People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan

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"Communist Party of Afghanistan" redirects here. For another communist party, see Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan.
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People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan
حزب دموکراتيک خلق افغانستان
د افغانستان د خلق دموکراټیک ګوند
Abbreviation PDPA
Leader Last leader: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah
Founded 1 January 1965
Dissolved March 1992[1]
Succeeded by Watan Party
Headquarters Kabul, Afghanistan
Newspaper Khalq (1966)
Parcham (1969)
Youth wing Democratic Youth Organization of Afghanistan
Membership 50,000 (December 1978 – January 1979)[2]
70,000–100,000 (April–June 1982)[2]
160,000 (Late 1980s)[3]
Ideology Socialism
Colors      Red      Yellow
Party flag
Flag of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.svg

The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (Persian: حزب دموکراتيک خلق افغانستان‎‎, Hezb-e dimūkrātĩk-e khalq-e Afghānistān, Pashto: د افغانستان د خلق دموکراټیک ګوند‎, Da Afghanistān da khalq dimukrātīk gund; abbreviated PDPA) was a socialist party established on 1 January 1965. While a minority, the party helped former prime minister of Afghanistan, Mohammed Daoud Khan, to overthrow his cousin, King Mohammed Zahir Shah, and established the Republic of Afghanistan. Daoud would eventually become a strong opponent of the party, firing PDPA politicians from high-ranking jobs in the government. This would lead to uneasy relations with the Soviet Union.

In 1978 the PDPA, with help from the Afghan National Army, seized power from Daoud in what is known as the Saur Revolution. Before the civilian government was established, Afghan National Army Air Corps colonel Abdul Qadir was the official ruler of Afghanistan for three days, starting from 27 April 1978. Qadir was eventually replaced by Nur Muhammad Taraki. After the Saur Revolution, the PDPA established the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which would last until 1987. After National Reconciliation talks in 1987 the official name of the country was reverted to Republic of Afghanistan (as it was known prior to the PDPA coup of 1978). The republic lasted until 1992 under the leadership of Najibullah and acting president for the last twelve days, Abdul Rahim Hatef.

Formation and early political activities[edit]

Nur Mohammad Taraki started his political career as an Afghan journalist. On 1 January 1965, Taraki with Babrak Karmal[4] established the Democratic People's Party of Afghanistan, while at the beginning the party was running under the name People's Democratic Tendency, since at the time secularist and anti-monarchist parties were illegal.[5] The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was officially formed at the unity congress of the different factions of the Socialist Party of Afghanistan on January 1, 1965.[6] Twenty-seven men gathered at Taraki's house in Kabul, elected Taraki as the first party Secretary General and Karmal as Deputy Secretary General, and chose a five-member Central Committee (also called a Politburo).[7] Taraki was later invited to Moscow by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's International Department later that year.[8]

The PDPA was known in Afghan society at that time as having strong ties with the Soviet Union. Eventually the PDPA was able to get three of its members into parliament, in the first free elections in Afghan history; these three parliamentarians were Karmal, Anahita Ratebzad, Nur Ahmad Nur.[9] Later on, Taraki established the first radical newspaper in Afghan history under the name The Khalq, the newspaper was eventually forced to stop publishing by the government in 1966.[10]

The Khalqs and the Parchams[edit]

Main articles: Khalq and Parcham

In 1967 the party had divided into several political sects, the biggest being the Khalqs and the Parchams,[11] as well as the Setami Milli[12] and Grohi Kar.[13] These new divisions started because of ideological and economic reasons. Most of Khalqs supporters came from ethnic Pashtuns from the rural areas in the country. The Parchams supporters mostly came from urban citizens who supported social-economic reforms in the country. The Khalqs accused the Parchams to be under the allegiance of King Mohammed Zahir Shah because the Parcham newspaper the Parcham was tolerated by the king himself and therefore published from March, 1968-July, 1969.[10][14]

Karmal sought, unsuccessfully, to persuade the PDPA Central Committee to censure Taraki's excessive extreme radicalism. The vote, however, was close, and Taraki in turn tried to neutralize Karmal by appointing new members to the committee who were his own supporters. After this incident, Karmal offered his resignation, which was accepted by the Politburo. Although the split of the PDPA in 1967 into two groups was never publicly announced, Karmal brought with him less than half the members of the Central Committee.[15]

Because of the internal strife within the party, the party lost most of its incumbent seats in the Afghan parliamentary election in 1969.[10] In 1973 the PDPA assisted Mohammed Daoud Khan to seize power from Zahir Shah in a nearly bloodless military coup.[16] After Daoud had seized power he established the Daoud's Republic of Afghanistan. After the coup, the Loya jirga approved Daoud's new constitution establishing a presidential one-party system of government in January, 1977.[17] The new constitution alienated Daoud from many of his political allies.[18]


The Soviet Union set in Moscow played a major role in the reconciliation of the Khalq faction led by Taraki and the Parcham faction led by Karmal. In March 1977, a formal agreement on unity was achieved, and in July the two factions held their first joint conclave in a decade. Since the parties division in 1967 both sides had held contact with Soviet government.[19]

Both parties were consistently pro-Soviet. There are allegations that they accepted financial and other forms of aid from the Soviet embassy and intelligence organs. However, the Soviets were close to King Zahir Shah and his cousin Daoud Khan—the first Afghan President—and it could have damaged their relations.[20] There are no facts proving that the Soviets provided financial help to either Khalqis or Parchamis.

Taraki and Karmal maintained close contact with the Soviet Embassy and its personnel in Kabul, and it appears that Soviet Military Intelligence (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye – GRU) assisted Khalq's recruitment of military officers.[21]

Khalq rule[edit]

The Saur Revolution[edit]

Outside the gate of Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul, the day after Saur revolution on April 28, 1978.

In 1978 a prominent member of the PDPA on the Parcham side of the party, Mir Akbar Khyber, is claimed to have been assassinated by the government and its associates. While the government rejected any claims of having assassinated him, the PDPA members apparently feared that Mohammad Daoud Khan was planning to exterminate them all.[22] Shortly after a massive protest against the government during the funeral ceremonies of Khaibar most of the leaders of PDPA were arrested by the government. Hafizullah Amin with a number of Afghan military officers supporting the Khalq faction of the PDPA wing stayed out of prison. This gave a chance to the group to organize an uprising. The government of Daoud eventually collapsed thanks to PDPA military members. After the military coup, the PDPA leadership got out of jail. Nur Mohammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal, and Hafizullah Amin overthrew the regime of Daoud, and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA).[15]

The day after the Saur revolution in Kabul.

On the eve of the coup, the Afghan police did not send Amin to immediate imprisonment, as it did with the three Politburo members and Taraki on April 25, 1978. His imprisonment was postponed for five hours, during this time he was under house arrest. He gave instructions to the Khalqi military officers thanks to his family who gave the instructions to the officers. Amin was sent to jail on 26 April 1978.[15]

The regime of President Daoud came to a violent end in the early morning hours of April 28, 1978, when military units from the Kabul military base loyal to the Khalq faction of the party stormed the Presidential Palace in Kabul.[23] The coup was also strategically planned for this date because it was the day before Friday, the Muslim day of worship, and most military commanders and government workers were off duty. Tanks were even utilized in the coup d'état, with Major Aslam Watanjar commanding the tank units.[24] With the help of the Afghan air force led by Colonel Abdul Qadir, the insurgent troops overcame the stubborn resistance of the Presidential Guard and killed Daoud and most members of his family.[18][25] Qadir assumed the control of the country from April 27–30, 1978 as the Head of the Military Revolutionary Council[26]

New reforms[edit]

The divided PDPA succeeded the Daoud regime with a new government under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki of the Khalq faction. In Kabul, the initial cabinet appeared to be carefully constructed to alternate ranking positions between Khalqis and Parchamis. Taraki was Prime Minister, Babrak Karmal was senior Deputy Prime Minister, and Hafizullah Amin was foreign minister.[27][28]

Once in power, the PDP embarked upon a program of rapid modernization centered on separation of Mosque and State, eradication of illiteracy (which at the time stood at 90%), land reform, emancipation of women, and abolition of feudal practices. A Soviet-style national flag replaced the traditional black, red, and green.[29]

Traditional practices that were deemed feudal - such as usury, bride price and forced marriage - were banned, and the minimum age of marriage was raised.[30][31] The government stressed education for both women and men, and launched an ambitious literacy campaign.[32] Sharia Law was abolished, and men were encouraged to cut off their beards.(citation?)

These new reforms were not well received by the majority of the Afghan population, particularly in rural areas; many Afghans saw them as un-Islamic and as a forced approach to Western culture in Afghan society.[31][32][33] Most of the government's new policies clashed directly with the traditional Afghan understanding of Islam, making religion one of the only forces capable of unifying the tribally and ethnically divided population against the unpopular new government, and ushering in the advent of Islamist participation in Afghan politics.


The new government launched a campaign of violent repression, killing some 10,000 to 27,000 people and imprisoning 14,000 to 20,000 more, mostly at Pul-e-Charkhi prison.[34][35][36]

Most of the mosques were placed off limits at the start of the regime though re-opened in the 80s, because the party tried to win more supporters (citation?). Despite accusations and predictions by conservative elements, a year and a half after the coup no restrictions had been placed on religious practice.[37]

Parcham rule[edit]

Main article: Operation Storm-333

In the 1979 Soviet operation, Operation Storm-333, the Soviet special force, Spetnaz, stormed the Tajbeg Palace and killed then President Hafizullah Amin.[38][39] The death of Amin led to Babrak Karmal becoming president the new Afghan president and General Secretary of the PDPA. After the death of Amin the Soviet invasion begun in 1979.[25] At the time of the assassination of Amin, Karmal was exiled and was the Afghan ambassador to Czechoslovakia, stationed in Prague.[40]

Moscow came to regard Karmal as a failure and blamed him for the problems. Years later, when Karmal’s inability to consolidate his government had become obvious, Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, said:[41]

Additionally, some Afghan soldiers who had fought for the Socialist government began to defect or leave the army. In May, 1986 Karmal was replaced as party leader by Mohammad Najibullah, and six months later he was relieved of the presidency. His successor as president was Haji Mohammad Chamkani. Karmal then moved (or, allegedly, was exiled) to Moscow.[42]

National reconciliation[edit]

After the Soviet Union had leveled most of the villages south and east of Kabul, creating a massive humanitarian disaster, the demise of the PDPA continued with the rise of the Mujahideen guerrillas, who were trained in Pakistani camps with US support. Between 1982 and 1992, the number of people recruited by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to join the insurgency topped 100,000.

The Soviet Union withdrew in 1989, but continued to provide military assistance worth billions of dollars to the PDPA regime until the USSR's collapse in 1991.

Homeland Party[edit]

The Soviet troop withdrawal in late 1989 changed the political structure that had enabled the PDPA to stay in power all those years. Inner collapse of the government started when Hekmatyar withdrew his support for the government. Later in March 1990 Defense Minister and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Shahnawaz Tanai tried to seize power in a military coup.[43] The coup failed and Tanai was forced to flee the country. Najibullah still hung on to the presidency, so in June 1990 he renamed the party the Homeland Party.[44] The party dropped the Marxist-Leninist ideology that had been held previously by the PDPA.[1]

In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved. All support for the Afghan regime stopped. In March 1992, the Socialist regime in Afghanistan collapsed after the sudden change of allegiance of Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostum.[1]


Leaders of the PDPA[edit]


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External links[edit]