Babrak Karmal - Afghan Politician

Babrak Karmal - Afghan Politician
Babrak Karmal - Afghan Politician

Babrak Karmal was an Afghan revolutionary figure, a politician, and an ambassador. He served as the third president of Afghanistan from 1980 to 1986 during the rule of the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

An effective orator and an educated politician, Karmal is best known as one of the founders of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and for leading a puppet regime with Soviet financial and military support.

Born in Kamari, a small village east of Kabul on January 6, 1929, Karmal came from a wealthy Tajik military family. His father, Major General Mohammad Hussain, had close relations with the royal family, especially King Mohammad Zahir and Prime Minister General Mohammad Daoud.

After graduating from high school Karmal enrolled in law school, pursuing a degree in law and political science, at the Kabul University in 1951. While a student he was arrested and put in prison for five years for organizing demonstrations in support of an Afghani popular revolutionary figure, Abdul Rahman Mahmudi.

In prison he befriended pro–Soviet Union leftist political figures like Mear Mohammad Siddeq Farhang. Karmal increasingly became a staunch supporter of the Leninist-Stalinist form of Marxism, identifying the Soviet model as the best way to modernize Afghanistan.

After graduation Karmal continued his close relations with Farhang. The friendship enabled him to play a major role in establishing the PDPA on January 1, 1965, Afghanistan’s first major Marxist political party.

Like many other PDPA members who aimed for parliamentary seats, Karmal became a candidate and was elected to the National Assembly from 1965 to 1973, where he was able to gain a reputation for his antireligious and anti-imperialistic communist viewpoints.

Due to internal ideological differences the PDPA split into the Khalq (People) and the Parcham (Flag) factions in 1967. Karmal became the leader of the more cosmopolitan, moderate Parcham bloc. Karmal’s faction shared power with Mohammad Daoud’s regime after the coup d’état of 1973, when the monarchy was overthrown.

Though the alliance was short-lived, since Daoud dismissed the Parcham faction from the presidential cabinet, Karmal was able to reunite the PDPA after much Soviet pressure. In April 1978 the PDPA gained power through a military coup.

When Nur Mohammad Taraki, a member of the Khalq bloc, was pronounced the president of the new Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), instituting a regime that had the full backing of the Soviet Union until 1992, the two factions of PDPA began internal fighting.

Karmal and his mistress, Anahita Ratebzad, were sent into “exile” as ambassadors to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, respectively, while Hifizullah Amin, another major Khalq political leader, became the prime minister on March 28, 1979.

Karmal later left Prague for Moscow for fear of assassination or execution on his return to Kabul. On December 5, 1978, when the Taraki government initiated a major friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, numerous uprisings spread around Afghanistan against the Soviet-backed regime.

Taraki’s radical reform projects for transforming Afghanistan from a traditional religious to a secular modern society led the way to the rise of the mujahideen (or Muslim fighters), who opposed the Soviet-style westernization of the country.

Tensions between Taraki and Amin factions within the Khalq bloc led to the assassination of Taraki on October 10, 1979, which eventually led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 27, 1979. Karmal, the leader of the Parcham faction, returned to Kabul with the full support of the Soviets and was declared the president.

As the third president of the republic, Karmal’s most important accomplishments were his call for clemency for political prisoners, the change of the Marxist-style national flag, the promulgation of the basic principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the recognition of the Muslim clerical establishment, and the compensation for the loss of property.

Karmal’s poor leadership skills and his inability to bring an end to the ongoing guerrilla warfare between the Soviet-backed government and the mujahideen gradually made him a highly unpopular figure. With the full backing of Moscow throughout his presidency, Karmal was regarded as a Soviet puppet, both domestically and internationally.

In May 1986 Karmal was replaced as the communist leader by Mohammad Najibullah, and in October 1986 he was relieved of the presidency. After a number of trips between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan after his presidency, Karmal finally settled in Moscow, where he died of liver dysfunction on December 6, 1996.