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“the Sawr Revolution” in Afghanistan

This picture taken in the first anniversary of the Afghan communist April Revolution on 28 April 1979 shows the Afghan Khalq communist party flag at the gate of the presidential palace in Kabul. The Moscow-backed communist party removed and killed in a military coup the republican president Daoud Khan. The party that ruled Afghanistan until 1992 allowed the Soviet invasion of the country. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / TASS / S. SOBOLEV
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The April 27, 1978, bloody coup, staged by a bunch of Afghan army and air force officers affiliated with the Khalq faction of Afghanistan Communist Party (PDPA), opened a most destructive and violent chapter in Afghanistan’s history which is yet to be closed. The chain of events leading up to the coup and the poorly-coordinated take-over indicate that it was a last minute ad hoc operation. On April 17, 1978, a prominent member of the Parcham faction of PDPA, Mir Akbar Khaiber, was assassinated near his home under suspicious circumstances. The Communists accused the government of the murder, charging that President Daud’s regime was bent on eliminating them all. There are other speculations that Khaiber was assassinated by the rival Khalqis or elements interested in provoking a confrontation between the Communists and the Daud regime. The funeral of Khaiber turned into a massive anti-regime protest and a political statement of defiance.

Saur Revolution

?Story Of Picture:Saur Revolution:The Saur Revolution (literally 7th Saur), also called the April Revolution or April Coup, was a coup d'état (or self-proclaimed revolution) led by the Soviet-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against the rule of Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27–28 April 1978. Daoud Khan and most of his family were killed at the presidential palace.[2] The revolution resulted in the creation of a government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as President (General Secretary of the Revolutionary Council), and was the precursor to the 1979 intervention by the Soviets and the 1979–1989 Soviet–Afghan War against the Mujahideen.Saur (pronounced like sour in English) is the Dari (Persian) name of the second month of the Persian calendar, the month in which the uprising took place.[3] At a press conference in New York in June 1978, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hafizullah Amin, a member of the coup, said that the event was not a coup but a revolution by the "will of the people"?BBCـــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــFor more visit: https: www.mundigak.com/en#mundigak_historical_society

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On 25 April, fearing further disturbances and encouraged by staunch anti-Communist elements in his government, Daud ordered the arrest of most of the leaders of PDPA including Nur Mohammad Taraki and Babrak Karmal. One of the leading party figures, Hafizullah Amin, who liaised with the army, found time before being detained to issue orders to the Khalqi officers in the army to stage an armed uprising. The Party had worked out contingency plans to overthrow the government in a coup. Amin was the custodian of the plan that aimed staging the coup in August. The arrest of PDPA leaders pushed the date forward and Amin sent the plan for immediate execution to Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy, the contact person for the air force and to Major Aslam Watan-Jar, the key person in the armored forces.[1]

Leaders of the Saur Revolution modelled themselves on the Soviet Union / Image: Cleric77


There are still unanswered questions as to what extent the Soviet Union was involved in the April coup (the Sawr Revolution). Most Afghans strongly believe that the Soviet advisors stood behind the armed uprising of the Communist officers in the Afghan army but there is no hard evidence. The Soviets indicated that they were taken by surprise with Brezhnev learning about it in the press and the chief Soviet Military Advisor in Afghanistan, General Gorelov, first knew of the coup when he came to his office in the morning and heard shooting.[2] KGB sources report that the KGB residency in Kabul was given advance warning of the coup by its two Afghan military leaders and Soviet agents, Mohammad Rafi (codenamed Niruz) and Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy (codenamed Mamad). This alarmed the Center which communicated back to the residency on April 26 that the Iranian Intelligence Service (SAWAK) had tricked PDPA supporters in the armed forces to stage a rebellion which Iran expected would be crushed.[3] According to Alexander Morozov, who served as deputy KGB chief in Kabul during the months leading up to April 26, Moscow was aware of a plan for a coup and strongly advised against it but the KGB did not discover until the evening of April 25 that Amin had actually ordered the takeover. But neither Moscow nor the KGB residency in Kabul took any steps to stop the coup.[4] After all, there were over 300 Soviet advisors helping with the technical and ground services at the Afghan Air Force bases. It is hard to imagine that the pilots could fly the plans without involving their Soviet advisors. The military operation was plagued by blunders on both sides.

Whatever was the role of the Soviet Union in the April coup, it amounted to a response to an unexpected situation in order to prevent the failure of the takeover which Louis Dupree, who was in Kabul at that time, labeled as “the accidental coup,” brought on by a series of accidents. “Its outcome” he noted “was also the result of accidents and makeshift arrangements of spur-of-the moment action rather than of elaborate planning.”[5] Dupree characterized it as “foul-up followed foul-up and the side with the fewer foul-ups won.”[6]

The new regime

But once the coup took place, the Soviet Union hardly had a choice not to give it full support. The hastily prepared and executed military action by the rebels could have been foiled easily by proper reaction to the initial moves of the plotters who were controlling only one tank battalion and one squadron of fighter-bombers. It was mostly the failure of the regime loyal forces, not the power of the coup-stagers that decided the fate of the fight on the bright spring day of April 27, 1978 in Kabul.

Early that morning, buoyed by the arrest of the Communist Party leaders and the prospects of the end of the Communist activists, the Defense Minister, Ghulam Haidar Rasuli, ordered Army garrisons to hold official celebrations marking the downfall of the “atheist” forces with entertainment and jubilations. With a dangerous disregard for the possible reaction of the leftists in the army, the overconfident commanders encouraged the troops to indulge in festivities, singing and dancing while the plotters took advantage of their laxity to take control of key installations, moving tanks and APCs against the key government points of control. On the other hand, the coup plan called for a simultaneous midday attack on the Arg Palace by both tanks and fighter jets. The armor march on Kabul was initiated by the 4th Armored Brigade whose Chief of Staff, Mohammad Rafi, was a PDPA member and was in command of the troops since the Brigade Commander was out of the country. He managed to mobilize the tank battalions under fellow Communist party members, Major Watanjar and Major Mazduryar, topped off the tanks with fuel and ammunition and by 9:00 AM ordered them to march to downtown Kabul nine miles to the west.

Watanjar led the column and when he approached the Palace, he sent a tank detachment to the Pashtunistan intersection to the south of the Palace compound and the Mazduryar unit to the northwest of the sprawling Palace enclosure and the residence of Daud and his brother. Watanjar himself took up a posting against the south wall of the Place compound and at mid-day opened fire on the nearby Ministry of Defense. The staff ran off in panic.[7] The President was holding a cabinet meeting in the palace which was disrupted by the attack and broke up. At this point, the air force was expected to appear over the palace and bomb it. But the PDPA officer in charge of the air force plotters, Colonel Abdul Qader, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Command, was detained by loyal officers and the air force action was delayed for five hours. Only when a mechanized detachment moved onto the base from outside, killing many loyal officers and freeing Qader, could the operation resume. Qader flew by helicopter to Bagram which had been seized by the rebels and the pilots under command of Qader then flew a squadron of combat aircraft that launched air strikes on the palace around 5:00 PM. Half an hour later, an armor detachment broke into the central jail and freed the PDPA leaders-taking them first to the secured radio-TV station and then to the command center of the air force.


During all these tense hours when the palace was under fire from three locations, the military forces around the capital were called repeatedly to rush to the protection of the government, but, no troops arrived from the 8th Division based at Qargha eight miles to the west or from the 7th Division based at Rishkhor, 10 miles to the south. The Communist operatives within these formations had either joined the coup or neutralized the opposing officers.

The Minister of Defense rushed to the 8th Division to take control. There he would muster a small force to move against the rebels but on the way he was abandoned by these troops who defected to the rebels. He went off to the Central Corps headquarters at the Taj-Beg Palace where the Chief of Staff of the Corps, General Abdul Ali Wardak, was fighting the renegade detachments from ground and shooting down one jet fighter. Meanwhile a regiment from the 7th Division managed to leave Rishkhor in the evening and marched against the rebels whose ranks were now swelled by their comrades and defectors. The regiment was blocked in the suburbs of Kabul and forced back to Rishkhor. President Daud had also ordered commanders of the provinces to march to Kabul but before they could get ready for the move, the fight in Kabul was over. By midnight when resistance to the coup was waning, the beleaguered army leadership including Defense Minister Ghulam Haidar Rasuli, Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Abdul Aziz and the Chief of Staff of the Central Corps, Brigadier General Abdul Ali Wardak who were huddled in the Taj Beg Palace, left the headquarters and intended to leave Kabul. They hide for the night in the house of a nearby gardener who reported their location to the rebels. They were arrested early in the morning and were summarily executed.

In order to stave off any initial popular resistance against the “atheist” Communists, the PDPA leadership decided to announce the victory of the “revolution” in the name of the “Revolutionary Military Council” represented by Air Force Colonel Abdul Qader and Tank Major Aslam Watanjar who read an announcement at 7:00 PM over Radio Afghanistan in Dari and Pashto declaring the fall of the Daud regime and that the “Council” had taken power.

At the Palace, in spite of the heavy bombardment, the Presidential Guard Brigade resisted and destroyed a few BMPs (Infantry fighting vehicles). However, due to sabotage of weapons by Communist operatives within the Presidential Guard Brigade, the resistance waned after several hours. By mid-night, Daud instructed the loyal officers to surrender if overwhelmed to avoid unnecessary loss of life.[8] Soon afterwards, a detachment of rebel commandos under command of Lieutenant Imamuddin entered the Palace and asked the President, who was surrounded by members of his extended family, to surrender. Daud refused to surrender to the “Communists.” His defiance was followed by sweeping fire from the intruders who massacred Daud and his family including women and children. Thus the ascendance of the Communist to power began with bloodshed and ushered in a long period of conflict and violence.

On April 30, 1978, the coup leaders set up a Revolutionary Council that embodied the highest political authority of the state now named the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA). The same day, Nur Mohammad Taraki was named Head of the Revolutionary Council and Prime Minister while Babrak Karmal was appointed his deputy in both positions.  Hafizullah Amin was given the Foreign Ministry and several military leaders of the coups were put in key cabinet positions. The role played by Amin in setting the coup in motion elevated his position in the government, which he used to consolidate his personal power within the network of Khalqi Pashtun army and police officers. His insatiable ambition for power and his influence over a wide military network prompted Amin first to purge the PDPA of his Parcham rivals, mainly Babrak Karmal, and later to revolt against his “teacher” Nur Mohammad Taraki paving the way for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 20 months later.

The Afghan Communists called the April coup the “Great Sawr Revolution” which was devoid of any characteristics of a revolution. They even claimed they had “invented” a new path to socialism through arming the military with Marxism-Leninism ideology and using them as an instrument to empower the Communist party “the vanguard of the working class -” a military coup turned revolution. They also bragged about having thus “enriched” the theory. To the dismay of his Soviet comrades, Taraki claimed, that the Sawr Revolution was equal in significance with the October Revolution in Russia.[9] The Communist takeover, nevertheless, was a rebellion by the military assets of one faction of the Communist Party with no significant following in the country or any socio-political prerequisites of a revolution. In April 1978, the PDPA had about 5,000 members which were increased only to some 11,000 by 1982 (which is considered close to reality despite the inflated official number of 60,000-70,000). Further Amin is said to have purged 60 percent of the party and thus by the time of his death in December 1979, the number had fallen to 2,000-2500. The size expanded to 10,000-15,000 by 1982. Even accepting the most optimistic of the official accounts the party made up a tiny sliver not more than 0.5% of the population of Afghanistan.[10] According to Russian General and military scientist Mahmud Gareev, who also served as advisor to Afghan President Najibullah from 1989-1991, “the April revolution, from the outset did not have any serious social basis and the new power tried to compensate for it with invasive actions into all spheres of social life.”[11] Taraki himself admitted that the party did not command a wide popular base and building such a base would have taken 30 years. So the Party reversed the sequence: take power first and then build the supporting base.[12]

The intra party friction reached its ultimate limits in June 1978 when Taraki and Amin moved against Parcham, purging prominent leaders of the faction. Some were sent into exile as ambassadors, including Babrak Karmal, who was appointed ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Other lesser parcham figures including Sultan Ali Keshtmand, Mohammad Rafih, and Abdul Qader were later arrested on charges of anti-regime plotting and sentenced to death, although their sentences was commuted to life in prison after Soviet intervention on their behalf.

(Excerpts from Ali A Jalali’s recent book : A Military History of Afghanistan from the Great Game to the Global War on Terror) 



[1] Author’s interview with several military officers and PDPA members, Kabul, July 1978. The contingency plans for coup was also discussed in papers circulated by the PDPA in the summer of 1978

[2] Rodric Braithwaite, Afghantsy, the Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89, Oxford University Press 2011, p. 42

[3] Cristopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The World was Going Our Way, – The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, Basic Books, New York 2005, P. 386

[4] Op. cit. Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan, Oxford University Press,1995, p.27

[5] Louis Dupree, Afghanistan under the Khalq, Problems of Communism, July-August 1979, P. 34

[6] Louis Dupree, The Accidental Coup, p. 5, op .cit. Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan, p. 25

[7] Author’s interview with several former officers of the Ministry of Defense in Kabul , 1978; also Lyakhovsky, Alexander, Tragediya I Dobelst Afgana (The Afghan tragedy and valor), Moscow, GPI “Iskon,” 1995, pp. 28-29

[8] Author’s conversation with Major Fazal Rahman, the chief of operations of the Presidential Guard Brigade who fought against the rebels

[9] Cristopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The World was Going Our Way, p. 386

[10] Anthony Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism-Parcham and Khalq, Hoover Institute Press, Stanford University, 1983, pp. 116-117

[11] Gareev, M.A. Moya Pasledniya Voina (My Last War), Moscow 1996, p. 23

[12] Anthony Arnold, p. 74

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