was born into a wealthy family near Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 6, 1929. His father was a friend of the royal family, especially of General Mohammad Daoud (Prime Minister from 1953 to 1964 and 1973 to 1978), as well as cousin and brother-in-law of King Mohammad Zahir Shah.
In 1951, having graduated from Nejat High School, Karmal enrolled at the College of Law and Political Sciences at Kabul University. The following year he was arrested for holding rallies in support of Abdul Rahman Mahmudi, a revolutionary. Following his release in 1955, he resumed his studies at the university. After receiving his law degree, Karmal entered the Ministry of Planning.
It was while studying at the university that Karmal was first introduced to Marxism and Communism. He was a founding member of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and served in the National Assembly from 1965 until 1973. When the PDPA split into two factions in 1967, Karmal became leader of the more moderate Parcham (Banner) faction. The factions reunited in 1977, and in April 1978 seized control of Afghanistan. Karmal was initially named Deputy Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, but following the rise of the rival Khalq (People's) faction he was "exiled" as Ambassador to Prague.
The PDPA attempted to modernize the country in line with Marxist ideas, but rebellion ensued instead. On December 27, 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, overthrew and executed President Hafizullah Amin, and called Karmal back to take power as President.
Upon his installation as President, Karmal made a number of promises in hopes of gaining popular support, including: an end to executions; drafting of a new Constitution that would provide for the democratic election of national and local assemblies; the safeguarding of personal property and individual freedom; the allowance of a multi-party system; and a government that would not pursue socialism.
Karmal did manage 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 granting of concessions to religious leaders; the conditional restoration of confiscated property; and a change of the national flag from the Soviet-style banner of the Khalq period to a more "Islamic" and popular design that restored the historical colors common in earlier flags.
Karmal's reforms failed to satisfy the international community, however, which was particularly distressed by the presence of Soviet troops in the country. He also failed to gain widespread support amongst Afghan citizens, many of whom were still in open revolt against the Soviet-led government.
Soon Afghanistan found itself in the midst of a full-scale civil war. As many as five million Afghan people -- about 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. Other groups fought from within Afghanistan. These guerrilla groups were supplied with funds to purchase arms, principally from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the People's Republic of China, and Egypt. Government forces controlled Kabul, the provincial capitals, and those areas where the Soviets had stationed military units, while guerrillas controlled (or at least vigorously harassed) the rest of the country. Soviet leaders in Moscow eventually declared Karmal's rule a failure, and, on May 4, 1986, he was replaced as party leader by Dr. Mohammad Najibullah; six months later he was relieved of the presidency and replaced by Najibullah. Upon leaving office Karmal initially moved to Moscow, where he could be protected from his enemies. He died in Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital of liver cancer on December 3, 1996.
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This page was last updated on 11/23/2012.