Saur Revolution

ISBN (identifier) Soviet–Afghan War Afghanistan
Saur Revolution
Part of the Cold War, origins of the war in Afghanistan, and the prelude to the Soviet–Afghan War
Day after Saur revolution in Kabul (773).jpg
Outside the presidential palace gate (Arg) in Kabul, the day after the Saur revolution on 28 April 1978
Date27–28 April 1978
(1 day)

PDPA victory


Afghanistan Republic of Afghanistan

PDP of Afghanistan
Supported by:
 Soviet Union[1]

Commanders and leaders
Afghanistan Mohammed Daoud Khan 
Afghanistan Abdul Qadir Nuristani
Afghanistan Ghulam Haidar Rasuli 
Mohammad Aslam Watanjar[3]
Abdul Qadir
Nur Muhammad Taraki[3]
Hafizullah Amin
Babrak Karmal[3]

The Saur Revolution (/saʊər/; Persian: إنقلاب ثور‎ or ۷ ثور (literally 7th Saur); Pashto: د ثور انقلاب‎), also romanized Sowr Revolution, and alternatively 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.[4] 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 or Sowr is the Dari (Persian) name of the second month of the Persian calendar, the month in which the uprising took place.[5] The coup was ordered by PDPA member Hafizullah Amin; later at a press conference in New York in June 1978, Amin claimed that the event was not a coup but a revolution by the "will of the people".[6] The coup involved heavy fighting and resulted in a lot of deaths.[7]


With the support and assistance of minority political party People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Mohammed Daoud Khan had taken power in the 1973 Afghan coup d'état by overthrowing the monarchy of King Zahir Shah,[8][9] and had established the first Republic of Afghanistan.

President Daoud was convinced that closer ties and military support from the Soviet Union would allow Afghanistan to take control of Pashtun lands in northwest Pakistan. However, Daoud, who was ostensibly committed to a policy of non-alignment, became uneasy over Soviet attempts to dictate Afghanistan's foreign policy, and relations between the two countries deteriorated.[10]

Under the secular government of Daoud, factionalism and rivalry developed in the PDPA, with two main factions being the Parcham and Khalq factions. On 17 April 1978, a prominent member of the Parcham, Mir Akbar Khyber, was murdered.[11]:771 Although the government issued a statement deploring the assassination, Nur Mohammad Taraki of the PDPA charged that the government itself was responsible, a belief that was shared by much of the Kabul intelligentsia. PDPA leaders apparently feared that Daoud was planning to eliminate them.[11]

During the funeral ceremonies for Khyber a protest against the government occurred, and shortly thereafter most of the leaders of PDPA, including Babrak Karmal, were arrested by the government. Hafizullah Amin, was put under house arrest, which gave him a chance to order an uprising, one that had been slowly coalescing for more than two years.[5] Amin, without having the authority, instructed the Khalqist army officers to overthrow the government.

The revolution

The day after the Saur revolution in Kabul

Preliminary steps for the coup came in April, when a tank commander under Daoud warned of intelligence suggesting an attack on Kabul in the near future, specifically April 27th. On the commander's recommendation, tanks were positioned around the Arg, the national palace. On the 27th, the tanks turned their guns on the palace. The tank commander who made the request had, in secret, defected to Khalq beforehand.[12]

According to an eyewitness, the first signs of the impending coup in Kabul, about noon on 27 April, were reports of a tank column headed toward the city, smoke of unknown origin near the Ministry of Defense, and armed men, some in military uniform, guarding Ariana Circle, a major intersection. The first shots heard were near the Ministry of Interior in the downtown Shahr-e Naw section of Kabul, where a company of policemen apparently confronted an advancing tank column. From there the fighting spread to other areas of the city. Later that afternoon, the first fighter planes, Sukhoi Su-7s, came in low and fired rockets at the national palace in the center of the city. In early evening, an announcement was broadcast on government-owned Radio Afghanistan that the Khalq were overthrowing the Daoud government. The use of the word Khalq, and its traditional association with the communists in Afghanistan, made clear that the PDPA was leading the coup, and also that the rebels had captured the radio station.[13]

The aerial attacks on the palace intensified about midnight as six Su-7s made repeated rocket attacks, lighting up the city. The next morning, 28 April, Kabul was mostly quiet, although the sound of gunfire could still be heard on the southern side of the city. As the people of Kabul ventured out of their homes they realized that the rebels were in complete control of the city and learned that President Daoud Khan and his brother Naim had been killed early that morning. A group of soldiers had surrounded the heavily-damaged palace and demanded their surrender. Instead, Daoud and Naim, pistols in hand, charged out of the palace at the soldiers, and were shot and killed.[13] In addition, the Defense Minister of Daoud's cabinet Ghulam Haidar Rasuli, Interor Minister Abdul Qadir Nuristani, and Vice President Sayyid Abdullah were also killed.[14]

The coup marked the end of power of the Barakzai dynasty after 152 years.

International reaction

In a May 28, 1978 US cable[15] addressed to its embassies and Secretory of States, Chinese ambassador Huang Ming-Ta is quoted characterizing the new regime as "undeniably controlled by pro-soviet communists,"[15] and that chairman Taraki and Hafizullah Amin had expressed intentions to be nonaligned.[15] Huang Ming-Ta observed that the Soviet Union had great influence in Afghanistan, and would provide any assistance it might need, but speculated Soviet Union might find it an expensive venture. Huang Ming-Ta expressed "that there might be some changes in Afghanistan within the next years, and that American programs should continue in Afghanistan".[15]

Government after the revolution

The revolution was initially welcomed by many people in Kabul, who were dissatisfied with the Daoud government. Before the civilian government was established, Afghan National Army Air Corps colonel Abdul Qadir and the PDPA Revolutionary Council led the country for three days, starting from 27 April 1978. Eventually a civilian government under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki of the Khalq faction was formed. In Kabul, the initial cabinet appeared to be carefully constructed to alternate ranking positions between Khalqists and Parchamites. Taraki (a Khalqist) was Prime Minister, Karmal (a Parchamite) was senior Deputy Prime Minister, and Hafizullah Amin (a Khalqist) was foreign minister. The unity, however, between Khalq and Parcham lasted only briefly. Taraki and Amin in early July relieved most of the Parchamites from their government positions. Karmal was sent abroad as Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. In August 1978, Taraki and Amin claimed to have uncovered a plot and executed or imprisoned several cabinet members, even imprisoning General Abdul Qadir, the military leader of the Saur revolution until the Soviet invasion and subsequent change in leadership in late 1979. In September 1979, it was Taraki's turn to become a victim of the Revolution, as Amin overthrew and executed him.[16][17]

Once in power, the PDPA implemented a socialist agenda.[clarification needed] At first they had a moderate approach and reforms were not strongly felt; however from late October the PDPA launched drastic reforms that struck the socioeconomic tribal structure of rural Afghanistan.[18] In a "disastrous symbolic move",[18] it changed the national flag from the traditional black, red and Islamic green color to a near-copy of the red flag of the Soviet Union, a provocative affront to the people of this conservative country.[16] It prohibited usury, without having in place any alternative for peasants who relied on the traditional, if exploitative, credit system in the countryside. That led to an agricultural crisis and a fall in agricultural production.[19][20] Such reforms were abruptly introduced and enforced, without preliminary pilots.[18] Land reform was criticized by one journalist as "confiscating land in a haphazard manner that enraged everyone, benefited no one, and reduced food production," and the "first instance of organized, nationwide repression in Afghanistan's modern history."[21]

Women's rights

The PDPA, an advocate of equal rights for women, declared the equality of the sexes.[22] The PDPA made a number of statements on women's rights, declaring equality of the sexes and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial, which declared: "Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country ... Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention."[23] Women were already guaranteed freedoms under the 1964 Constitution, but the PDPA went further by declaring full equality.

Human rights

The revolution also introduced severe repression of a kind previously unknown in Afghanistan. According to journalist Robert D. Kaplan, while Afghanistan had historically been extremely poor and underdeveloped, it "had never known very much political repression" until 1978.[21]

The soldiers' knock on the door in the middle of the night, so common in many Arab and African countries, was little known in Afghanistan, where a central government simply lacked the power to enforce its will outside of Kabul. Taraki's coup changed all that. Between April 1978 and the Soviet invasion of December 1979, Afghan communists executed 27,000 political prisoners at the sprawling Pul-i-Charki prison six miles east of Kabul. Many of the victims were village mullahs and headmen who were obstructing the modernization and secularization of the intensely religious Afghan countryside. By Western standards, this was a salutary idea in the abstract. But it was carried out in such a violent way that it alarmed even the Soviets.

— Robert D. Kaplan, Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, [21]

Kaplan states that it was the Saur Revolution and its harsh land reform program, rather than the December 1979 Soviet invasion "as most people in the West suppose", that "ignited" the mujahidin revolt against the Kabul authorities and prompted the refugee exodus to Pakistan.[21]


The Khalqist regime pushed hard for socialist reforms and was brutal in its repression of opposition, arresting many without charge. The regime alienated a wide variety of people, including tribal and clan leaders, Islamists, Maoists, Western-educated teachers, and traditional religious leaders, all becoming victims of the Khalqists.[24] Discontent fomented amongst the people of Afghanistan, and after several uprisings the following year—March in the town of Herat, June in the Chindawol district of Kabul, August at the fortress of Bala Hissartroops from the USSR entered Afghanistan in December 1979, citing the Brezhnev Doctrine as basis for their intervention. Insurgent groups fought Soviet troops and the PDPA government for more than nine years until the final withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989. Instability remained in Afghanistan, with war still continuing to plague the country for more than four decades after the revolution.

In 1991, PDPA member Babrak Karmal from the moderate Parcham faction denounced the revolution, saying:

It was the greatest crime against the people of Afghanistan. Parcham's leaders were against armed actions because the country was not ready for a revolution... I knew that people would not support us if we decided to keep power without such support."[25]

See also


  1. ^ https://adst.org/2016/04/the-saur-revolution-prelude-to-the-soviet-invasion-of-afghanistan/
  2. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/29/newsid_2970000/2970317.stm
  3. ^ a b c "The KGB in Afghanistan: Mitrokhin Documents Disclosed". Federation of American Scientists. 25 February 2002.
  4. ^ "Mohammad Daud Khan". Afghanland.com. 2000. Archived from the original on 2017-08-17. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
  5. ^ a b Rubin, Barnett R. (2002). The Fragmentation of Afghanistan. Yale University Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 9780300095197.
  6. ^ AP Archive (2015-07-24), SYND 6 6 78 AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER HAFIZULLAH PRESS CONFERENCE ON RECENT COUP, retrieved 2018-03-11
  7. ^ "There was, therefore, little to hinder the assault mounted by the rebel 4th Armored Brigade, led by Major Mohammed Aslam Watanjar, who had also been prominent in Daoud's own coup five years before. Watanjar first secured the airport, where the other coup leader, Colonel Abdul Qadir, left by helicopter for the Bagram air base. There he took charge and organized air strikes on the royal palace, where Daoud and the presidential guard were conducting a desperate defense. Fighting continued the whole day and into the night, when the defenders were finally overwhelmed. Daoud and almost all of his family members, including women and children, died in the fighting. Altogether there were possibly as many as two thousand fatalities, both military and civilian." p. 88 of Ewans, Martin (2002) Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics HarperCollins, New York, Page 88 ISBN 0-06-050507-9
  8. ^ "Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed". BBC News. 1998-04-26. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
  9. ^ "Daoud's Republic". Countrystudies.us. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  10. ^ Steele, Jonathan (2012-01-01). Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground. Counterpoint Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9781582437873.
  11. ^ a b Dupree, Louis (2014-07-14). Afghanistan. Princeton University Press. p. 771. ISBN 9781400858910.
  12. ^ Ansary, Tamim (2012). Games Without Rules: the often interrupted history of Afghanistan. New York: Public Affairs. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-61039-094-1.
  13. ^ a b Thompson, Larry Clinton. "The 1978 Revolution in Afghanistan". American Diplomacy. AFSA. Retrieved 5 Sep 2020.
  14. ^ Adamec, Ludwig W. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. ISBN 9780810878150.
  15. ^ a b c d "Chinese Ambassador Comments on Afghanistan". May 28, 1978. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ a b Arnold, Anthony (1985). Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion in Perspective. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press. pp. 74–75, 77, 83, 86. ISBN 9780817982133. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  17. ^ Clements, Frank (2003). Conflict in Afghanistan: a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 207. ISBN 9781851094028. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  18. ^ a b c Larry P. Goodson (2011). Afghanistan's Endless War. University of Washington Press. p. 55, 56. ISBN 978-0295801582.
  19. ^ "The "Great Saur Revolution". Workers' Liberty. Retrieved 2011-04-06.
  20. ^ "Afghanistan – COMMUNISM, REBELLION, AND SOVIET INTERVENTION". Library of Congress Country Studies. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  21. ^ a b c d Kaplan, Robert D. (1990). Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0395521328. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  22. ^ Gibbs, David N. (June 2006). "Reassessing Soviet Motives for Invading Afghanistan". Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  23. ^ Prashad, Vijay (2001-09-15). "War Against the Planet". ZMag. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  24. ^ https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/291156cd-c8e3-4620-a5e1-d3117ed7fb93/ajpreport_20050718.pdf
  25. ^ "Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths by Jonathan Steele - review". The Guardian. 25 September 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2018.