OF THESE two books, read first the travel account by David Chaffetz. It is the best thing I have read for giving the "feel" of Afghanistan and its varied peoples, social classes, religious sects. Both the author and his companion (always called "my friend," without mention of his name; but at least it is intimated that he had traveled in Afghanistan before) had a good knowledge of Farsi, the dominant laguage of Iran, so we are given quotations from poetry, the readings on tomb inscriptions, and even comments on dialect and pronunciation in Dari and Taji, the two Afghan sub-languages closest to Farsi. They do not seem to have been fluent, however, in Pashto, the more distantly related Indo-Iranian language of the Pushtun, the people who have dominated Afghanistan politically and militarily (though often uneasily), for the last 2 1/2 centuries. This is important, because the Pushtun form also an unruly minority on the Pakistan side of the Afghan frontier, which neither the British in their day nor Pakistan since it became a state has been able to subdue completely.
Chaffetz wins confidence with the easy simplicity of his narrative. He never condescends, and when he translates what an Afghan says he does not use the bogus "orientalisms" which disfigure so much travel writing. What emerges from a charmingly simple story of slipping through a pattern of negotiation, intrigue, cajoling, being passed on by a friend to a friend of his who will in turn become a friend, in order to get the travelers to where they want to go, is the warning -- at least to this reviewer -- that one must be cautious about using the term "Afghan nation" as it is used in the West, or "feudalism" as it is used by Marxists.
Under the Durrani clan (or tribe? The distinction seems to vary from periods of social history interacting with political history) a Pushtun state authority was imposed which was not equally firm in all parts of Afghanistan. At the level below the state a man had to maintain solidarity with his ethnic-liguistic group (Pushtun, Tajik, Uzbek or whatever). At succeeding lower levels there is identification with the tribe, the clan, the extended family, one's own family. In some clans the position of "khan" tended to be hereditary, but there does not seem to have been a fully feudal structure of jurisdiction over territory and people, a gradation of titles of nobility (equivalent to duke, count, etc.) and royal confirmation of a new khan when he succeeded his father. In other cases the khan is in reality no more than a locally prominent man, recognized by the people of the district as qualified to mediate the settlement of local questions and deal with the similar representatives of of neighboring districts. The main qualifications are enough wealth to be able to be a patron and to offer hospitality to travelers and merchants, combined with a common-sense diplomatic touch. Chaffetz's travel observations are broadly confirmed by the Newells, both of whom are described as having lived and traveled extensively in Afghanistan. They begin with a concise but reliable survey of geography, history and ethnic groupings. They are fully aware of ethnic strains, rivalries and animosities. They then deal with Marxism in Afghanistan, which began in 1965 and spread rapidly during the 1970s. They correctly associate this growth with that of secondary and university education, which produced more graduates than there were jobs to go around, and thus a dissatisfied intelligentsia. With a mixture of employed and unemployed intelligentsia, cliques abounded, whose rivalries were complicated by the fact that in some university departments and technologies the the language of qualification was English, in others German, in others French; in the 1970s the Soviet program of economic aid in development added Russian. Marxism, under these conditions, was not only student-based but urban-based (as in the early history of Marxism in China).
From the beginning, there were two wings of organized Marxism, the Khalq ("Masses") and the Parcham ("Banner"). The Khalq was headed by Taraki, who served as a press attache to the Arghan Embassy in Washington in 1952-53, and Amin, who had two periods as a student at Columbia University and claimed to have been converted to Marxism at a student meeting in Wisconsin in 1963. As in all early Marxist movements, it would seem, there was an extremist wing (the Khalq), committed to diving head first into the rolling river of revolution, and a more moderate wing (the Parcham), which believed that successful revolution must grow out of a preliminary "progressive" or United Front political activity.
The Newells then review the takeover of power by the Khalq and the too rapid revolutionary measures which roused oppostiion against them. Among other things they severly reduced the bride-price in marriage, which outraged even villagers for whom the price was reciprocated by the dowry brought by the bride, which provided a mechanism for economic alliance between families. The peasants were further alarmed by the proclamation of land confiscation and redistribution. Instead of winning over the peasants, this alarmed them beecause (in a land of poor statistics), this enabled landlords to drive tenants off their land and list the land as being cultivated by the sons of the landlord family.
There follows an account of the Parcham coup against the Khalq and arrival of the Soviets who came in, at least in the beginning, with Central Asian troops who spoke languages close to the Dari and Turkic groups of lanuages in Afghanistan. Were the Soviets "called in," or was this an invasion? The Newells think that the "calling in" was a thin excuse and that the Soviet intention from the begginning was to take charge. I can't go along, at least until we have sufficient details. It looks to me likely that though President Babrak Karmal was out of the country then, the Soviets were genuinely appealed to by his Parcham faction to come in, to stop the damage being done by the "too revolutionary" Khalq. The record shows that over and over again the Russians have had the problem of supporting a revolution in which, in their opinion, the extremists were trying to do too much, too fast. Instead of being Big Brother, they try more often to be Sententious Uncle, warning their hot-headed nephews (with plenty of Marxist phraseology, of course), not to try to run before they can walk. Soviet criticism of the speed with which Mai Tse-tung was plunging ahead was a precipitating cause, if not the primary cause, of the Soviet-China split.
Finally, for the guerilla war of resistance and the prospects that lie ahead, the reader should look up "Bargain War," Gerard Chaliand's article in the New York Review of Books (April 2, 1981). A French specialist on insurgency and counter-insurgency, Chaliand believes that, until now at least, the Soviet strategy "has proven very effective, largely because they have avoided the mistakes made by the French in Algeria and the Americans in Vietnam."