The cold war between the United States of America and the then Soviet Union ended in 1991 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But there is one nation still bearing the brunt of this cold war which ended almost three decades ago. The country is none other than our Asian ally Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a small landlocked country in the South Asian continent and has been often referred to as the ‘graveyard of empires’ in the past. What was it then that made it so important for the United States of America and the Soviet Union to put their footsteps on this land? It is this question I look forward to answering in this article.
It was not what Afghanistan had but where Afghanistan was that made it so strategically important for the two giant players of world politics. Afghanistan shares its border with Iran, holder of one of the largest oil reserves of the world. For the Soviet Union, control over Iran then would mean control over the entire OPEC. This would thereby give it the power to influence oil prices and control over the entire Middle East, well before its western counterpart could. For such reasons, the Soviet Union entered into a friendship treaty with the government of Afghanistan to provide them with all economic and military aid. Afghanistan was also of interest to the Soviet Union because it shared a border with Pakistan. Entry into Afghanistan would have allowed the Soviet Union to exercise control over Pakistan, the Arabian Sea and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Thus, it would had allowed the USSR to control the entire South Asian region. It was because of these interests that the Soviet Union, in particular, the KGB (the Russian intelligence) was involved in the assassination of Amin, the President of Afghanistan during the civil war era, who was of an anti-Soviet Union mindset.
Coming to the United States it had a completely different mindset. Pakistan was USA’s trump card for Iran and the Middle East. Pakistan shares a border with Iran but had unstable border issues with Afghanistan. When the Civil War broke out in Afghanistan in 1978 Pakistan taking advantage of the situation indulged in proxy warfare by providing training to the Mujahedeen insurgent groups which caused further problems. The US supported Pakistan by provided financial aid to these Mujahedeen groups via the ISI of Pakistan. Thus ensuring Pakistan stays loyal to the United States, per se the US also needed Pakistan’s assistance to settle the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979).
What also interested the USA to get involved in Afghanistan, even though it realised its consequences, was the fact that the Soviet Union was involved. Don’t forget it was the cold war era and any involvement of any one block made it extremely imperative for the other group to poke it’s nose. While the United States assisted the Mujahedeen, the Soviet Union assisted the government. The Afghanistan Civil War and the Iranian Revolution both broke out during the cold war era and hence were a point of attraction to both the United States and the Soviet Union who wanted a diplomatic hold over the oil-rich Middle East.
In 1979, the Soviet Union set up Babrak Karmal as President of Afghanistan and gave him the responsibility to lead the Soviet originated regime. Soviet troops were deployed to Afghanistan to stabilise the situation while the USA continued to fund the Mujahedeen. Around 2 million Afghans died and 6 million were displaced in this cold war turned proxy war between the two players. It was only during the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 that it lost interest in Afghanistan. However, it was short lived as later during the Afghan Civil war of 1992 a Russian border post was attacked which prompted Russia to indulge in retaliatory strikes causing widespread damage in northern Afghanistan. Later, Taliban in Afghanistan, was created to relieve Afghanistan of the crimes and atrocities of the Mujahedeen. It soon got out of hand as it turned out to grow into a terrorist organisation causing further harm to Afghanistan. Russia here, provided military assistance to the Afghan Northern Alliance in its battle against Taliban. The United States’ interest was also revoked in Afghanistan post 9/11 when it invaded Afghanistan to put an end to the Taliban.
Every time two nations as powerful and dominating as Russia and USA enter into a war whether cold or proxy for that matter, millions all over the world and not only within the stipulated boundaries of these countries are affected. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US funding of the Mujahedeen led to the rise of the Taliban and the current problem of terrorism. If you look at it, the United States itself was responsible for the attack on the Twin Towers on 11thSeptember, 2001 and the death of its citizens.
The world is still bearing the consequences of something that happened almost 3 decades ago. Afghanistan could never come out of the turmoil. In the lust for world power, in a bid to control the entire world lives of innocent humans were put at stake. Every morning there is news about some terrorist attack in some part of the world. The world’s fight against terrorism started with two countries wanting to control and influence the world, two countries striving for world peace today but failing to admit that it all went wrong because they refused to part with their agenda of becoming and staying a ‘Superpower’. This fight against terrorism ends with the blood of innocent lives, prospering countries turning into burial grounds of their own sons and daughters.
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Currently in her second year of Economics Honours from Shri Ram College of Commerce, she is a Punjab-Delhi express that demands to be recongnised. She is an enthusiastic soul looking for happiness in small things while trying to make it big in life. From books to humans she has opinions on all, a curious soul who never gets tired of learning.