

India’s political and economic involvement in Afghanistan grows, slighting Pakistani concerns.

ISIS presence in Afghanistan increases. Many TTP men pushed out from Pakistan begin to join ISIS. ISIS and Afghan Taliban clash for territory and influence. ISIS begins to recede after it is defeated in Syria and Iraq.

Afghan Taliban increase terror attacks in Kabul. Afghanistan remains trapped in an unending cycle of violence.

Afghan Taliban in their stronghold of Afghanistan’s Faryab province.

2015: Pakistani soldiers win back a town in Pakistan’s tribal area which was once infested by TTP militants.

An IED explodes in the path of a US battalion in Afghanistan.

A Pakistani soldiers looking at the other side of the volatile Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan has begun to fence the terrain.


A poor Afghan selling balloons, wondering when peace would return to his country. Most probably since his birth, all he has known is war.

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