|Part of Cold War and the prelude to the Soviet war in Afghanistan|
Outside the presidential palace gate (Arg) in Kabul, the day after the Saur revolution on April 28, 1978
| Revolutionary Military Units
|Commanders and leaders|
| Mohammed Daoud Khan †
Abdul Qadir Nuristani
| Mohammad Aslam Watanjar
Nur Muhammad Taraki
The Saur Revolution (Dari: إنقلاب ثور Pashto: د ثور انقلاب) (also Sawr Revolution) was a revolution led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against the rule of self-proclaimed Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27–28 April 1978. The government at the time was led by Dauod, who had previously overthrown his cousin King Mohammed Zahir in 1973. 'Saur' is the Dari name of the second month of the Persian calendar, the month in which the uprising took place. The revolution led to the 1979 intervention by the Soviets and the 1979-1989 Soviet–Afghan War against the US-backed Mujahideen.
1973 Afghan coup d'état
King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan had ruled since 1933 for four decades. His cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan, who had served as Afghan Prime Minister from 1953 to 1963, was not a supporter of the King. In the 1970s, Daoud plotted to overthrow his cousin. In 1973, when King Zahir Shah was away in Italy for eye surgery and a treatment for lumbago, Daoud Khan led a coup d'état in which eight people were killed. This resulted in the overthrow of the King and abolition of the monarchy. Daoud established a new government, and declared himself the first president of Afghanistan. The Arg palace in Kabul then became the official Presidential residence, and Zahir Shah lived in exile in Italy.
Daoud Khan rule
Under the secular government of Daoud, factionalism and rivalry developed in the ruling PDPA, with two main factions being, Parcham and Khalqi. In 1978 a prominent member of the Parcham, Mir Akbar Khyber, was murdered. Although the government issued a statement deploring the assassination, Nur Mohammad Taraki of the PDPA charged that the government itself was responsible, a belief that was shared by much of the Kabul intelligentsia. PDPA leaders apparently feared that Daoud was planning to exterminate them all.
During the funeral ceremonies for Khyber a protest against the government occurred and shortly thereafter most of the leaders of PDPA, including Babrak Karmal, were arrested by the government. Hafizullah Amin, however, was put under house arrest. This gave him a chance to order an uprising, one that had been slowly coalescing for more than two years. Amin, without having the authority, instructed the Khalqi army officers to overthrow the government.
The Coup d'État
The government of President Daoud came to a violent end in the early morning hours of April 28, 1978, when military units loyal to the Khalq faction of the PDPA stormed the palace in the heart of Kabul. The coup was strategically planned to begin Thursday, April 27, because it was the day before Friday, the Muslim day of worship, and most military commanders and government workers were off duty. With the help of a few airplanes of Afghanistan's military air force, which were mainly Soviet made MiG-21 and SU-7s, the insurgent troops overcame the resistance of the Presidential Guard and killed Daoud and most members of his family.
According to an eyewitness, the first signs of the impending coup in Kabul, about noon on April 27, were reports of a tank column headed toward the city, smoke of unknown origin near the Ministry of Defense, and armed men, some in military uniform and others not, guarding Pashtunistan Circle, a major intersection. The first shots heard were near the Ministry of Interior in the New City (Shari Nau) section of Kabul where a company of policemen apparently confronted an advancing tank column. From there the fighting spread to other areas of the city. Later, that afternoon, the first fighter planes, SU-7s, came in low and fired rockets at the national palace in the center of the city. In early evening, an announcement was broadcast on government-owned Radio Afghanistan that the Khalq (people) were overthrowing the Daoud regime. The use of the word Khalq, and its traditional association with the Communists in Afghanistan, made clear that the PDPA was leading the coup—and also that the rebels had captured the radio station.
The aerial attacks on the palace intensified about midnight as six SU-7s made repeated rocket attacks, lighting up the city. The next morning, April 28, Kabul was mostly quiet, although the sound of gunfire could still be heard on the southern side of the city. As the people of Kabul ventured out of their homes they realized that the rebels were in complete control of the city and learned that President Daoud and his brother Naim had been killed early that morning. A group of soldiers had surrounded the heavily-damaged palace and demanded their surrender. Instead, Daoud and Naim, pistols in hand, charged out of the palace at the soldiers, and were shot and killed.
The PDPA, divided between the Khalq and Parcham, 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 (Khalqi) was Prime Minister, Karmal (Parchami) was senior Deputy Prime Minister, and Hafizullah Amin (Khalqi) was foreign minister. The unity, however, between Khalq and Parcham lasted only briefly. Taraki and Amin in early July relieved most of the Parchamis from their government positions. Karmal was sent abroad as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. In August 1978, Taraki and Amin uncovered a "plot" and executed or imprisoned several cabinet members, including the military leader of the Saur Revolution, General Abdul Qadir. In September 1979, it was Taraki's turn to become a victim of the Revolution. Amin overthrew and executed him.
Once in power, the PDPA implemented a socialist agenda. It changed the national flag from traditional Islamic green color to a near-copy of the red flag of the Soviet Union, a provocative affront to the people of this conservative Islamic country. It prohibited usury, without having in place any alternative for peasants who relied on the traditional, if exploitative, credit system in the countryside. That led to an agricultural crisis and a fall in agricultural production. Land reform was criticized by one journalist as "confiscating land in a haphazard manner that enraged everyone, benefited no one, and reduced food production," and "first instance of organized, nationwide repression in Afghanistan's modern history."
The PDPA, an advocate of equal rights for women, declared the equality of the sexes. This angered conservatives who considered the move an attack on Islam.The PDPA made a number of statements on women's rights, declaring equality of the sexes and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial, which declared: "Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country ... Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention."
The dependence upon and adherence to the Soviet Union by the PDPA government soon became apparent to the world. The American Embassy in Kabul cabled Washington announcing "what the British first, and later the Americans, tried to prevent for a hundred years has happened: the Russian Bear has moved south of the Hindu Kush."
The revolution also introduced severe repression. According to journalist Robert Kaplan, while Afghanistan had historically been extremely poor and underdeveloped, it "had never known very much political repression" until 1978.
The soldiers' knock on the door in the middle of the night, so common in many Arab and African countries, was little known in Afghanistan, where a central government simply lacked the power to enforce its will outside of Kabul.
Taraki's coup changed all that. Between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, Afghan Communists executed 27,000 political prisoners at the sprawling Pul-i-Charki prison six miles east of Kabul....Many of the victims were village mullahs and headmen who were obstructing the modernization and secularization of the intensely religious Afghan countryside. By Western standards, this was a salutary idea in the abstract. But it was carried out in such a violent way that it alarmed even the Soviets ...
It was the Saur Revolution and its harsh land reform program, rather than the December 1979 Soviet invasion "as most people in the West suppose", that "ignited" the mujahidin revolt against the Kabul authorities and prompted the refugee exodus to Pakistan, according to Kaplan.
- Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (Yale University Press, 2002), p. 105
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- Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (Yale University Press, 2002), p. 104
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- Surviving the 1978 Revolution in Afghanistan, a personal account of American Larry Clinton Thompson's experiences in the Saur Revolution.