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The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
The conflict, which became a proxy war between the Soviets and US, had dramatic geopolitical consequences. (Getty Images)
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Updated 24 April 2020

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

The long conflict between the Cold War superpowers turned the country into a terrorist breeding ground

Summary

On Dec. 24 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan following the overthrow and assassination of Nur Muhammad Taraki, the man installed by Moscow the year before as leader of its puppet regime in Kabul.

It was the beginning of an ultimately pointless bloody conflict with the guerrilla forces of the mujahideen that would rage for nine years, claiming the lives of 15,000 Soviet troops and more than a million Afghans, and ending in Moscow’s humiliating withdrawal from the country

The conflict, which became a proxy war between the Soviets and US, had dramatic geopolitical consequences. Arguably, it hastened the breakup of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. It also created a breeding ground for terrorism, leading to the rise of Osama bin Laden, who fought alongside the mujahideen.

PESHAWAR: Military intervention fueled the long conflict between the Cold War foes, the Soviet Union and the US, which backed rival Afghan sides. For the next nine years, the Red Army fought a losing war against Afghan mujahideen fighters supported by Afghanistan’s neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, Western countries, China and most of the Arab world.

Soviet forces withdrew by Feb. 15, 1989 under the terms of the Geneva Accords. Since Moscow was unable to provide the critical military and economic assistance that had sustained the communist regime in power, President Mohammad Najibullah was forced to quit in April 1992 and the mujahideen captured power.

However, the mujahideen’s failure to restore peace and stability due to their infighting offered the Taliban a chance to seize power. Though foreign fighters, including Arabs such as Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, had come to Afghanistan to take part in the earlier Afghan jihad against the Soviet forces, the Taliban regime allowed them to stay for ideological reasons.

The Soviet invasion was aimed primarily at propping up the communist regime weakened by infighting between the Khalq and Parcham factions of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and preventing the US from gaining influence in its neighborhood. The move alarmed neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, which feared it would be invaded next since the Soviet Union could attempt to intervene in its Balochistan province and reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. Meanwhile, Iran, which was seeking to consolidate its February 1979 Islamic Revolution, was apprehensive about Soviet intentions due to past hostility in their relations.

Concerted pressure from democratic countries could force the Soviet Union to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, Information Minister Muhammad Abdo Yamani told Austrian newsmen in Riyadh on Sunday.

From a wire story on the front page of Arab News, Feb. 4, 1980

In the wider Middle East, the Soviet invasion caused uncertainty as Arab countries traditionally close to the US tried to figure out Moscow’s next move. This was the first time the Soviet Union had invaded a country outside the European bloc and signalled a new aggressive trend of Soviet expansionism. There were also worries the presence of Soviet forces in Afghanistan could embolden communist and radical elements in the region.

Except for the pro-Soviet radical Arab states, such as South Yemen, Syria, Algeria and Libya, as well as Palestine Liberation Organization, most countries in the Middle East sided with the US. Saudi Arabia and Egypt spearheaded support for the Afghan mujahideen, breaching their relationship with the Soviet Union for many years. Not until 1992 was Riyadh finally able to restore diplomatic relations with Moscow.

Key Dates


  • 1

    Afghan president Mohammad Daud Khan is killed in a Soviet-backed military coup that installs a modernizing communist government, triggering an Islamic insurgency.

    Timeline Image April 27, 1978


  • 2

    Coup-leader and Afghan president Nur Muhammad Taraki signs a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union.


  • 3

    Taraki is deposed by a rival communist faction led by former ally Hafizullah Amin. Taraki is murdered the following month on Amin’s orders.

    Timeline Image Sept. 11, 1979


  • 4

    Moscow, fearful that Amin is in talks with the US, sends troops into Afghanistan.


  • 5

    Russian special forces storm the presidential palace in Kabul, killing Amin.


  • 6

    Soviets install Babrak Karmal, the exiled leader of a faction of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, as head of government.

    Timeline Image Dec. 29, 1979


  • 7

    Soviet Union pulls out the last of its troops after nine years of war.


  • 8

    Saudi Arabia restores diplomatic relations with Moscow.


  • 9

    The communist flag is lowered for the last time over the Kremlin as Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev resigns and hands power to Boris Yeltsin, the first leader of the newly formed democratic Russian state.

 

The Soviet invasion also had other repercussions. As the Cold War intensified, more countries drifted toward the two blocs. Several Middle Eastern countries were among 65 nations that joined the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Diplomatic relations were broken and trade relations suffered. It took years to repair the damage and restore the relationship to near normalcy.

For Middle East nations, a worrying development was the radicalization of citizens inspired by the call for jihad in Afghanistan.

In 1979, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian Islamist teacher, played an instrumental role in issuing a fatwa (edict), along with several well-known Muslim scholars, declaring jihad the individual obligation of every Muslim. This was a departure from the established Islamic law that made it the prerogative of the Muslim state and the ruler.

The fatwa prompted many Arabs, including those living comfortably in the West, to travel to Pakistan en route to Afghanistan to join the war against the Soviet forces. Among them was the

For Middle East nations, a worrying development was the radicalization of citizens inspired by the call for jihad in Afghanistan.

Rahimullah Yusufzai Peshawar

In time, the term Afghan-Arabs was coined to describe the mostly Arab veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Those who returned home after the Soviet forces’ pullout or at other times tried to recruit and organize others to wage war against governments in their native states.

Afghan-Arab fighters had their biggest impact in Algeria, where Djafar Al-Afghani led an armed campaign, and in Egypt, where Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Showky Al-Islambouli inspired violent attacks against the government.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Feb. 4, 1980.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and other militants who heralded the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, also trained and fought in Afghanistan. Many war veterans headed to Bosnia-Herzegovina to fight in support of Muslims against the Serbs and Croats. All these insurrections eventually collapsed, but not before causing significant damage in terms of life and property, and forcing targeted states to adopt tough coercive measures that at times invited criticism.

The defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and its subsequent breakup in 1991 reinforced the perception among jihadists that if one superpower could be humbled, so could others. It was this belief that encouraged militant fighters to take on the US and its allies after the coalition invaded Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in October 2001 to avenge the Al-Qaeda-directed 9/11 attacks.

  • Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998. Twitter: @rahimyusufzai1


Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
Updated 14 min 33 sec ago

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
  • Authorities hope to repeat dramatic success of three-year Yogyakarta study

JAKARTA: Indonesia is hoping a major trial in regions plagued by dengue fever will reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes and lower the incidence of the viral illness in the country.

The trial involves the release of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which stops the insects from transmitting the dengue virus, a health ministry official said on Tuesday.

A similar experiment from 2017 to 2020 in Yogyakarta, a city of 3.6 million people on Java, led to a dramatic fall in the number of new dengue cases, with numbers falling by up to 77 percent.

The number of patients with mild dengue symptoms also fell by 86 percent in areas of the city where mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia were released.

The results of the study, conducted by the World Mosquito Program (WMP) at Monash University in Australia and Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month.

However, Didik Budijanto, the health ministry’s director of zoonotic disease prevention, told Arab News that while the ministry welcomed the study, further tests will be needed before the strategy is adopted.

Denpasar in Bali is among locations where further tests are planned, he said.

According to the Bali health agency, 1,803 cases and three deaths were registered on the resort island from January to May.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital Denpasar is among the two most infected regions on the island, where 364 out of 962,900 residents were infected with the disease.

Trials were held in Yogyakarta to see how the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes affected the incidence of dengue among 8,100 city residents, aged between three and 45, who took part.

According to the WMP, over 4,500 dengue patients were hospitalized in the city in the five years before the trial.

However, experts believe the number could be as high as 14,000, with 2,000 people needing hospital treatment every year.

Indonesia records an estimated 7-8 million dengue cases out of the more than 50 million that occur worldwide annually. As of May, the country reported 13,372 cases with 134 deaths.

Scott O’Neill, WMP’s program director, said that the test results proved that the strategy could significantly reduce dengue numbers.

Joint principal investigator Adi Utarini, from Gadjah Mada University, said that she is optimistic that cities across Indonesia can live without dengue in the future.

“The trial’s success allows us to expand our work across Yogyakarta and into neighboring urban areas,” she said.

However, Budijanto said that the government will carry out further checks before the trial is expanded.

“We just want to make sure science and technology do not outpace regulations and the people can still benefit from it,” he said.

Budijanto told a press conference to mark ASEAN Dengue Day on June 15 that the government had set a target to reduce the national dengue incidence rate to below 37 per 100,000 population and the number of fatalities by 0.2 percent by 2030.

In 2018, the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases launched a petition demanding that the World Health Organization follow ASEAN’s move by declaring a World Dengue Day, focusing global efforts on tackling the disease which threatens up to half the world’s population. The petition has collected over 26,500 signatures.

“Growing population densities, unplanned urban development, poor water storage, and unsatisfactory sanitary conditions are all common factors that contribute to the worsening burden of this mosquito-borne disease — not just for ASEAN, but for many countries around the world,” the society said in its online petition.


Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
The exhibition will be divided into five sections: Origins of the Arabic script, development of calligraphy, master calligraphers, calligraphy and contemporary art, and calligraphy, artificial intelligence. (AN photos/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 16 June 2021

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
  • Event devoted to the art form opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh

RIYADH: Artists have been sharing their thoughts about the “mesmerizing and elegant” beauty and spirituality of Arabic calligraphy, and the importance of the art form, ahead of the opening on Wednesday of an exhibition in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi conceptual artist Othman Al-Khuzaim believes that global interest in the art of Arabic calligraphy has grown in recent years, and this can be attributed to increased awareness of its beauty.
“The general interest of people in calligraphy has led them to show appreciation for Arabic calligraphy, with all its mesmerizing and elegant shapes and forms,” he said.
“Arabic calligraphy stands witness to beauty, which is depicted by Arabic calligraphists on walls inside the Two Holy Mosques to add more spirituality to the holy places.”
Describing Arabic calligraphy as one of the most prominent forms of visual art, Al-Khuzaim said he often recommends it to people and encourages them to enjoy and appreciate it even if they cannot read the language or understand the meaning of the words.
Script and Calligraphy: A Timeless Journey, which opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh and runs until Aug. 21, is a good place for newcomers to the art form to start, or for those who are already familiar with it to learn more about its history, from its origins right up the present day.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Organized by the Culture Ministry, the exhibition runs until Aug. 21.

• The 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings.

• It includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture to showcase the history of Arabic calligraphy, the 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings, along with the relationship between calligraphy, contemporary art and artificial intelligence (AI).
This exceptional journey through history features input from Saudi and international master calligraphers, contemporary artists and designers. It begins with the advent of written communication on the Arabian Peninsula nearly 1,700 years ago and traces the development of scripts engraved on stone and included in linear paintings, manuscripts and other objects across the Islamic world.
The exhibition brings the story right up to date by considering the most modern applications of Arabic calligraphy, for example in fashion, design and even AI. Alongside the classic artworks on display, visitors will find an AI machine, developed by Egyptian artist and designer Haytham Nawar, that allows them to produce a new pictographic language on a video screen.
At the other end of the timeline of Arabic calligraphy, the exhibition includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD. There is also a selection of Qur’an manuscripts, including the renowned Blue Qur’an and Mushaf Al-Madinah, and a specially designed manuscript presented by Obvious, a collective of French AI researchers and artists.

Such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts.
Abdelrahman El-Shahed Calligrapher

Abdelrahman El-Shahed, a calligrapher and contemporary artist involved in the exhibition, said such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts, who view the preservation of the art form as an important way to show pride in their religion and nations. They also help bring calligraphists together to continue to develop an ancient art, he added.
“We are glad that the Mohammed bin Salman Global Center for Arabic Calligraphy has been launched,” said El-Shahed. “It will definitely help in promoting and preserving Arabic calligraphy around the world, and giving it the appreciation it deserves.”
Saudi authorities announced in April last year that the Dar Al-Qalam Center in Madinah would be developed to become a global platform for calligraphers from all over the world and was renamed in honor of the crown prince. Arabic calligraphy in the region also receives great support from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who last year launched the Year of Arabic Calligraphy initiative to raise awareness and interest in the art form.


Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting

Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting
Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 16 June 2021

Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting

Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since end of last month’s fighting
  • A Hamas spokesman, confirming the Israeli attacks, said Palestinians would continue to pursue their “brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites” in Jerusalem

GAZA: Israel mounted air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the first since the end of 11 days of cross-border fighting last month, in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian territory.
The flare-up, a first test for Israel’s new government, followed a march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday by Jewish nationalists that had drawn threats of action by Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza.
The Israeli military said its aircraft attacked Hamas armed compounds in Gaza City and the southern town of Khan Younis and was “ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza.”
The strikes, the military said, came in response to the launching of the balloons, which the Israeli fire brigade reported caused 20 blazes in open fields in communities near the Gaza border.
A Hamas spokesman, confirming the Israeli attacks, said Palestinians would continue to pursue their “brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites” in Jerusalem.
Hours earlier, thousands of flag-waving Israelis congregated around the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City before heading to Judaism’s holy Western Wall, drawing Palestinian anger and condemnation.
Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition, regards the entire city as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.
Prior to Tuesday’s march, Israel beefed up its deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza.
But as the marchers began to disperse after nightfall in Jerusalem, there was no sign of rocket fire from the enclave.
The procession was originally scheduled for May 10 as part of “Jerusalem Day” festivities that celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem.
At the last minute, that march was diverted away from the Damascus Gate and the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, but the move was not enough to dissuade Hamas from firing rockets toward Jerusalem, attacks that set off last month’s round of fighting.


KPMG study: Pandemic-led governments to focus on people-centric policies

KPMG study: Pandemic-led governments to focus on people-centric policies
Updated 16 June 2021

KPMG study: Pandemic-led governments to focus on people-centric policies

KPMG study: Pandemic-led governments to focus on people-centric policies

“Modernizing Government,” KPMG’s latest report on global trends in public administrations, presents insights from a study into evolving modus operandi in governments of eight major economies including Saudi Arabia. Aside from assessing the handling of service delivery, supply chain and back operations, the study also envisions the pandemic as an opportunity, a springboard for advancements in remote working, agile policy making and rapid service design.

The KPMG report examines the new trend of a modernized government, which is customer-centric, agile, digitally enabled and inspired for future change. KPMG believes that reliance on robust business cases, costly and time-consuming planning, and extensive programmer “big builds” are now poised to give way to a new model, which is built on digital technology, cloud platforms, collaboration with other governments, and new partnerships with industry — supported by new and upskilled civil servants — revolutionizing how governments function in the 21st-century public interest.
In response to the pandemic challenges, the Saudi government rapidly established new services and ways of working, including the setting up of new temporary hospitals, digital health solutions, supply chains, mobile apps, call centers and rapid economic stimulus packages. 

FASTFACT

The KPMG report focused on Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US.

“Saudi Arabia has seen a much more self-forgiving government that is taking action as needed while allowing itself to perfect its approach late. Acting fast rather than acting ‘spot on’ has become the norm. This is especially tangible in the digitization of the customer experience, where a certain level of error and risk is now allowed to implement new technologies,” said Ismail Alani, head of government and public sector at KPMG in Saudi Arabia.

The study emphasizes that the future is consumer-centric — stakeholders including citizens, businesses and other organizations — transforming public services to meet constituent needs and expectations. It finds that today’s consumers are more informed, connected and demanding than ever. And while they have come to expect the highest standards of personalization, choice, speed, satisfaction and security in every digital interaction, the pandemic has served to heighten consumer expectations surrounding the customer experience.

Governments’ stakeholders want to be treated like valued customers. The report indicates that government leaders will have to evolve the culture within and across their government entities by establishing a new “outward-looking mindset,” providing citizens with the opportunity to co-design government services via their input and feedback.


 


Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India
Updated 16 June 2021

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India
  • Chana, aged 76, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, 36 grandchildren

NEW DELHI: A question mark was on Tuesday hanging over who would become the new head of reportedly the world’s largest family, two days after the death of 76-year-old Ziona Chana.

Chana, patriarch of a Christian religious sect of 2,000 people that practiced polygamy, died in Aizawl, capital of India’s Mizoram state, on Sunday, without naming a successor.

The cult leader, who was believed to have suffered from diabetes and hypertension, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, and 36 grandchildren.

His eldest son, 60-year-old Para Nunparliana, told Arab News: “The successor will be decided by the church. First, the burial will take place, and then the church will decide.” He has two wives and 11 children and is widely tipped to be the next in line to head the 163-member family.

Meanwhile, Chana’s daughter Thartei Chhuanthar, 50, told Arab News: “A special burial chamber is being prepared for our father, and he will be laid to rest in the next two to three days.”

Mother-of-four Chhuanthar is Chana’s fifth child but does not know how many siblings she has. “It’s difficult to say,” she said.

She grew up in the remote village of Baktawng, more than 50 kilometers from her present home in Aizawl and spent a major part of her life with the extended family.

“My father was shy and a man of few words. He did not speak much, but he did love everyone equally. There was no favoritism. He was gifted, and he wrote songs for the children to learn on every Sunday school,” she added.

The Chana family lives in a four-storey building with 100 rooms in Baktawng, and a separate school and playground has been allotted to it in the village.

The family runs the Chana Pawl sect with most of its followers residing around Chana’s house in Baktawng.

Chhuanthar said that while the family was Christian, its members did “not follow normal practices of the church. Chhuanthar kohhran means church of the new generation. They believe that they are the selected ones, going through the great road toward heaven. And will reach their destination in the flesh.”

Claims that Chana headed the world’s largest family have been disputed, with media reports suggesting that Winston Blackmore, leader of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives, making a total family membership of 178 people.

However, in a condolence message to the Chana family, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga described it as “the world’s largest family,” and it has featured twice on TV show “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

During the 1990s, Baktawng village became something of a global tourist attraction on the back of the family’s notoriety.

Founded by Pu Khuangtuaha in 1942, the polygamous sect was taken over by his brother, Pu Chana, after Khuangtuaha’s death and later by his son, Ziona Chana.

“I expect that after our father’s death, my elder brother Para will take over too,” Chhuanthar said.

Chana first married at the age of 17, with his last wedding taking place in his 50s. During a 2007 interview with Arab News, Chana said: “I want to expand the family as much as possible.”