Afghanistan timeline 1986-1990

From Academic Kids

Afghanistan timeline


Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announces that six regiments will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The withdrawal of troops begins on October 15. Gorbachev's offer is made from Siberia and is part of a much wider Soviet initiative in Asia. The withdrawal brings sharp reactions: the U.S. dismisses it as "inadequate" and suggests it is no more than a normal rotation of troops; Afghan resistance groups reject it as a "bluff," while Pakistan sees it as a small but positive move. Strategic analysts say the withdrawal has no military significance since three of the six units are air-defense regiments and the Afghan resistance has no air capability. The regiments constitute only a little over 6% of an estimated 120,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The war continues unabated, with many clashes between Soviet-backed Afghan troops and the resistance. Claims of success are made by both sides, but they are impossible to verify. A number of major offensives are launched during the year. Toward the end of 1986, the resistance fighters begin to receive more and better weapons from the outside world - particularly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China - via Pakistan, the most important of these being shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles. The Soviet and Afghan air forces then begin to suffer considerable casualties.

February 1986

A report by the U.S. State Department states that the war has resulted in "one of the greatest mass migrations in history" and that Kabul's population has more than doubled to two million. "More than five million have been uprooted, nearly four million of them becoming refugees abroad ... In large areas of the countryside where resistance is active, wartime conditions and longstanding animosities among competing tribal groups have led to multiple taxation, arbitrary detention, and outright banditry," the report states.

February 1986

The resistance shoots down several military aircraft in Herat province; the reported death toll is 200.

April 1986

700 resistance fighters are killed in Paktia province.

May 4, 1986

Karmal resigns as general secretary of the PDPA, retaining the less important position of president of the Revolutionary Council. The resignation is officially attributed to reasons of health - he has made no public appearance since March 30 and is reported to have been in the U.S.S.R. for medical treatment. It is widely thought, however, that the Soviet leadership is dissatisfied with his performance and wants to create a broader power base. His successor, Mohammad Najibullah, was formerly head of Khad, the country's secret police, and more recently took charge of security.

May, July, and August 1986

For the fifth consecutive year, UN-sponsored talks are held in Geneva between Afghanistan and Pakistan with the object of ending the military presence in Kabul. None of the meetings produce any concrete results, though differences between the two countries have narrowed since the talks began in 1982. Discussions continue through diplomatic channels, and in December a UN spokesman announces that agreement has been reached on the monitoring of Soviet troop withdrawals. The remaining stumbling block is the timetable for a total withdrawal, with Pakistan insisting that this should take place as soon as technically feasible.

July 1986

Government troops clash with resistance soldiers in Badakhshan province, leaving 200 Soviet-Afghan soldiers and "dozens" of resistance soldiers dead. Also in July, 120 government troops die during an ambush on a military convoy in Zabol province.

August 1986

A massive explosion destroys an ammunition dump in the headquarters of the Afghan Army's 8th Division near Kabul, reportedly killing up to 100 people.

September 1986

A national reconciliation campaign is approved by the Politburo, including a unilateral six-month cease-fire to begin on Jan. 15, 1987, but it meets with little response inside Afghanistan and is rejected by resistance leaders in Pakistan.

November 1986

A UN human rights report reports that 10,000 to 12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the previous nine months by Soviet and Afghan government forces, and that children have been killed by the indiscriminate use of explosives disguised as toys. The "continuation of the military solution," the report says, "will lead to a situation approaching genocide." The same month the UN General Assembly passes a resolution, by a vote of 122 to 20, calling for a negotiated settlement to the war.

November 20, 1986

Karmal resigns from the largely ceremonial post of president of the Revolutionary Council. He is succeeded on November 24 by Haji Mohammad Chamkani, formerly first vice-president and a non-PDPA member.

December 1986

Najibullah visits the U.S.S.R. to discuss prospects for ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

December 4, 1986

A cabinet reshuffle sees the elevation of Najibullah supporters Abdul Wakil and Mohammad Rafi to the posts of foreign minister and defense minister, respectively.

December 1986

An extraordinary plenum of the PDPA Central Committee approves a policy of national reconciliation, involving negotiations with opposition groups, and the proposed formation of a coalition government of national unity.


The war continues, with no agreement on a timetable for withdrawal of the estimated 115,000 Soviet troops. There are conflicting reports on the military successes of both the resistance movements and the Soviet-backed Afghan forces. Western diplomats report fighting in all the major provinces, with heavy casualties on both sides. Widespread violations of human rights continue and attract the notice of the UN Commission on Human Rights. At year's end some of the fiercest fighting of the war is reported from the garrison town of Khost, eastern Afghanistan, where Soviet-backed government forces are attempting to end a guerrilla siege of the town. Morale in the Afghan military is low. Men are drafted only to desert at the earliest opportunity, and the Afghan military has dropped from its 1978 strength of 105,000 to about 20,000-30,000 by 1987. The Soviets attempt new tactics, but the resistance always devises countertactics. For example, the use of the Spetsnaz (special forces) is met by counter-ambushes. The only weapons systems that solidly continue to bedevil the resistance are combat helicopter gunships and jet bombers.

March and September 1987

Two rounds of UN-sponsored talks are held in Geneva, with the UN mediator, Cordovez, acting as liaison between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to refuse to have direct negotiations with Afghanistan since it does not recognize the Soviet-backed Afghan government. Pakistan rejects the Soviet-Afghan offer of a 16-month timetable for withdrawal of the Soviet troops, maintaining that it should be reduced to 8 months.

July 1987

Najibullah makes an unexpected visit to Moscow for talks with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

July 1987

A law permitting the formation of other political parties (according to certain provisions) is introduced.

July 15, 1987

The extension of a unilateral government offer of a cease-fire until Jan. 15, 1988, brings no response, and by August even Kabul, the capital, is threatened as resistance is stepped up.

August 1987

A round of local elections throughout the country begins. A considerable number of those elected are reported to be non-PDPA members.

September 30, 1987

Najibullah is elected president of the Revolutionary Council (head of state). Chamkani resumes his former post as first vice-president.

October 1987

Najibullah ousts the remaining supporters of former president Karmal from the Central Committee and the Politburo of the PDPA.

Late November 1987

At a meeting of the loya jirga (grand national assembly), Najibullah announces that he will present a revised timetable for the withdrawal of Soviet troops, reduced from 16 months to one year, at UN-sponsored talks scheduled for February 1988. The assembly ratifies a new constitution under which the post of president is created; Najibullah, the sole candidate, is elected to the post on November 30. The constitution also changes the name of the country back to the Republic of Afghanistan and embodies a call for other parties to partake in government alongside the ruling PDPA in an effort to promote national reconciliation.


As the Soviets begin to leave, the division between Afghan Marxists and Muslims becomes even sharper, and the fear of even bloodier fighting heightens. Leaders of the Pakistan-based Muslim insurgent groups vow to continue fighting until they topple the Marxist regime and proclaim Afghanistan an Islamic republic. The efforts by the government either to form a coalition or to bring King Mohammad Zahir Shah back from his exile in Italy fail.

April 1988

Elections are held for a two-chamber National Assembly to replace the Revolutionary Council. Although the elections are boycotted by the mujaheddin, the government leaves vacant 50 of the 234 seats in the House of Representatives and a small number of seats in the Senate, in the hope that the guerrillas will abandon their armed struggle and present their own representatives to participate in the new administration. The PDPA itself wins only 46 seats, but is guaranteed support from the National Front, which gains 45, and from the various newly-recognized left-wing parties, which win a total of 24 seats.

April 14, 1988

The United States, the Soviet Union, Pakistan, and Afghanistan sign an agreement in Geneva after years of painstaking efforts by the UN to end one of modern history's most bitter conflicts. Under the accord Afghanistan and Pakistan pledge not to intervene in each other's affairs and to work for the safe, voluntary return of refugees.

May 15, 1988

The withdrawal of an estimated 115,000 Soviet troops, who had entered Afghanistan in December 1979 to prop up a faltering Communist regime, begins.

May 25, 1988

For the first time, the Soviet Union admits that it has suffered almost 50,000 casualties, including 13,310 deaths, in the conflict. A top general says that 35,478 soldiers were wounded and 311 missing without a trace. Gen. Aleksey D. Lizichev says that the death and injury toll includes casualties suffered from Dec. 27, 1979, until May 1, 1988. The figure is slightly higher than some Western analysts have estimated.

May 26, 1988

Mohammad Hassan Sharq, a non-PDPA member and a deputy prime minister since June 1987, replaces Sultan Ali Keshtmand as prime minister. In June a new Council of Ministers is appointed.

September 22, 1988

A UN report released in Geneva says that the conflict has "produced unparalleled human sufferings and immeasurable social and economic havoc." The report states that the war has reduced Afghanistan "to the status of one of the poorest, least developed countries." It also says that the fighting has caused an estimated one million deaths and that hundreds of thousands of widows, orphans, and disabled people will need sustained care for years to come. The 169-page report cites extensive damage to agriculture, with the wheat-growing area reduced to 70% of its prewar size and one-fifth of the nation's livestock lost. It estimates that 2,000 schools and 130 health centres are damaged and that road transport infrastructure will require intensive repairs. The countryside, it says, is "littered with mines, unexploded bombs, hand grenades, shells and other ordnance [that will] pose a major threat to life and limb for years to come." (see unexploded ordnance)

Early November 1988

The Soviets halt the withdrawal of their troops and also begin supplying the Afghan Army with powerful weapons. The Soviets say that their action is caused by increased guerrilla activity in Afghanistan, and they accuse Pakistan of supporting the rebels.

December 3, 1988

The government of Afghanistan reveals that high-level negotiations between the Soviet Union and guerrilla leaders are beginning in Saudi Arabia. This is the first publicly announced top-level meeting between the two antagonists since the conflict began. Though it is not represented at the meeting or at a subsequent conference in Pakistan on December 17, the Afghan government is said to support the negotiations.


Najibullah makes repeated offers to start a policy of national reconciliation, but rebel leaders reject them. Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan deteriorate further. Pakistan does not turn away refugees during the year, but the strain on its economy is increasing since other countries cut their contributions after the Soviet withdrawal. International relief agencies and government officials estimate that about 100,000 Afghans have returned home, but the flow is difficult to gauge because of the country's porous borders.

February 15, 1989

The last Soviet soldiers ride out of Afghanistan, ending a nine-year intervention that left 15,000 Soviet troops dead and that failed to defeat Muslim rebels seeking the government's overthrow. Predictions by Western governments that Najibullah's regime would fall as soon as the Soviets leave prove wrong. The former secret police chief shows himself to be a shrewd political infighter and deftly appeals to nationalistic sentiments in his war-ravaged nation. Three days after the Soviet pullout Najibullah declares a state of emergency, and on February 19 he replaces seven members of his cabinet who do not belong to the governing PDPA with party members, a move aimed at consolidating the party's powers. Prime Minister Sharq, another non-party member, resigns on February 20. Sultan Ali Keshtmand, a ranking member of the Politburo and a Communist hard-liner, is named prime minister on February 21 after a 21-member Supreme Defense Council headed by Najibullah effectively assumed power.

February 23, 1989

The Muslim rebels set up an interim government in Pakistan. After three weeks of fractious debate, an assembly of 440 delegates elects an interim government with Sibghatullah Mojadedi, considered a moderate, as president. Rasul Sayaf, a hard-line fundamentalist from the Ittehad-i-Islami rebel group, is elected prime minister. Afghan Shi`ite guerrillas, most of whom are in Iran, boycott the assembly after the Pakistan-based rebels, the majority of whom are Sunnites, refused to give them the representation they sought. The Shi`ites constitute only 17% of the Afghan population but make up 40% of the refugees, who provide many of the guerrillas. The rebel government is officially recognized by Saudi Arabia on March 9, and Bahrain, Malaysia, and The Sudan also announce their recognition. The U.S. and Pakistan, the rebels' main backers, withhold recognition until a functioning administration is established, but the U.S. names a special presidential envoy to the Afghanistan resistance, with the rank of ambassador.

July 1989

The Kabul regime successfully pushes back rebel forces from the strategic city of Jalalabad. Jalalabad, 70 km west of the Pakistani border, is the country's third largest city.

October 1989

A group of 15 former top officials and military officers, having formed what they call a third force to try to bridge the gap between Kabul and the guerrillas, issues a manifesto calling for an end to both Soviet and U.S. interference. Calling themselves the National Salvation Society, most of them served the deposed King Zahir Shah, and the government does not oppose the group because it might help lure the 74-year-old former monarch home from exile in Italy. The king is still a popular figure in Afghanistan, and his return might lend Najibullah the legitimacy he seeks at home and abroad. The king's return might also fracture the squabbling rebel alliance, since the leaders of the seven Pakistan-based rebel groups range from bitter antimonarchists to former palace advisers.

November 1, 1989

The UN General Assembly passes an unprecedented resolution calling on the Afghan government and the rebels to open negotiations to establish a coalition government.


Fierce fighting flares anew at the beginning of the year between government troops and the mujaheddin guerrillas, but by winter no military victory is in sight for either side. In the face of an extended stalemate and in a bid to end the 12-year-old civil war, Washington and Moscow agree that elections should be held to decide the political future of the country. Neither superpower can agree on what role Najibullah would play in the interim government, however. Washington insists he relinquish control over the military and intelligence, a demand that Najibullah and Moscow reject. Nevertheless, the president is willing to relinquish control of the state media and a limited number of troops to an interim commission if new elections are held. Since their withdrawal after a nine-year intervention, the Soviets have sent an estimated $500 million in weapons and supplies to Kabul every month. The U.S. have funneled $300 million in aid to the Muslim resistance through Pakistan, but Washington lobbies for reduced aid to fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, considered the most anti-Western of all the seven resistance leaders, after numerous reports blamed him for brutal infighting that killed scores of Afghan civilians and guerrilla fighters. Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto also seeks a reduced role for the rebel leader, contradicting the Pakistani military's policy of favouring Hekmatyar for most of the civil war. But arms shipments to Hekmatyar reportedly rise dramatically after Bhutto is ousted August 6 and replaced by right-wing opponents. Renewed arms shipments coincide with escalating rocket attacks on Kabul in the first two weeks of October that kill at least 60 people and injure scores of others.

Early March 1990

Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Shahnawaz Tanay, with the alleged support of the air force and some divisions of the army, leads an unsuccessful coup attempt against Najibullah's government.

May 8, 1990

Fazal Haq Khaliqyar replaces Keshtmand as prime minister.

May 20, 1990

The state of emergency is lifted.

End of May 1990

A loya jirga is convened in Kabul, which ratifies constitutional amendments providing for multiple political parties, ending the PDPA's and the National Front's monopoly over executive power.

June 1990

Najibullah creates a new political party, the Hezb-i-Wattan, or Homeland Party, in an attempt to whip up mass support. The announcement turns out to be a largely cosmetic exercise, however, as all top posts go to stalwarts from his old PDPA.

July 1990

Major guerrilla leaders form a Commanders' Council in Pakistan. It is seen as a deliberate attempt to sideline the moribund government-in-exile originally established as an alternative to Najibullah but later dismissed as a sham. The ethnic squabbles in the government-in-exile have reportedly contributed to the U.S.-backed guerrillas' failure to dislodge the Kabul government.

October 1990

After a lull in fighting, the Pakistan-based guerrillas stage a fresh assault and claim to have captured strategic outposts in the south and the capitals of Tarin Kowt and Qalat in Oruzgan and Zabol provinces. The guerrillas also step up fighting around the capital city of Kabul and in at least four other provinces. The latest offensive, led by Hekmatyar, is viewed as a prelude to a major attack on Kabul. Most moderate guerrilla leaders, however, seem to oppose an attack on Kabul, saying they have neither the equipment nor the manpower to overcome the government's overwhelming air power.

Early October 1990

The 40 major guerrilla commanders meet in northern Pakistan and agree to set aside their ethnic differences and draw up an overall coordinated strategy to counter Hekmatyar.

November 1990

It is reported that guerrillas have killed more than 200 government soldiers after the soldiers had surrendered.

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