In the memoir of Abdul Karim Misaq, the Finance Minister of the PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) government led by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, events have been reported that are surprising to those interested in the political history of Afghanistan.
In his book, Misaq narrates the story of Amin’s political thoughts, the beginning of the conflicts between Amin and Taraki, and the narrative of Taraki’s murder from Amin’s words in a way unprecedented in the other books of high-ranking people of the PDPA. In this book, other surprising events, such as Babrak Karmal’s opposition to Hafizullah Amin’s exclusion from the PDPA before the “April Coup,” are also reported.
The political memoir (600 pages) of Abdul Karim Misaq under the title “Memories and Conversations from the Past” has been published by Amiri Publication this year, 2022. Misaq’s family members have written a preface at the beginning of the book stating that they published it at the author’s request after his death. It seems that parts of the book, especially those that describe the formation of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan until the April coup, were written before the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
Abdul Karim Misaq begins his memoir with the formation of the first congress of the PDPA in the month of ‘Jadi’ in 1343 (January 1965). He ended it with the General Shahnawaz Tanai Coup in the month of ‘Hut’ in 1368 (February 1990). At the book’s end, the author narrates his meetings with Dr. Najibullah, the former president of Afghanistan. However, the most exciting and vital part of Misaq’s book is his narrative about the Taraki and Amin period. After the April coup, Abdul Karim Misaq became a cabinet member as the Minister of Finance. Besides being the Minister of Finance, he was also a member of the political bureau of the PDPA, responsible for finalizing critical political decisions. Abdul Karim Misaq has tried to narrate the decision-making process, actions, and political thoughts of Taraki and Amin as an eyewitness. Knowing Amin, his works, and the extent of his influence on Taraki is very helpful in understanding the events and developments after the April coup.
According to published accounts, Hafizullah Amin was the mastermind and commander of the April coup. Interestingly, Amin was not a member of the political bureau of the PDPA until a month before the Coup. Two days before the Coup, after Mir Akbar Khyber’s memorial ceremony ended, the political bureau of the PDPA held a meeting at Sulaiman Layeq’s house in Karte Parwan, Kabul. In the meeting, the bureau decided that the PDPA would not make any move against Dawood Khan’s government and even delay the celebration of Labor Day on May 1 to not cause more anger to the ruling government of that time. For this reason, many leaders of the PDPA consider the April coup a result of Hafizullah Amin’s arbitrariness.
Eyewitnesses and all the leaders of the PDPA, who have published their memoirs, agree that Amin designed, coordinated, and executed the April coup without the involvement of the first secretary, second secretary, and polite bureau of the Party. Another point on which there is general agreement is that after the Coup, Amin became very powerful. Some of the party leaders believe that after the Coup, Amin used the guise of the Party to assume power. Abdul Karim Misaq has discussed these issues in detail in his memoir. Additionally, ‘Amin-related chapters’ is an exciting and essential part of Misaq’s memoir. In other words, Abdul Karim Misaq’s book is the author’s report on Amin’s character, decisions, behavior, and political thoughts.
The relationship between Amin and Abdul Karim Misaq is an exciting story in the book. As stated in the book, Abdul Karim Misaq and other members of the political bureau of the PDPA considered Amin to have an anarchist character before the April coup and were unhappy about his lack of adherence to the Party’s principles. In 1356, months before the Coup, Amin was against the unification of the two arms of “Khalq and Parcham”. Even in 1346, he suggested to Taraki that the “Khalq” branch form another party. With the change in Dawood Khan’s foreign policy, the two splinter arms of Khalq and Parcham reunited through the mediation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other regional Leninist parties. The unity agreement was such that the members of the Parcham branch accepted Taraki as the general secretary, and the members of the Khalq branch agreed that the political bureau, the central committee, and the secretariat of the Party would be divided equally between the two units. All Khalq’s political leaders had accepted this approach for unity. Still, Amin, who at that time was in charge of the military wing of the Khalq branch, opposed the 50% presence of the Parcham branch in the leadership of the Party. Amin was against the unity of the military organizations. In response, Abdul Karim Misaq and other political bureau members decided to expel Amin from the Party, which Taraki and Karmal opposed.
Karmal’s opposition to Amin’s dismissal was surprising for everyone. Misaq writes in his memoir about Karmal, telling him that several Pashtun youths have gathered around Amin and Mir Akbar Khyber. They influence Pashtun officers in the army and police, and if the Party expels them, the loss for the progressive left force would be more than its benefit. Misaq has also quoted Taraki that the General Secretary of the Party at the time wanted to promote Amin to become a political bureau member despite Amin’s anarchist character. According to Misaq, Taraki told everyone that if Amin got the privilege of entering the political bureau, his anarchism and destructiveness would be in control. It is inferred from Misaq’s memoir that Karmal and Taraki tried to bring Amin and Khyber to the political bureau.
Another logical conclusion can be that the Soviets were in favor of Amin’s promotion to the PDPA’s rankings, not his dismissal. Karmal was also worried that by Amin’s expulsion from the Party, some of the forces of the Parcham branch, including Khyber, would go with him and build an independent organization. In the same way that Taher Badakhshi left the Khalq branch and established the “Zahmatkashan Revolutionary Organization of Afghanistan”.
Abdulkarim Misaq was in favor of Amin’s expulsion from the Party before the April Coup and had once voted to expel Amin from the Party’s Central Committee due to arguments with Taher Badakhshi, was afraid of Amin’s growing power even after the Coup.
Misaq has mentioned many times in his book that Amin and his circle of military supporters became stronger daily and were ignorant of organizational principles. Misaq adds that Amin built such a circle around Taraki that no one could reach the Party’s general secretary without passing through Amin’s filter.
However, after Amin came to power and after Taraki’s murder, Misaq’s perception of Amin changed. Misaq states in his book that he remained loyal to Amin during his reign.
Once, after Taraki’s murder, the Soviet Embassy in Kabul approached Misaq and asked him to unite with other Pro-Taraki people against Amin and go to the Soviet Union. Still, Misaq refused the proposal and reported the matter to Amin.
In another case, during an official trip to one of the Eastern European countries, a non-partisan friend of Babrak Karmal came to Misaq saying that Amin would not last long. He suggested that Misaq should participate in the efforts to build a successor government, but Misaq strongly rejected the proposal. According to Misaq’s accounts, Amin also trusted him and believed he would not join any of his opposing forces. For this reason, Misaq’s report of Amin’s thoughts, decisions, and statements is persuasive.
AMIN’S FEDERALISM Plan
According to the author, one of the most surprising parts of the book “Memories and Conversations from the Past” is Misaq’s report on the political thoughts of Amin when he was in power. According to Misaq’s book, it appears that Amin wanted to copy the government model of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The 1977 constitution of the Soviet Union defines the country as a multi-national state in which each “nation” has an autonomous republic. Within some of these republics, there are even autonomous regions. These same republics became independent nation-states after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
According to Misaq, after Taraki’s murder and when Amin came to power, he created a commission to revise the constitution, with himself as the head of the commission. But due to his busy schedule, Abdul Hakim Shar’ee Jawozjani, the Minister of Justice at the time, was appointed Amin’s deputy to run the commission. Abdul Karim Misaq has stated in his book that Amin had told the commission that Afghanistan should be recognized as a multi-national federal government in the new constitution so that each “nationality” has a republic with autonomous regions if necessary.
The general perception defines Hafizullah Amin as a “Pashtunist fascist”. But Misaq’s report of Amin’s thoughts shows that he considered Afghanistan a multi-national country so that every “nationality” had the right to have a government/republic.
This perception is far from the conventional definition of a “Pashtun fascist” who considers Afghanistan and its citizens as the “Afghan/Pashtun nation” and does not believe in the existence of any other nation in that land.
A nationalist Pashtun has an ethnic interpretation of the words “Afghan” and “Afghanistan”. Also, a fascist Pashtun, whose clear example was Ismail Yun during the Fourth Republic, considers only the Pashtun people to own the territory and government of Afghanistan, and his great goal is to ‘Pashtunize’ the entire country.
Suppose someone believes in the existence of several nationalities in the geography of Afghanistan and, beyond that, wants a separate state/republic for each “nationality”; his fascist status would be subject to doubt and question.
However, Misaq’s memoir reflects Amin’s discriminatory view of non-Pashtuns. He writes in his book that Amin appointed his brother Abdullah Amin as head of the North Zone Regulatory Authority during Taraki’s term. According to Misaq, Abdullah Amin gathered people from the Kharuti tribe living in Dasht-e Archi of Kunduz province around himself in the “Spinzar Company”. He started discriminatory and hateful treatment of the rest of the people in the northern zone.
Amin’s federalism, if true, shows that he is the only ruler after Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, who did not want more centralization of power. After Abdul Rahman Khan, all the rulers of Afghanistan tried to follow his pattern of more centralization of power in the center. If Misaq’s report of Amin’s thoughts is accurate, he will be known as the only ruler who did not consider Abdul Rahman Khan as his ideal political model.
According to Abdul Karim Misaq, Amin demanded that there should be a parliament in his federal government of multi-nationalities. However, Misaq did not give more details about whether the parliament considered by Amin was the parliament of the last decade of Zahir Shah’s reign, in which Amin was a member or something like the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union.
TARAKI AND AMIN’S SOFT POSITION ON DURAND Line
Before reading Misaq’s book, I thought that Amin was the only leader in the political history of Afghanistan who had an open territorial claim on Pakistan and had officially declared the Pashtun and Baloch areas of the current Pakistani territory to be the territory of Afghanistan. But Misaq mentions in his book that Amin had a very soft and flexible policy regarding the Durand Line and the issue of Pashtunistan, contrary to his speeches on TV and in Party circles.
According to Misaq, Amin thought the main threats to his rule were the regular supporters of Karmal and Taraki within the Party and the jihadist Islamist forces based in Pakistan. Like every other Leninist and Stalinist government of the time, he adopted the policy of imprisoning, torturing, and executing actual and potential opponents to eliminate significant threats. According to Misaq, Amin’s spies reported about the potential supporters of Taraki and Karmal to the “Kam” intelligence organization, headed by Asadullah Amin, Amin’s nephew. They arrested, tortured, and, in some cases, executed the suspects.
Misaq writes that Amin was thinking of normalizing relations with the United States and Pakistan to eliminate the threat of jihadist forces based in Pakistan. He felt that normalizing ties with these two countries would solve the problem. According to Misaq, Amin sought a solution for the issue of Pashtunistan and the Durand Line. According to the content of Misaq’s words, Amin wanted to drop the claim of rejecting the recognition of Durand and the independence of Pashtunistan in exchange for receiving security and non-security guarantees and concessions from Pakistan.
According to Misaq’s book, Taraki’s policy was the same at the end of his reign. Abdulwakil, the foreign minister of Dr. Najibullah, was also a high-ranking official of the Foreign Ministry during the first few months of Taraki’s rule. He has written in his memoirs that after the April Coup, he had a friendly meeting with the head of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. Abdul Wakil reports that in the session, the Pakistani diplomat said that Islamabad considers the April Coup to be an internal issue of Afghanistan. Still, the new government must guarantee that it will not demand the spread of revolution to Pakistan and will not intensify the problem of Pashtunistan and the Durand Line.
Abdul Wakil writes that when he reported the meeting minutes to Taraki, he got disturbed and said that he could not guarantee the revolution to not rise in Pakistan and the removal of Pashtunistan’s demand for independence from Afghanistan’s foreign policy. But in the last days of his rule, Taraki had a meeting in Havana, the capital of Cuba, with General Zia-ul-Haq, the military commander of Pakistan at the time. On the way back from Havana, Taraki officially reported to the cabinet meeting that he told Zia-ul-Haq that nothing remains undivided between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also stated that they agreed to solve the problem between the two countries as soon as possible. According to Misaq, Taraki insisted on a solution for the Pashtunistan issue. He said the Foreign Minister of Pakistan would come to Kabul to negotiate with him and other government officials. According to Misaq, the case of Durand and Pashtunistan was one of the most controversial debates in the first Congress of the PDPA. In that congress, some members suggested that the Party include Durand’s non-official status and the claim of the union of Pakistan’s Pashtun areas to Afghanistan in its statute. However, after many discussions, the Party decided not to recognize Durand’s line. It supported the claim of the right of self-determination for the Pashtun and Baloch people, who were under the rule of Pakistan. That was the actual policy of the royal family at that time.
AMIN’S REPORT ON THE COUP AGAINST TARAKI
Taraki’s return from the trip to Havana on September 11, 1979, is another exciting chapter in Misaq’s book. He writes that most of those who worked in Taraki’s office was Amin’s men. According to Misaq, the cabinet meeting decided that Taraki should go to Cuba via the Soviet route. According to Misaq, Amin was eager to go on this trip instead of Taraki. Still, apparently, the Russians arranged the trip so that Amin would not be in the delegation, and Taraki would go to meet Brezhnev, the Soviet ruler at the time, in the Kremlin after returning from Havana.
According to the accounts, Taraki met with Brezhnev in Moscow on his way back from Havana. During this meeting, Brezhnev asked him to remove Amin from the government and make him an ambassador in one of the countries or cut off his relationship with the government and the Party. According to Misaq, Amin’s men informed him about Taraki’s meeting with Brezhnev and their possible decision during that trip. Amin had fully prepared to protect himself before Taraki arrived in Kabul.
Misaq writes that the plane carrying Taraki did not make a normal landing at the Khwaja Rawash airport on the way back from the trip to Havana. After approaching the airport runway, the plane took off again and landed forty minutes after flying over Kabul. According to Misaq, Taraki received a welcome at the airport, and after arriving at Arg, he asked all the ministers to come to the cabinet meeting. At the cabinet meeting, Taraki and Amin had hostile looks at each other. According to Misaq, Taraki, after reporting his meeting with Zia-ul-Haq, Fidel Castro, and Brezhnev, told the cabinet members that there was a CIA Agent in the government and the Party, who should be removed soon. Misaq writes that this word of Taraki caused anger in Amin’s face. According to Misaq, all the cabinet members understood that referring to CIA’s Agent Taraki meant Amin.
After the cabinet meeting, as written by Misaq, Taraki dismissed the ministers of the military divisions but invited all the party and government civilian officials to Salamkhana Palace to drink tea. There, Taraki tells everyone that “Comrade Brezhnev” wants us to remove the CIA agent from the government. Two days later, Taraki called Misaq, telling him not to leave the house if he was home. Taraki somehow informed Misaq that there was an operation to kill the CIA Agent.
After this conversation, Amin’s nephew, Asadullah Amin, visited Misaq at his house. He informed him that Radio Afghanistan would announce the dismissal of Interior Minister Aslam Watanjar, Telecommunications Minister Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoi, Intelligence Chief Asadullah Sarwari, and the Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Shirjan Mozdoryar that night. Asadullah Amin told Misaq that Taraki, previously, was against the dismissal of these people, but now he has been removed. Misaq told Asadullah Amin that a Coup had occurred against Taraki, and Asadollah Amin replies that Taraki was expelled by “revolutionary action”.
They were in the middle of the conversation when Aziz Akbari, the deputy of “Agsa” and one of the people loyal to Amin, called Misaq and told him to let Amin’s nephew go soon as possible. The following day, Amin called Misaq and other political bureau members to Arg, where he gave them the report of the Coup against Taraki. Amin’s description of the Coup against Taraki with the details provided in Misaq’s book is not reflected in the memoirs of other leaders of the Khalq branch.
In his report to the political bureau of the Party, an interesting point is his claim that Taraki and the four dismissed cabinet Ministers applied the policy of arbitrary executions, detention, and torture, while Amin was against it. Amin still complained about Taraki’s personality, saying that Taraki was against drafting a new constitution for the country. He claims that he has always wanted a constitution, and these differences caused Taraki and those four cabinet ministers to plan to assassinate him under the name of a CIA Agent. However, Amin himself acted on time and took control of the affairs.
In the same meeting, Amin implied to the political bureau members that Taraki was in prison. The political bureau decided to hold the Central Committee Polonium the next day. The Polonium Conference dismissed Taraki and replaced him with Amin, and all the members of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee accepted Amin’s coup report. No one asked anything about the fate of Taraki or where he was. When Misaq raised this question, he faced Amin’s angry reaction.
In the report to the political bureau and the Central Committee, Amin declared that the Russians were his supporters, not Taraki’s. Everyone knew those four ministers loyal to Taraki took refuge in the Soviet embassy. Misaq showed in his book that he had no problem with Amin as a ruler.
AMIN’S DEEP TRUST IN THE SOVIET UNION
According to Misaq’s memoir, Amin had deep faith and trust in the Russians and thought that Brezhnev considered him his ally and did not prefer Karmal, Taraki, or anyone else as allies.
One time, one of the diplomats of the Soviet embassy came to Misaq, telling him that Amin planned to assassinate him. And the embassy wanted to transfer Misaq to the Soviet Union to work against Amin with other Taraki supporters there, but Misaq reported the matter to Amin.
In response to Misaq, Amin said that Vladimir Puzanov, the Soviet ambassador in Kabul, became a supporter of the Parcham branch and is working against Amin, while Brezhnev supports Amin.
Amin further told Misaq that he also killed Taraki with the encouragement of Puzanov. Otherwise, he intended to keep him imprisoned in Arg for the rest of his life. After that, Amin asked Moscow to replace Puzanov. Moscow summoned Puzanov and appointed someone else to his position as the ambassador in Afghanistan.
Puzanev started his mission in Kabul during Dawood Khan’s regime. According to Misaq, when Amin and Taraki decided to exile and expel the Parcham branch from the Party and the government, Puzanov opposed the decision, and Amin, in his response, said that Puzanov had appointed Karmal and Parcham branch members as ambassadors.
Misaq was also at the “Jadi 6th, 1358 HS” party at Tajbik Palace, the last day of Amin’s reign. Amin had recently moved his office from Arg to Tajbik palace. Misaq mentions in his book that at that Party, Amin told the political bureau members that the Russians were providing the security of this palace and would not allow anyone to endanger his life. He had no idea that the Russians themselves would end his life that evening.
There is no trace of Amin’s disloyalty to the Soviet Union or Leninism in Misaq’s book. According to Misaq, based on the policy of improving relations with America and Pakistan, Amin planned to invite the American family he lived in their house during his student days in the United States to Kabul to build trust with Washington. In the secret documents of the American government, which are now public, there is nothing about Amin’s intimate relationship with the CIA or any other American institution. In his book, Misaq assesses that Moscow never wanted Amin but had never made this clear. In interaction with Amin, Moscow always referred to him as an irreplaceable leader. Still, on the other hand, Russia helped Amin’s Khalq and Parcham opponents to mobilize against him and stage a coup, which happened in the “Jadi” month of 1358 HS (December 1978).
In September 1979, since Taraki could not expel Amin from power, Moscow faced a done work and had no choice but to engage with Amin, waiting for another opportunity. Amin’s Sovietism was nothing short of Karmal and Taraki, and he was more Sovietist than the Russians. However, Moscow believed that in Amin’s existence, there was no comprehensive government in which all factions of the PDPA could unite under the umbrella of a charismatic leader.
AMIN’S CONFLICTS WITH THE SOVIET UNION
In Misaq’s memoir, there are also references to the differences between the foreign policy of Taraki and Amin and the policy of Moscow, which shows that the Soviet Union was not very satisfied with the foreign policies of Taraki and Amin. Taraki and Amin followed a close policy with North Korea, an ally of China, and did not have amicable relations with Moscow. According to Misaq, Taraki and Amin’s hostile policy against Iran’s newly established Khomeini government contradicted Moscow’s foreign policy. According to Misaq, Moscow expected its allied governments not to have an aggressive approach to the anti-American Khomeini regime in Iran. Taraki and Amin, after the mass uprising of the “Hut 24th” of Herat against the rule of the PDPA, announced that Iran played a role in the rebellion. This stance took the relations of Taraki and later Amin’s government with Tehran to the border of hostility. It is inferred from the book of Misaq that this issue, along with the multi-national federal system, was the main point of conflict between the Soviets and Amin.
TOPICS NOT REFLECTED IN THE BOOK
Dastgir Panjshiri and Saleh Mohammad Ziri were high-ranking members of the PDPA during Amin’s era. They had a membership of the political bureau but did not write anything about Amin’s federalism in their memoirs. Perhaps the reason is that Dastgir Panjshiri spent most of his time in the Soviet Union for treatment during the 100 days of Amin’s rule, and he returned in the last days of his rule and was unaware of many events. Saleh Mohammad Ziri might not have wanted to write anything because of his interests. Abdul Hakim Sharee Jawozjani, another member of Amin’s political bureau who is still alive, confirmed Amin’s federalism (despite the opposition of Soviet advisers) in a Facebook Post. Dr. Shah Wali, Amin’s Foreign Minister, still alive, has yet to write his memories of Amin, the details of Taraki’s trip to Havana, and his private conversation with Brezhnev. From this point of view, the memoir of Abdul Karim Misaq is one of the critical sources of the political history of the period of Amin and Taraki’s rule. During Babrak Karmal’s rule, Misaq did not have a position in government offices. He was appointed the mayor of Kabul during the government of Dr. Najib based on the policy of national reconciliation.
In a report of his meetings with Dr. Najib, Misaq quoted Najib’s statements about the hostility of the Karmal faction to the “national reconciliation policy” and Babrak Karmal’s opposition to the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet ruler. In these quotes from Dr. Najib, Misaq has no new points not mentioned in the memoirs of other high-ranking people of the PDPA. After the Red Army left Afghanistan, Dr. Najib released most of Amin’s friends and colleagues, including Dr. Shah Wali, Abdul Qudos Ghorbandi, Abdul Hakim Sharee Jawozjani, and several others, from prison and assigned them to critical party and government duties. Dr. Najib did this to strengthen his position against the faction loyal to Karmal. Abdul Karim Misaq did not participate in Shahnawaz Tanai’s Coup against Dr. Najib. When Babrak Karmal came to power, like Dasgir Panjshiri and Saleh Mohammad Ziri, he did not express regret for being with the “killer of Comrade Taraki”.
However, Misaq has not reported some significant developments of the Taraki-Amin era in his book. For example, in this book, the mass revolt of “24th of Hut of 1357” in Herat and Taraki and Amin’s response to this event is not discussed in detail. The documents of the Soviet government show that after this revolt, Taraki and Amin demanded the deployment of Soviet military forces in Afghanistan to provide military support to their government against other possible rebellions. Another important event of that era is the deployment of several special forces and helicopters of the Red Army in the Bagram and Khwaja Rawash air bases. Those special forces of the Soviet intelligence that carried out the operation to kill Amin in 1358 used the facilities they had in Bagram and Khwaja Rawash. There is no reflection regarding the issue of the unannounced deployment of many Soviet soldiers in Bagram and Khwaja Rawash before the “6th of Jadi” event.
Abdul Karim Misaq presents himself as bound by the organizational principles and ideals of the PDPA throughout the book. The reason for his opposition to Karmal is somehow related to the murder without trial of Amin and the “unprincipled” promotion of Karmal to the General Secretary position. However, Misaq does not answer why, despite Taraki’s murder without trial and the Coup against him, he continued cooperating with Amin and did not leave the Party and the government. But despite these, the book “Memories and Conversations from the Past” is one of the critical sources of knowledge about the Taraki and Amin era.