Babrak Karmal (January 6, 1929 - December 3, 1996) was the third President of Afghanistan (1979 - 1986) during the period of the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. He is the best known of the Marxist leadership.
Having been restored to power with Soviet support, he was unable to consolidate his power and, in 1986, he was replaced by Dr. Mohammad Najibullah. He left Afghanistan for Moscow, but returned to Kabul in 1989. He died in Moscow.
He was an indifferent student in high school and in the law school of Kabul University, quickly gained a reputation as an orator and activist in the university’s student union in 1951. He became involved in Marxist political activities while a student at Kabul University, and was imprisoned for five years as a result.
In prison, Karmal was befriended by a fellow inmate, Mier Akbar Khybar. A third inmate, Mier Mohammad Siddiq Farhang, initiated both to pro-Moscow leftist views. After graduation he entered the Ministry of Planning, keeping in close touch with those who had special knowledge on communism, among them Mier Mohammad Siddiq Farhang and Ali Mohammad Zahma, a professor at Kabul University.
On January 1 1965 the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan was founded in Kabul, with Karmal serving as one of its twenty-eight founding members in its founding congress. Karmal was appointed its Secretary. As a result, he was elected and served in the quasi-democratic National Assembly of Afghanistan from 1965 until 1973 during the Constitutional Monarchy of King Zahir Shah. Karmal is known for his revolutionary and open speeches in the parliament against the ruling classes. In most of his parliamentary speeches, Karmal urged the people of Afghanistan to unite and stand up against the ruling classes and fight the status quo. Karmal and a few of his other comrades in the National Assembly, represented the only leftist group at the time.
In 1967, when the party split into the Khalq and the Parcham factions, Karmal became the leader of the more moderate Parcham faction. When Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew the monarchy and instituted the Republic, Karmal was asked by President Daud Khan to share power with him. In response, Karmal told Daud Khan that he (Karmal) needed to consult his comrades on this issue and inform him (Daud Khan) later. Of course, he never returned. The reason why it is believed Karmal's faction shared power with Daud Khan is that some of the people in Daud's government were later to assume important positions in Karmal's government.
The factions reunited in 1977, and in April 1978 seized control of Afghanistan through a military coup. Karmal was initially Deputy Prime Minister but following the rise of the rival Khalq faction he and other important cadres of the Parcham faction like Dr. Najibullah, Noor Ahmad Noor, Anaita Ratebzad, and Mahmood Baryalai were soon 'exiled' as ambassadors to other countries while other important cadres of Parcham like Sultan Ali Kishtmand were put in jail.
Note may be taken of the fact that Karmal (and his Parcham faction) was opposed to any move that would result in the seizure of state power by the PDPA at the time in Afghanistan arguing that the country was not yet ready for the socialist transformation of society. Therefore, the Parcham faction was opposed to the military coup that resulted in the overthrowing of Daud's government. Sultan Ali Keshtmand, one of the founding members of PDPA, in his latest book emphasizes this. Indeed, the initiative of the coup was taken by Hafizullah Amin himself without the knowledge of the top PDPA leadership. The "order" for the launching of the coup against the Daud regime was delivered by Amin's son to Amin's military group in the army.
The PDPA was attempting to modernize the country in line with socialist programs, but there was major unrest. In December 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Soviet commandos killed the then leader Hafizullah Amin. The Soviets brought Karmal back to be President of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham faction of the PDPA was installed by the Soviets as Afghanistan's new head of government.
In his first radio broadcasts (Listen to the radio broadcast at http://www.afghanland.com/history/karmal.html) Karmal gave hopeful promises. He said that henceforth there would be no executions and that a new constitution would be drawn up providing for the democratic election of national and local assemblies. He also promised that political parties would function freely and that both personal property and individual freedom would be safeguarded. In particular, he stressed that soon a government representing a united national front would be set up and that it would not pursue socialism.
He managed to fulfill some of his promises: the release of some political prisoners; the promulgation of the Fundamental Principles of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan; the change of the red, Soviet-style banner of the Khalq period to the more orthodox one of black, red, and green; the granting of concessions to religious leaders; and the conditional restoration of confiscated property.
However, his Government didn't enjoy International support from the beginning. The United Nations General Assembly voted by 104 to 18 with 18 abstentions for a resolution which "strongly deplored" the "recent armed intervention" in Afghanistan and called for the "total withdrawal of foreign troops" from the country.
Immediate problems also were within the party. He was the chosen man of the Kremlin, and no one within the party could openly oppose him. No attempt was made to televise the process by which, even within the official party and the Revolutionary Council, Karmal was elected head of the party and of the state.
Karmal’s poor performance in interviews with foreign journalists also failed to help his public image. In the first and last televised interview of his life, held before a large number of foreign and Afghan journalists after he was raised to power, Karmal divided the journalists on the basis of the Cold War line distinguishing between the democratic bloc and the socialist bloc countries.
Thus, the civil war in Afghanistan started. This was a different type of war, however, since it involved guerrilla warfare and a war of attrition between the PDPA-Communist controlled regime and the Mujahideen; it cost both sides a great deal. Many Afghans, perhaps as many as five million, or one-quarter of the country's population, fled to Pakistan and Iran where they organized into guerrilla groups to strike Soviet and government forces inside Afghanistan.
Others remained in Afghanistan and also formed fighting groups. These various groups were supplied with funds to purchase arms, principally from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the People's Republic of China, and Egypt.
The regime ruled only the city of Kabul, the provincial capitals, and those strategic areas where the Soviets and the Afghan Military had stationed military contingents and militia units. Despite high casualties on both sides, pressure continued to mount on the Soviet Union, especially after the United States brought in Stinger anti-aircraft missiles which severely reduced the effectiveness of Soviet air cover.
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:
The main reason that there has been no national consolidation so far is that Comrade Karmal is hoping to continue sitting in Kabul with our help.
Not only that, but some Afghan troops who had fought for the Communist Government began to defect. In May 1986 he was replaced as party leader by Mohammad Najibullah, and six months later he was relieved of the presidency. Karmal then moved (or allegedly was exiled) to Moscow. He returned to Kabul in 1991 and then spent a few years in Hayratan (Afghanistan). He eventually died in Moscow in 1996 .
Karmal died in Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital from liver cancer on December 3, 1996. On December 5, about 200 members of the Afghan community in Moscow attended a memorial service at the Hospital. Most of those in attendance had served in Karmal's Afghan government.
Karmal's body was flown the following day from Moscow to Tirmiz, a city in Uzbekistan that borders Afghanistan. From there it was carried in an ambulance via the "Friendship Bridge" to Hayratan, the border city on the Afghan side near Tirmiz. Nearly a thousand people from different parts of Afghanistan and from different walks of life were waiting in a very long line to welcome Karmal's body back to Afghanistan. His body was first taken to Hayratan General Hospital where it was put on display for hundreds of people who came to pay their last respects to the man who once was their President. Karmal's body was buried in the Hayratan common graveyard beside the grave of his life-long comrade Imtiaz Hassan, who had earlier died in Moscow and was buried in the Hayratan Graveyard. Films of Karmal's funeral and burial are available.
When the Taliban captured Hayratan for a second time in August 1998, Babrak Karmal's body was exhumed from his grave but was soon re-buried in the same grave in presence of some residents (one of whom was a loyal member of Karmal's Parcham faction of the PDPA) of Hayratan contrary to the false belief that his body was thrown into Amu Darya. After the Taliban re-buried Babrak Karmal, some of his comrades residing in Hayratan city went to his grave, opened it and made sure he was there, and then closed it again. Pictures are available.