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The September 11th Sourcebooks

AFGHANISTAN: THE MAKING OF U.S. POLICY, 1973-1990
by Steve Galster
October 9, 2001
Volume II: Index
Part 1. The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Russian Documents and Memoirs
Part 2. U.S. Analysis of the Soviet War in Afghanistan: Declassified
The September 11th Sourcebooks - Index
Volume I: Terrorism and U.S. Policy
In the coming days the Archive will release subsequent volumes on U.S. policy and planning for "Low-Intensity Conflict," CIA guidelines on the recruitment of inteligence "assets," and the use of assassination in U.S. foreign policy.
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The following is from the introductory essay to the National Security Archive microfiche collection Afghanistan: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1973-1990, published in 1990.
On an August afternoon in a city thousands of miles from home, a U.S. diplomat sat within the secure confines of his Embassy office preparing to write up his weekly summary report, while sounds of sporadic gunfire reverberated from the surrounding mountains into the bustling streets and bazaars outside. It was a typical scene, except this time the diplomat decided to include in his communiqué‚ a rather provocative idea that would capture more attention than usual back in Washington, D.C. It would, in fact, help push his obscure, low-level assignment all the way to the forefront of the Cold War. The overthrow of the country's communist leadership, he wrote, "could well have positive repercussions for the U.S. throughout the Third World by demonstrating that our adversaries’ view of the ‘inevitable course’ of history is not necessarily accurate."(1)

    The year was 1979. The country, of course, was Afghanistan. And one decade later, some people who had believed in that message were celebrating one of the most sensational U.S. victories in the history of the Cold War: the withdrawal of 100,000 demoralized Soviet troops from Afghanistan, marking the first time that the Red Army had withdrawn under fire from a nation it had occupied since World War II. The Afghan socialist revolution, it seemed, had failed.

    At the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Director William Webster and his euphoric "Afghan Team" toasted ten years of effort and a multi-billion dollar project to support the anti-communist, Muslim Afghan rebels, in what had become the CIA’s largest and "most successful" covert operation ever. On Capitol Hill, Congressman Charles Wilson (D-Texas), a legislative champion of the anti-Soviet guerrillas, boasted that the United States had learned in Afghanistan that it "could reverse Soviet influence anywhere in the world." And at the White House, President George Bush hailed the withdrawal as a "watershed" in U.S.-Soviet relations.

    Six thousand miles away from the celebrations, however, the war in Afghanistan raged on. Washington and Moscow’s clients, using U.S. and Soviet-supplied weapons, continued their internecine struggle for power, adding more civilian casualties to the 1 million who had already died. Although peace had broken out between the superpowers, the legacy of their long and bitter rivalry lived on in the rocket-prone city of Kabul, Pakistan’s crowded refugee camps and the war-ravaged villages in the Hindu Kush mountains.

The Relevance of Afghanistan

How is it that this underdeveloped, tribal-based country, tucked deep inside the rugged crossroads of Asia and deemed strategically insignificant by the United States for decades, became a battleground for the bloodiest superpower proxy war of the 1980s?

    What stimulated the United States to develop a sophisticated insurgency support operation for a rebellion led by Islamic religious leaders and fought by mountain tribesmen? What was the nature of the debate among U.S. officials and congressmen as to what the rebels, beset with ethnic, tribal and personal rivalries, could accomplish against the armed forces of the Soviet Union? What effect did this war have on Pakistan, the most important U.S. ally in South Asia, which played a crucial role in the war by providing sanctuary for the rebels and 3 million Afghan refugees? And what lessons have the U.S. intelligence and defense communities drawn from the Afghan conflict and applied to the emerging U.S. strategic doctrine of "Low-Intensity Warfare"?

    Why did the Soviet Union spend ten years, billions of dollars and 15-20,000 lives trying to prop up a government that seemed constantly on the verge of collapse? Was Moscow’s intervention, as some have claimed, originally part of a grand design to seize oil fields and warm water ports in the Persian Gulf region, or merely a move to protect a new socialist government in a country contiguous to its sensitive southern border? Why did Mikhail Gorbachev eventually call the Red Army home, leaving the Afghan government to fend for itself against formidable odds? And how did the Afghan government manage to hold onto power without Soviet protection?

    No student, professor or journalist trying to answer these and the many other questions related to the Afghan war can do justice to their research without reviewing some of the thousands of pages of State Department cables from Kabul, Peshawar, Islamabad and Washington; intelligence reports from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); correspondence between Congress and the executive branch; field reports from Agency for International Development (AID) officials in Pakistan; and other previously classified materials found in this document set.

    An overview of U.S. policy during Afghanistan’s last 17 turbulent years both provides some context for approaching these questions and demonstrates the usefulness of these materials to those trying to answer them.

The Tenets of U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan

Although Afghanistan experienced massive changes between 1973 and 1990--four coups, the intervention and withdrawal of the Soviet armed forces, the exile of one-third of its population as a result of the war, and one million deaths—U.S. policy toward Afghanistan throughout this period actually remained the same: to prevent "excessive" Soviet influence. Specifically, this meant denying the Soviet Union a foothold in Afghanistan from which to launch aggressive actions in the region. Afghanistan by itself was of little importance to the United States. But the area around it—the Persian Gulf and the sea lines and ports of the Indian Ocean—was deemed critical, and U.S. policy toward Afghanistan consistently reflected a regional policy that sought strong and friendly ties with Iran and Pakistan. Hence, the two factors shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan also remained consistent: the U.S. perception of Soviet goals in Afghanistan, and the balance of power in the region.

    Until the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the United States was able to project its power into South Asia and protect its interests there with confidence. In exchange for massive military assistance, the Shah provided the United States with access to military bases and intelligence facilities, helping to safeguard the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the "free world" while preventing potential Soviet advances toward the Gulf or Indian Ocean.

    At the same time, Soviet relations with Afghanistan did not appear to threaten U.S. interests. Since the USSR shared a long border with Afghanistan and because the United States enjoyed friendly ties with the other states in the region, U.S. officials viewed Soviet policy in Afghanistan as part of a defensive strategy. A National Intelligence Estimate written in 1954--one year after the United States helped restore the Shah to his throne in Iran—stated that "Soviet attention to Afghanistan is part of a general effort to counter recent Western (particularly US) gains in the Middle East-South Asia area."(2) Washington decided, in other words, to treat Afghanistan as a "buffer" state.

    Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, relations between Moscow and Kabul grew stronger, as the USSR became one of Afghanistan’s largest sources of foreign aid. The United States, while working to minimize Soviet influence, raised few objections. In 1962, the State Department reasoned that "US fostering of active hostility toward the USSR [could] only serve to weaken Afghanistan’s ability to survive."(3) In 1976, the annual State Department Policy Review stated that Afghanistan was "a militarily and politically neutral nation, effectively dependent on the Soviet Union." Still, it concluded that the United States "is not, nor should it become, committed to, or responsible for the ‘protection’ of Afghanistan in any respect."(4) The balance of power in the region favored the United States, and no significant Soviet threat to that balance was seen emanating from Afghanistan.

    This set of circumstances—which in U.S. policy parlance is described as "regional stability"—changed dramatically in 1979. The Shah of Iran abdicated his throne in January, allowing an anti-American, Islamic government to take power. Ten months later, the Soviet Union deployed 100,000 troops to Afghanistan, putting the Red Army within striking distance of both Pakistan and a potentially vulnerable Iran. The balance in the region had shifted. Soviet policy in Afghanistan, which was previously perceived as benign, was suddenly described by the White House as "the gravest threat to world peace since World War II."

The Early Years: 1973-1978

To gain a full understanding of these changes, one needs to go back to the early 1970s when the power of Afghanistan’s monarchy was waning. Afghanistan at this time was one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. In 1974, the World Bank estimated Afghanistan’s per capita GNP to be $70, ranking it 73rd among a list of 83 underdeveloped countries.(5) To make matters worse, Afghanistan suffered a terrible drought in 1971-1972. Foreign aid, from such countries as West Germany, Iran, the United States, and especially from the USSR, helped alleviate the country’s economic woes.

    Foreign aid alone, however, could not resolve Afghanistan’s emerging political conflicts. Many Afghans, particularly the progressive urban elite, had grown impatient with the country’s leader, King Zahir Shah. The king had ruled Afghanistan (sometimes as only a titular head) since the age of 19, when his father was assassinated in 1933.

    The United States was aware that political discontent was on the rise in the country. In 1971, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul reported that "[t]here has been increased leftist activity which can be attributed to increased disillusionment and frustration with the existing social/economic conditions and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the leadership to tackle boldly the nation’s problems."(6) Perhaps the most disgruntled and organized of the country’s leftist groups was the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

    The PDPA had been founded in 1965 by a group of 30 Afghans in Kabul. Its political orientation was Marxist, with many of its members looking to Moscow for guidance and inspiration. Many PDPA members, in fact, had studied or received military training in the USSR.

    During its early years, the PDPA was torn by quarrels and plots between its two leaders, Nur Mohammad Taraki and Babrak Karmal. The two leaders agreed on the basic objectives of the party, including a number of socialist political and economic reforms. They both also complained of Afghanistan’s backward nature, pointing not only to its underdeveloped infrastructure but also to a maldistribution of wealth and land which, they claimed, was perpetuated by traditional tribal and religious customs. Taraki and Karmal disagreed, however, over how to remedy these problems. Taraki and his followers argued for radical socialist reforms using whatever means necessary to implement them; Karmal and his supporters advocated the gradual introduction of socialist change, working within the state system, incorporating along the way different elements of Afghan society. Karmal and several colleagues had even served as parliamentary members during the king’s rule, earning themselves the nickname "royal communists."

    In 1967, Karmal split with the party and formed his own faction, also called the PDPA, but usually identified by the name of its newspaper, Parcham (banner). Parcham continued to strive for the same kinds of socialist reforms pursued by Taraki’s rival PDPA faction, Khalq (masses), also named for its newspaper, but the two competed for power nevertheless.

    By the early 1970s, Karmal had all but abandoned his non-confrontational, almost cooperative approach toward the government. The Zahir Administration had shut down the Parcham newspaper, quashed Parcham demonstrations, and arrested party members and put them in jail. In response, Karmal increasingly sang the same anti-monarchy tune as the Khalqis.

    Parcham and Khalq were not the only groups opposed to the Zahir Shah Administration. The king’s cousin and former prime minister, Mohammad Daud, had his eyes on the royal palace, as did several other former officials and relatives of the king. Realizing that a race was on to replace Zahir Shah, Daud, along with members of the military and Parcham, coordinated a takeover attempt. On July 17, 1973, while the king was vacationing in Italy, Daud, along with key military officers and the minister of interior, who was a Parcham sympathizer, launched a successful, nearly bloodless coup, declaring an end to the monarchy and the beginning of a republican government.

    The exact nature of Daud’s relations with Parcham during this time is still not clear. Did the two agree on political objectives for Afghanistan, or did they merely create a marriage of convenience? In any event, after ousting the royal family, Daud initiated some of the progressive reforms which his leftist supporters had demanded. His commitment to a reformist program and to his early backers was shortlived, however. Over time, Daud consolidated his personal power by purging the government of leftists, replacing them with members of his own powerful Mohammadzai clan. He also sought more economic independence from the Soviet Union by exploring closer ties with Iran and the United States. He was careful, however, never completely to shun the Soviet Union. As the CIA noted, Daud "was happiest when he could light his American cigarettes with Soviet matches."(7)

    The U.S. Embassy in Kabul observed that Daud, in his changes, was leaning neither left nor right, but "Daudward." In pursuit of personal power and a more independent foreign policy, Daud managed to alienate Afghanistan’s socialists, moderates and religious fundamentalists. It was the latter which initially proved to be Daud’s most militant opponents.

    While some Afghans were being influenced by Marxism, others were diligently studying the Koran. Many of these Afghans entered Kabul University’s faculty of Islamic law, while others pursued their Islamic studies in Egypt where they came into contact with and were influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which seeks the imposition of strictly Islamic governments in all Muslim countries. Some of those Afghans who studied in Cairo, such as Burhanuddin Rabbani, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi and Abdul Rabb-ur-Rasul Sayyaf, came back to Kabul determined to galvanize opposition first to Zahir Shah and then Mohammad Daud, both of whose governments they criticized as corrupt and un-Islamic. This group of Afghans wanted to integrate modernization and Islam to counter the "disruptive" influence of both capitalism and communism.

    Rabbani recruited from Afghanistan’s Muslim Youth Organization and helped form the Islamic Society party, Jamiat-i Islami. Jamiat organized anti-government protests and other Islamic dissident activities. When Daud cracked down on Jamiat activists, Rabbani and other Muslim leaders fled for the Afghan countryside and eventually to Pakistan where they received arms to fight the Daud government. U.S. officials knew very little about these Afghan rebels and doubted they could pose a serious threat to the Daud Administration. Some of the names listed in State Department cables were those of people who, years later, would receive covert aid from the United States in their jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet Union.

    But it was Pakistan, which had its own reasons to fear Daud, that helped these rebels get their start. Especially alarming to the Pakistanis was Daud’s pursuit of a popular cause called Pashtunistan. Roughly half of Afghanistan’s population are ethnic Pashtuns, including Daud and practically every other leader in Afghanistan’s history. Millions of Pashtuns also lived on the other side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, an artificial line drawn by the British during the height of their colonial rule in India. These Pashtuns, living in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), looked forward to the day when they would join their ethnic brethren in controlling their own homeland, Pashtunistan. Since Pashtuns dominated Afghan politics, they could only gain from pursuing such a goal, and Afghan leaders, in turn, won favor among Afghan Pashtuns for pursuing it.

    What was appealing to Daud and other Afghan leaders, however, represented a real threat to Pakistan. Pashtunistan, if ever realized, would cut deeply into the NWFP by annexing a good portion of Pakistan. Even if the border with Afghanistan remained intact, calls in Kabul for Pashtunistan always had the potential for stirring unrest in Peshawar and other parts of Pakistan’s frontier. Expatriate leaders such as Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, and Hekmatyar, an Islamist who sought to unite Afghans belonging to all ethnic groups through Islam, provided Pakistan with a minor tool for keeping Daud off balance if he chose to pursue an aggressive Pashtunistan policy.

    Meanwhile, as Islamic fundamentalists rebelled against Daud’s "atheistic" reforms, Daud continued to purge more leftists from the government, banned political opposition in 1975, and strengthened ties with Iran and the United States. The United States welcomed and encouraged Daud’s new foreign policy moves. In 1977, the State Department, remarking on Daud’s closer ties to Iran, stated that he had "made significant contributions to the improvement of regional stability—thereby helping to fulfill another principal U.S. objective."(8)

The Saur Revolution

Despite U.S. approval, Daud’s authoritarian rule had alienated too many at home. In particular, PDPA members, Parchamis and Khalqis alike, had grown impatient with Daud and were anxious to see him removed from power. Khalq members criticized their Parcham rivals for having deluded themselves into thinking that the PDPA could have worked with Daud after supporting his takeover. By 1977, Khalq and Parcham formally agreed to bury their differences and united to form one People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan; Soviet pressure reportedly played a role in the unification. Further PDPA infiltration of the military, especially by Khalqis, put the party in a good position to influence events if and when Daud lost his grip on power.

    That day came on April 17, 1978, when Mir Akbar Khaibar, a member of the PDPA and a vocal critic of Daud, was assassinated, possibly by Daud’s minister of interior. Thousands of mourners turned Khaibar’s funeral into an anti-government rally which prompted Daud to clamp down further on the PDPA, arresting numerous party members. His response provoked PDPA supporters in the military to take action. On April 27, the military in collaboration with the PDPA overthrew Daud, executed him, and replaced his republican government with a socialist one, which proclaimed the coup as the beginning of the "Saur [April] Revolution."

Prelude to Intervention

The socialist and pro-Soviet bent of the new government caused U.S. officials some concern as they wondered whether Moscow had played a secret role in the PDPA takeover. U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul, however, detected no Soviet hand in the coup and suggested a cautious approach to the new government. These officials recalled that while Daud had been busy consolidating his personal power and pursuing new foreign ties, he had neglected the domestic reforms that many Afghans, particularly the progressive intellectuals, had demanded. Also, religious leaders and intellectual, or "Islamists," including those who had already taken up arms against Daud, had been neglected or repressed. The PDPA was in a better position than the Islamicists to seize power because of its stronger influence over the military and within the capital city, Kabul.

    The Khalq-Parcham unity was apparently not very solid. The new government, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), was dominated by Khalqis, due mostly to Khalq control of the military. Soon after the April takeover, Khalq’s two main leaders, Nur Mohammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, quickly consolidated Khalq rule by imprisoning a number of their Parcham rivals while sending others off to foreign diplomatic posts. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to implement radical secular reforms, ranging from marriage decrees to land reform laws. A treaty of "friendship" between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union was signed in December 1978, which brought more Soviet aid and advisors to Kabul.

    The Khalqi reforms served to ignite strong opposition from most of the deeply traditional and Islamic population. The security of rural women, for example, often depended on a sizable dowry, which was significantly reduced under new marriage laws. The land reforms, which were meant to help small farmers, were opposed by many for having alienated them from their former landowners, on whom they had always relied for help in growing and selling their crops. A number of disenfranchised landowners along with many religious leaders either took up arms against the Taraki-Amin government or left the country.

    Some Afghans fled to Pakistan to join the Islamic Afghan dissidents such as Rabbani and Hekmatyar. Some of the more prominent new rebels included: Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, who came from a well-known family of Sufi leaders, had ties to the royal family, was related to a prominent PDPA official (a valuable connection for most rebels), and formerly taught Islamic law in Kabul; Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, who was also tied to the royal family, was a Pir, or spiritual leader, and who until his departure from Kabul owned a Peugeot car dealership; Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, who came from a prominent religious family and served in parliament in the 1960s where he criticized secular influence in Afghanistan, physically attacking, at one point, another member of parliament, Babrak Karmal. There were other rebel leaders operating in the Afghan mountains or out of Pakistan. An important one, Yunus Khales had escaped from Afghanistan in 1974 after writing a book that criticized the Daud Administration. Unlike some other rebel leaders, Khales depended more on his genuine tribal support than his religious aura to galvanize Afghans in his home province of Nangarhar to oppose the new government in Kabul.

    These leaders, along with Rabbani, Hekmatyar, and another who joined in 1980, Abdul Rabb-ur-Rasul Sayyaf, formed their own parties and would eventually unite to form the Sunni Islamic Afghan rebel alliance, or the "Peshawar Seven" as they would later become collectively known as. These party leaders called for a jihad, or holy war, against the PDPA.

    Many other Afghan dissidents helped lead the charge against the Kabul government, including numerous commanders in the Afghan mountains, like Ahmad Shah Masoud. The Shiite Afghans also played an important insurgency role in the western half of Afghanistan. Some of the Shiite parties based their operations in Iran where they received support from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s government. It was the Peshawar Seven, however, who would grab the world’s attention, partly because the government of Pakistan, the host to most rebels and refugees and the foreign journalists writing about them, chose to recognize their parties as the only legitimate ones in Pakistan.

    The United States, in the meantime, had found itself facing a policy dilemma with the PDPA’s ascension to power in Afghanistan. This dilemma was summed up in a secret memorandum to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance following the April takeover: "We need to take into account the mix of nationalism and communism in the new leadership and seek to avoid driving the regime into a closer embrace with the Soviet Union than it might wish...."

    Yet the memo also pointed out various factors favoring a hard-line approach to the new government:

[A]nti-regime elements in Afghanistan will be watching us carefully to see if we acquiesce in or accept the communist takeover....Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others of our friends in the area will see the situation clearly as a Soviet coup. On the domestic front, many Americans will see this as an extension of Soviet power and draw the parallel with Angola, Ethiopia, etc.(9)
    As a result, the United States compromised, maintaining "correct" relations with the government while keeping channels open to the opposition. As dissatisfaction with the PDPA mounted within Afghanistan, however, the United States grew increasingly uncomfortable with the new government and its radical reforms. To make matters worse, in February 1979, the U.S. ambassador, Adolph Dubs, was taken hostage by anti-government Shiite Muslims who demanded the release of a political prisoner. Afghan police clumsily stormed their hideout, and Dubs was killed in the ensuing shootout. Afghan authorities stonewalled U.S. requests for an independent investigation of the killing. Congress in turn refused to replace Dubs with another ambassador and threatened to cut aid to the DRA.

    In March 1979, Afghans in the western city of Herat responded to rebel calls for a jihad by massacring hundreds of DRA officials and Soviet advisors who were in charge of introducing the women’s literacy program there. Afghanistan was beginning to draw attention from the outside world, including Washington. At the White House, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski warned President Carter that the Soviet Union, with its hundreds of advisors in Afghanistan to assist in reforms and counterinsurgency operations, had territorial designs on Afghanistan and possibly the whole South Asia region. Brzezinski and others worried that the USSR might take advantage of its presence in Afghanistan in order to influence events in neighboring Iran or Pakistan, two traditionally pro-American countries that for years had helped safeguard U.S. interests in the region, namely access to oil and the containment of the Soviet Union.

    If the DRA were able to consolidate its power, Brzezinski argued, then the Soviet Union might turn Afghanistan into a launching pad for aggression in the region. Weeks after the Herat uprising and while President Carter was absorbed by the Iran hostage crisis, Brzezinski pushed a decision through the Special Coordination Committee (SCC) of the National Security Council (NSC) to be, as he put it, "more sympathetic to those Afghans who were determined to preserve their country’s independence."(10)

    Although deliberately vague as to what this meant, the evidence indicates that Brzezinski called for moderate covert support for Afghan dissident groups which had set up headquarters in Pakistan. Some, such as forces under the command of Rabbani and Hekmatyar, had been operating out of Pakistan without much outside aid for years. According to a former Pakistani military official who was interviewed in 1988, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad had asked Pakistani military officials in April 1979 to recommend a rebel organization that would make the best use of U.S. aid. The following month, the Pakistani source claimed, he personally introduced a CIA official to Hekmatyar who, while more radically Islamic and anti-American than most Afghans, headed what the Pakistani government considered the most militant and organized rebel group, the Hizb-i Islami (Hekmatyar).(11)

    Freedom of Information Act requests for records describing these meetings have been denied. But CIA and State Department documents seized by Iranian students during the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, reveal that, starting in April 1979, eight months before the Soviet intervention and immediately following Brzezinski’s SCC decision, the United States had, in fact, begun quietly meeting rebel representatives. Although most of the cables and memoranda released to date show that U.S. officials politely turned down rebel requests for U.S. assistance, others reveal CIA support for anti-DRA demonstrations and close monitoring of Pakistani military aid for rebel parties based in Pakistan’s NWFP.

    Brzezinski’s decision to help the rebels was curious in light of Soviet activities in Afghanistan at the time. According to declassified documents and this author’s interviews, Soviet officials thought the Khalqi leadership was moving too fast with its reforms and urged Taraki and Amin to moderate the pace of change and broaden their political base by including non-communists in the government. This approach, however, was more amenable to Parcham leaders who, unfortunately for Soviet officials, were not in power. When Khalq leaders sidestepped Soviet advice, Moscow sought other means to induce political change, meeting with former members of the monarchy and other non-communists to seek their participation in the DRA government. Soviet and other East bloc diplomats in Kabul kept the U.S. Embassy informed of their efforts.

    The ruling Khalqis, particularly Hafizullah Amin, had little use for Soviet counsel. The government responded to the growing opposition with increasing brutality, and the PDPA’s base continued to narrow. Amin, who as the defense minister was in charge of the failed counterinsurgency operations, became the focus of Soviet frustrations. State Department intelligence learned that, in August 1979, Moscow had decided there was no practical alternative in Afghanistan to the rule of Taraki and Amin but that Soviet officials had resolved to support the more moderate Taraki against Amin.

    In the same month, a high-ranking Soviet military official, General Ivan Pavlovskiy, led a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan to assess the stability of the government. In September, Taraki, on his way home from a Nonaligned Movement conference in Cuba, stopped in Moscow where he and Soviet officials reportedly discussed Amin’s future. Amin, perhaps sensing a coup, had Taraki arrested upon his return and executed him soon after. In October, General Pavlovskiy returned to Moscow and presented the Politburo with a grim picture of the situation below their border. The Khalqi government had lost control of 23 of Afghanistan’s 28 provinces to various rebel forces. Left with Amin, the Soviets drew up plans for military action.

    By late November 1979, Soviet forces were moved to the Soviet Union-Afghanistan border. Warsaw Pact forces were also placed on an advanced state of readiness. Two Soviet battalions were quietly flown into an airbase near Kabul during the first week of December, laying the groundwork for what was to follow. On Christmas Eve 1979, tens of thousands of Soviet troops riding in tanks and armored personnel carriers stormed across the Amudarya River into the rugged Afghan countryside, while thousands more flew into the Kabul, Bagram and Shindand air bases, bringing with them exiled Parcham leaders, including Babrak Karmal, who had been hiding in Moscow. Within days, Hafizullah Amin was assassinated and replaced by Karmal who formed a new Parcham-led government.

Superpowers and Doctrines of Hegemony

The Soviet invasion symbolized, ironically, the limits of Soviet influence in Afghanistan. Unable to stabilize the government through political means, Moscow attempted to do so with military force, much the same as the United States had done years before in Vietnam. To many observers in Washington, D.C., however, Afghanistan was beginning to look like another pawn on the Kremlin’s chessboard. The invasion coincided with the decline of U.S. influence in Iran and other Third World countries such as Angola and Mozambique in 1975, Ethiopia in 1977 and Nicaragua in 1979 where "pro-Soviet" governments had seized power. It also coincided with an election year in which President Carter was coming under attack from conservatives for failing to prevent these "Soviet gains."

    Many of these U.S. observers argued that the global balance of power, particularly the geostrategic balance in South Asia, had shifted in favor of the Soviet Union. The new dominant U.S. perception of Soviet foreign policy, as "evidenced" by Afghanistan, was that it was expansionist in nature: the Brezhnev Doctrine of protecting socialist allies, U.S. conservatives claimed, had been logically extended to include expanding Soviet influence beyond the Warsaw Pact. This view was best summed up in a Defense Intelligence Agency report issued days after Soviet troops entered Afghanistan: "The key motivation that propelled Moscow’s move was to bring its long-standing strategic goals closer within reach. Control of Afghanistan would be a major step toward overland access to the Indian Ocean and to domination of the Asian sub-continent."(12)

    Reasoning that "aggression unopposed becomes a contagious disease," President Carter warned the Soviet Union on January 23rd, 1980, that "[a]n attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region [would] be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the U.S. and [would] be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."(13) Journalists labeled this powerful warning the Carter Doctrine. Since, however, the United States was neither interested in nor prepared for a war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf, Carter looked for alternative ways to slow down a potential Soviet drive and make Moscow pay a heavy price for its intervention. He called for international economic sanctions against the USSR and a boycott of the Olympic games being held in Moscow, sought military access agreements with several South and Southwest Asian countries, and provided more covert aid to the mujahidin.

    Not all U.S. officials believed that the Soviet intervention was part of an expansionist drive. While no declassified documents reveal any criticism of rebel military aid, some officials subsequently recalled in this author’s interviews that they had advocated quiet diplomacy with the Soviet Union in order to provide the Kremlin with a way out of what they believed was a political and military miscalculation.(14) Moscow had its own critics as well. According to interviews with Soviet officials, days after the intervention, Soviet foreign affairs advisors pleaded with the Kremlin leadership to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan. These advisors did not believe the intervention was worth ruining d‚tente with the United States, Europe and China. What is more, the deeply traditional and Islamic Afghans, in their opinion, were not yet prepared for socialism.(15) Cold War attitudes, however, prevailed in both Moscow and Washington.

    A combination of fear, pride and superpower obligations caused the leader of the "free world" and the "vanguard of socialism" to struggle violently over a destitute country the size of Texas for the next ten years.

Political vs. Military Solution

Carter’s reaction to the Soviet invasion received widespread approval among policy-makers. Hard-liners, including Carter’s opponent in the 1980 presidential elections, Ronald Reagan, had warned numerous times that the Soviet Union was "on a roll" in the Third World and had to be "rolled back." Moderates thought the intervention, regardless of its purpose, was an egregious act for which the USSR should pay a price. All agreed that the Soviet Union should withdraw from Afghanistan. The question was how to convince Moscow.

    Congressional conservatives opposed negotiations, distrusting the Soviet Union’s willingness to negotiate in good faith. According to their view, the USSR would not withdraw unless and until it felt the costs of its occupation. Most U.S. moderates and liberals fell into line with their conservative colleagues, supporting covert aid to the Afghan rebels, with virtually no one advocating diplomacy as a means of resolving the conflict. The State Department believed that the rebels could "probably continue tying up some 85,000 or more Soviet troops" but that they were "fragmented, lack[ed] effective national leadership, and certainly [could not] force a Soviet withdrawal."(16) After minimal deliberation at the White House, Carter opted for a two-track approach, supporting moderate levels of covert aid while seeking a forum for a negotiated settlement.

    Carter’s loss to Reagan in the 1980 presidential election signalled the end of the negotiation track. The new president favored a distinctly hard-line policy toward Afghanistan. Reagan sought to make the Afghan rebels and other anti-communist insurgencies the centerpiece of the "Reagan Doctrine," an aggressive initiative designed to increase the cost of Soviet support for Third World socialist governments. While few believed that the Afghan rebels could force a Soviet withdrawal, Reagan and his advisors hoped to tie Soviet troops down in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains until the cost of occupation became unsustainable.

    The key to this objective was Pakistan. Since the overthrow of Mohammad Daud, Pakistan had played host to thousands (and eventually millions) of Afghan refugees and rebels who had fled their war-torn country for make-shift tent villages in the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan. Without the cooperation of Pakistan’s military government, led since 1977 by Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the rebels would have had no sanctuary from which to launch their operations.

    The Carter Administration had cut aid to Pakistan in 1977 because of concerns about its nuclear program and General Zia’s disdain for human rights and democracy. There was ample evidence to suggest that Pakistan was actively developing an atomic bomb. In addition, the Carter White House, with its public emphasis on respect for human rights as a precondition for foreign aid, was forced to respond to Zia’s well-known history of brutal and dictatorial actions. The general had originally attained power by overthrowing Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. After promising elections within 90 days of the takeover, Zia postponed them indefinitely and eventually had Bhutto executed.

    To the United States, however, Zia’s record of human rights abuses paled in significance when compared to the Soviet move into Afghanistan. Literally days after the Soviet invasion, Carter was on the telephone with Zia offering him hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid in exchange for cooperation in helping the rebels. Zia accepted this quid pro quo, but his government remained wary of Washington’s stated commitment to protect Pakistan from possible Soviet strikes across its border.

    The Reagan Administration was able to gain Pakistan’s confidence by offering a huge, six-year economic and military aid package which elevated Pakistan to the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. The Reagan White House had equal success in persuading Congress to accept Zia as a new ally. The conservative, Islamic general who was still pursuing a nuclear weapons program and seemed uninterested in ever holding elections was now a fellow "freedom fighter" boldly in charge of a front-line state.

    Although Zia spoke in concert with U.S. objectives of supporting Afghan "self-determination" and opposing the Afghan "puppet" government, he and his military had their own agenda in Afghanistan. Zia chose to favor the more radically Islamic rebel groups who, in some cases, were no more popular or representative than the PDPA. He was able to divert a disproportionately large share of U.S.-supplied weapons to these groups, especially the most radical one, Hizb-i Islami (Hekmatyar). Later in the war, this would cause significant problems for the rebel movement.

    Whether the United States blindly yielded to Zia’s favoritism of the fundamentalists or was in connivance with it is still in question. The relationship between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), the arm of the military responsible for distributing CIA-purchased weapons to the rebels, is not well-documented. This author’s interviews with Pakistani officials indicate that U.S. officials in Pakistan were continually advised by ISI officials that Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i Islami was the most effective rebel organization, although some officials from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry apparently differed with that assessment. Many secular Pakistanis outside of the government worried that foreign aid for Afghan fundamentalists such as Hekmatyar also served to bolster the conservative Islamic forces in Pakistan, including the military. Available documents and chronology show that during the ten-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, U.S. officials developed a stronger relationship with Pakistan’s generals than with either the foreign ministry or the civilian opposition.

Congress and Covert Aid

Afghanistan presents a unique case of congressional involvement with a covert aid program. Whereas a divided Congress often impeded the Reagan Administration’s efforts to aid the contras in Nicaragua, congressional hard-liners, riding a wave of bipartisan support, consistently and successfully pushed for more covert funding for the Afghan rebels than the White House ever requested.

    Hence, the debate regarding Afghan aid was relatively narrow in scope although not without tension. While everyone seemed to support "Afghan self-determination" and a Soviet-free Afghanistan, several members of Congress, backed by conservative lobbying groups, criticized the administration for not pursuing vigorously enough a mujahidin military victory over the PDPA. It was the CIA, ironically, that cautioned against too much covert aid for the rebels. Officials from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, including Deputy Director John McMahon, warned Congress that too large a military support operation for the rebels might provoke Soviet retaliation against Pakistan and would certainly be subject to "leakages" and corruption.

    The CIA was especially resistant to calls for providing the mujahidin with U.S.-made weaponry. Traditionally, the Agency purchased foreign, usually Soviet-styled, weaponry in order to "plausibly deny" U.S. involvement if the need arose. Throughout the Afghan war, the CIA purchased Soviet-designed weapons from Egypt, China and elsewhere and transported them to Pakistan. Cables reveal that Chinese and Egyptian AK-47 rifles and SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles arrived in Pakistan as early as 1980. This covert purchasing process not only covered U.S. tracks, but ensured the availability of weapons that were compatible with the kind captured by the rebels from their Soviet-supplied enemies.

    In 1984, Congress passed a resolution, introduced by Senator Paul Tsongas (D-Massachusetts) and Congressman Don Ritter (R-Pennsylvania), which called for "effective" U.S. material aid for the rebels "in their fight for freedom from foreign domination." Several legislators, particularly Congressman Charlie Wilson (D-Texas) and Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-New Hampshire), tried to use the Tsongas-Ritter resolution to increase the size and quality of the rebel covert aid program.

    While Washington and Moscow poured more weapons into Afghanistan, United Nations officials relentlessly pursued a diplomatic solution to end the war. In 1982, the U.N. Secretary-General, Javier P‚rez de Cuellar tasked Diego Cordovez to find a way for the United Nations to mediate a political settlement in Afghanistan. For the next six years, Cordovez shuttled back and forth from New York to South Asia to the Soviet Union and to Geneva. He tried to convince the numerous parties to the conflict—the Afghan government, the various rebel groups, the Soviet Union, Pakistan, the United States and Iran—to narrow their differences so that they could agree on a set of principles or conditions under which the Soviet military would withdraw from Afghanistan. Cordovez and his U.N. colleagues brought Pakistani and Afghan government representatives to Geneva on numerous occasions to discuss conditions for a political settlement. Since Pakistan did not recognize the Afghan government as legitimate, Cordovez literally had to move back and forth between hotel rooms because Pakistani officials refused to sit at the same table with the DRA representatives.

    Compounding Cordovez’s difficulties was a strong sense of mistrust between the superpowers. On a number of occasions it appeared that Pakistan and Afghanistan were ready to sign an agreement that would prohibit Pakistan from allowing material aid for the rebels to pass through its territory in exchange for a Soviet withdrawal. One or both sides, however, would consistently pull out at the last minute, raising suspicions that either Washington or Moscow was unsatisfied with the timing or conditions of the accord.

    To most U.S. officials, these U.N.-sponsored "proximity talks" looked hopeless or even frightening. In March 1983, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger reportedly expressed alarm at the prospect that the following round of Geneva negotiations might result in a settlement. About the same time, Charles Cogan, then the CIA’s official in charge of covert operations in Afghanistan, told a journalist that Pakistan was not about to sign Cordovez’s proposed "Geneva Accords" at the next round "or ever." He added that President Zia accepted the U.S. view that "Pakistan’s security is best assured by keeping the Russians tied down [in Afghanistan]."(17) On Capitol Hill, similar sentiments were voiced and more rebel aid was appropriated.

    Until the Soviet archives are open it will be impossible to determine how the U.S. hard-line approach affected Soviet policy toward Afghanistan. Was Moscow supporting U.N. efforts as a smokescreen for its strategy of subjugating the mujahidin, as Wilson, Humphrey and others argued? Or did increased U.S. aid for the rebels cause the USSR to dig in deeper, suspecting that the United States was not interested in a political solution?

    Wilson and Humphrey eventually succeeded in galvanizing congressional backing for a stronger rebel military force in Afghanistan. Despite signs of corruption in both the military and humanitarian aid programs as early as 1982, Congress ultimately provided nearly $3 billion in covert aid for the mujahidin, more than all other CIA covert operations in the 1980s combined. By 1987, the United States was providing the rebels with nearly $700 million in military assistance a year, more than what Pakistan itself was receiving from Washington.

    In 1984, Wilson used his powerful position on the House Intelligence Committee to tack on an additional $50 million for Afghan covert aid and convinced the CIA to purchase high-quality, Swiss-designed Oerlikon anti-aircraft missiles, which could pierce the heavy armor of the USSR’s most formidable counterinsurgency machine, the Hind Mi-24 helicopter. The CIA went even further in 1985, purchasing the sophisticated British-made Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles. And in 1986, due to pressure from several congressmen and a number of bureaucrats at the State and Defense departments, the CIA provided the mujahidin with U.S.-made Stinger missiles, the most effective shoulder-held anti-aircraft weapon in the world. It was the first time the CIA had provided U.S.-made weaponry as part of a covert insurgency support operation, and the legislative branch was largely responsible. As a congressional staffer later put it: "We finally broke the Agency’s virginity."

Refugees and U.S. Policy

The dislocation of 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan—one of the most tragic results of the war—was something Congress, the White House and the international community could all agree on: they needed massive assistance. Ultimately one-third of Afghanistan’s pre-war population fled the country, testifying to the destruction and chaos caused largely by heavy Soviet/Afghan government aerial bombing.

    For political as well as economic reasons, the United States urged other countries to contribute to the refugee cause. In 1981, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad asserted that if funding for the refugees were too visible, it "would damage the credibility of the mujahidin by focusing attention on U.S. influence in the Afghan insurgency."(18) Dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were willing to help the refugees and rebels as long as they were provided with the necessary resources to do so. The United States channeled a significant amount of aid through favored NGOs and urged other countries to either aid the same organizations or to contribute to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the end, no matter who distributed the aid, much of it ended up in the hands of rebel parties, providing them with significant political leverage over the millions of Afghan exiles.

    In addition to the humanitarian grounds for providing aid to the refugees in Pakistan, the United States also sought to alleviate political and economic pressure on Islamabad and to help maintain a support structure for the rebels. In 1982, the CIA predicted that the presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan would help "generate political unrest and retard economic development until the end of the century."(19) While many Pakistanis demonstrated great hospitality and tolerance for the refugees, others despised their presence. Cables from Pakistan reveal violent clashes between Pakistani border tribes and Afghan refugees over scarce resources and political, religious and personal differences. Some disgruntled tribes even took weapons and money from the Afghan government to disrupt rebel supply lines into Afghanistan.

    In fact, the Afghan government’s infiltration of Pakistan and the rebel parties was extensive and proved key to its survival. The government’s ministry of state security, known as KHAD, sought to buy or rent the loyalty of Pashtun tribes who inhabited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area (the tribes often inhabited both sides of the border). Weapons and money were doled out to tribal militia who in turn interdicted rebel supply operations based in Pakistan. Some tribal leaders responded to Kabul’s material aid with political support, attending government jirgahs (assemblies) and other PDPA-sponsored activities. President Zia tried to undercut the Pakistan-based tribes’ support for the Afghan government by, among other means, conducting selective anti-narcotics sweeps through their home areas. Kabul’s strategy, however, continued to be successful, and ultimately contributed to the rise of Najibullah, the KHAD’s director and the man responsible for this counterinsurgency campaign, to the leader of the DRA in 1986.

    Other kinds of counterinsurgency operations, including Soviet/Afghan government aerial search-and-destroy missions, as well as insurgency tactics, such as the mujahidin’s hit-and-run attacks on government-held garrisons and cities, were some of the principal causes of the refugee flow into Pakistan. But it was the aerial bombing that inflicted the most damage. Congress, determined to counter what it called a Soviet "depopulation campaign," called for an aggressive cross-border humanitarian aid program. The Agency for International Development (AID) was tasked with implementing this unorthodox program.

    The objective of AID’s Cross-border Humanitarian Assistance Program (CBHA) was to provide Afghans inside Afghanistan—civilians and rebels alike—with the means to survive without having to flee to Pakistan. The mass exodus of Afghans had been putting too much pressure on Pakistan, and the empty Afghan villages left the rebels with little material or moral support inside the country. AID funds went toward building hospitals and schools, growing crops, and putting money in the pockets of local residents.

    The AID reports are actually some of the richest documents in the collection, describing the situation inside the normally inaccessible parts of war-torn Afghanistan and illustrating some of the bizarre politics of the mujahidin. As part of a pro-insurgency operation, the program was unique and controversial. AID was being used to maintain and build up the rebels’ infrastructure. As one U.S. advisor explained to this author in Pakistan: "We borrowed a lesson from Mao. The Soviets were trying to drain the sea to kill the fish [rebels], so we’re trying to keep the sea filled."(20)

Public Diplomacy and the First Casualty of War

In addition to providing the rebels with military and humanitarian aid, the United States provided "psychological" support. In 1983, a unique National Security Decision Directive, number 77, was signed into action to coordinate U.S. government agencies to enhance U.S. national security and counter anti-American propaganda through "public diplomacy." U.S. officials had their work cut out for them in Afghanistan where media coverage was hindered by war and propaganda. To overcome these obstacles, the National Security Council, in keeping with NSDD 77, formed the inter-agency Afghan Working Group, which met twice a month to discuss ways of increasing media coverage of the war and generating sympathy and support for the mujahidin.

    News coverage of the war was indeed limited, especially when one considers that this was the longest war in Soviet history, the largest CIA paramilitary operation since Vietnam, and, with 1 million dead Afghans, the bloodiest regional conflict in the world at the time. Nevertheless, no major American newspaper saw fit to station a reporter in Peshawar, Pakistan, the base of rebel political and military operations, and American television crews rarely ventured up to the Khyber Pass for a glimpse of the war. A major reason for this, of course, was the risk involved in reporting a guerrilla war, especially this one. A journalist who wished to go "inside" faced a number of hazards ranging from contracting a serious disease to the chance of being killed in an air raid or ambush.

    What coverage there was tended to be biased toward the mujahidin. Several factors explain this. Foreign correspondents and stringers who did go to Peshawar or managed to go "inside" with the rebels encountered thousands of uprooted Afghans who all had horrific stories to tell about losing homes and relatives to Soviet/Afghan government counterinsurgency operations. Indeed, craters from Soviet bombs marked the landscape, villages were often emptied of their inhabitants, and many Afghans who found their way to Pakistan walked the streets with artificial limbs, victims of land mines.

    In addition, the Afghan government often proved to be an unreliable source of information, causing Western journalists to rely heavily on U.S. officials for details of the war. The DRA in 1980, for example, reported how "Walter Cronkite" (apparently confusing him with Dan Rather) on a visit into Afghanistan had ordered the execution of two Afghans—"Islamic style." That same year the DRA expelled 18 Western journalists for "biased" coverage. When the government allowed journalists to return to the country in 1986, the journalists discovered in Kabul another side to the story: victims of rebel land mines and indiscriminate mujahidin rocket attacks on the capital.

    Thus, for much of the war most reporters found it physically and journalistically safer to rely on "Western diplomatic sources in Pakistan," the cover for U.S. officials at the Consulate in Peshawar or the Embassy in Islamabad. 

    Despite the pro-mujahidin slant of Western news coverage, however, U.S. officials still complained of its limited nature. In 1985, Senator Humphrey sought to remedy that problem. He pushed legislation through Congress that tasked the United States Information Agency (USIA) to teach Afghan rebels how to film and write about their jihad. The USIA subcontracted Boston University’s School of Communications to train Afghans in Peshawar to become television and newsprint journalists. This program stirred controversy, drawing criticism from professors at the university and several American journalists who called the exercise in "public diplomacy" a government propaganda operation. Documents on the project, which went forth despite the criticism, show how the United States worked with rebel parties, Pakistan, a CBS cameraman and several private organizations to increase and "improve" coverage of the war.

    The United States was also able to influence coverage by taking advantage of Western journalists’ inability to cover the war extensively first-hand. Once a week, a USIA officer in Islamabad would read to foreign journalists portions of a Situation Report originating from the Embassy in Kabul. These "Sitreps" were to serve two purposes. They provided U.S. officials at home and abroad with detailed information on the political and military situation in Afghanistan. They also formed part of the Afghan Working Group’s press and public information strategy to "punch holes in the Soviet news blackout." The press, however, was usually allowed to hear only the first several pages of the Sitrep, which gave a relatively simplistic overview of the situation in the country, paying special attention to government human rights abuses and mujahidin military gains. The following 20-25 detail-filled pages of the many now declassified Sitreps depicted a much more complicated and bizarre war being fought on more levels than just that of Soviet-backed communists against freedom-fighting Muslims.

The Real War

Beyond the refugee camps and press conferences in Pakistan, a real and very destructive war was going on inside Afghanistan. Cables from Kabul, AID cross-border reports, DIA summaries and journal articles by the few reporters who bravely ventured into war zones reveal how pockets of mountain tribesmen, toting Chinese automatic rifles and U.S. Stinger missiles, went up against well-armed Soviet and Afghan government forces. Rebel hit-and-run attacks, assassinations of PDPA members, car bombs, rocket attacks on government-held garrisons and cities and other guerrilla tactics were met with massive aerial bombardments, mine-sowing operations, bribes and civic action campaigns from Kabul. Places like Paghman, Khost, the Panjshir Valley, Sarobi, and Jalalabad, where the mujahidin continually bogged Soviet forces down, became familiar names to observers of this war just as Hue and Khe Sanh had in Vietnam, where for years Viet Cong rebels tied down U.S. and South Vietnamese troops.

    But as fierce as they were, the "Muj" were not the Viet Cong. It is true that U.S. military aid improved the rebels’ battlefield performance. One Pentagon report claimed that Stingers forced "more tactical and air support changes in the last quarter of 1986 and the first quarter of 1987 than in the previous 7 years of the conflict."(21) Also, more and better land mines allowed the rebels to disrupt Soviet supply lines and ground communications, which were already hampered by the lack of railways and good roads. No matter how much military, humanitarian, or psychological support the United States provided them, however, the mujahidin remained fractious. It was not uncommon for one rebel group to turn its guns on another.

    The United States was well aware of rebel infighting even before the Soviet intervention. In 1979, rebel leaders confided to U.S. officials that they likened the idea of a dissident provisional government to "putting five different animals in the same cage."(22) Saudi Arabia managed to stimulate some rebel unity by withholding aid from the various mujahidin parties until they agreed to coalesce and form a united opposition front. Yet foreign aid often did more to divide the rebels than to unite them. The Saudi government, which deposited many of its contributions into a CIA Swiss bank account, also gave direct support to several fundamentalist groups. Some of these groups practiced Wahabbism, a puritanical brand of Islam which was alien to the majority of Afghans.

    Iran supported the Shiite rebels, who played an important military role in the western part of the country but were left out of power-sharing arrangements made by the Sunni alliance in Peshawar. For its part, the Pakistani military doled out a disproportionate amount of CIA-purchased weapons to Hekmatyar’s radical Hizb-i Islami party, which often used the arms against rival rebel groups.

    The lack of unity impeded rebel attempts to overthrow the PDPA. The more moderate, or "traditionalist," rebel groups, such as those led by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi and Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, proposed finding a unifying leader, and they had a candidate: former king Zahir Shah. In July 1987, a poll conducted among Afghan refugees by the independent Afghan Information Center indicated popular support for Zahir Shah as an alternative head of state for Afghanistan. Hekmatyar and other leaders denounced the poll as propaganda by the "monarchists." But U.S. officials had evidence from their own observations and conversations that many Afghans might unite around the former king for an interim period if only to help find a more expedient way to negotiate a Soviet withdrawal and an end to the war. Many Afghans also believed that the king, who they conceded could have been a stronger leader during his 40-year reign, was someone they could rally around to oppose the unpopular, but powerful, Hekmatyar. Diego Cordovez and his U.N. team also recognized the king as a potential key to a settlement and kept in regular contact with Zahir Shah’s representatives at his Rome residence.

    Pakistan, however, refused to grant Zahir Shah a visa and kept a close eye on pro-Zahir activities. Pakistan’s President Zia and his supporters in the military were determined to put a conservative Islamic ally in power in Kabul. U.S. officials and private experts yielded to the Pakistani military’s objective, some supporting it, others rationalizing that the king’s return would do little good.

    Some of these officials argued that as a result of the war, Afghanistan had experienced a social change: political power, they claimed, had shifted away from the tribal leaders, the maliks, and the king’s Mohammadzai clan and toward the mujahidin commanders and their political/religious leaders in Peshawar. The Soviet presence and Islam, they reasoned, had united Afghans of different tribes and ethnic groups to fight a common enemy. That unity was soon put to a test.

    On February 8, 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev surprised the world by announcing that the Soviet Union would withdraw its 100,000 troops from Afghanistan. Three days later, in the midst of celebrations in Peshawar, Professor Sayyid Majruh, the man responsible for conducting the controversial Afghan Information Center poll that had shown substantial support for Zahir Shah, was assassinated in his office. His death, still a mystery, was soon followed by a string of assassinations and acts of intimidation against other Afghan intellectuals who shared one basic sentiment: they were almost as opposed to a fundamentalist government in Afghanistan as they were a communist one. Divisions among anti-government Afghans would only widen further.

The Geneva Accords and the Soviet Withdrawal

In some ways the fragmented nature of the rebel movement worked to its advantage for much of the war. The USSR could find no central rebel base of operations to bomb, no one strategy planning meeting to infiltrate, no single popular leader to negotiate with—or eliminate. The mujahidin’s steady harassment came from all directions in this war without borders. Gen. Boris Gromov, the last commander of the Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan, boasted on his last day in the country that "[n]o Soviet garrison or major outpost was ever overrun."(23) In this guerrilla war, however, that proved irrelevant.

    By late 1986, the Kremlin decided that the war had become too costly. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet men had rotated in and out of service in Afghanistan and brought home all the signs of a losing, unpopular struggle: low morale, criticism of the government’s Afghan policy, drug and alcohol abuse, and more. The war also hit home in other ways. Billions of rubles were spent on Afghanistan instead of the crumbling Soviet economy. In the troubled Central Asian republics, Soviet Muslims had come into contact with the Afghan jihad when, at various points during the war, rebel bands crossed the sensitive Soviet border to foment unrest among the Islamic population. The impact of the Afghan war on Soviet Muslims’ later demands for independence remains unclear.

    The Soviet Union was also changing its approach toward the Third World. Gorbachev and his advisors, faced with staggering economic problems, thought that previous Soviet administrations had given too much unconditional support to Third World governments, some of which seemed to rely more on Soviet aid than broadly based domestic support. Gorbachev decided to tie future foreign assistance to certain understandings, one being that the recipient government had to concentrate on building a broad base of support before implementing social and economic reforms.

    Afghanistan, which enjoyed a special position in Moscow’s strategy to protect the Soviets Union’s sensitive southern border, was no exception to Gorbachev’s new Third World policy. In December 1986, Gorbachev informed Afghan President Najibullah in Moscow that the Soviet military commitment to his government was "limited."(24) Najibullah returned to Kabul and immediately launched a policy called "national reconciliation," an effort to broaden the government’s political support base. He announced a cease-fire and an amnesty for armed oppositionists.(25) But the war went on.

    Documents show that some U.S. officials in Moscow, Washington, D.C., and Kabul remained unconvinced of Soviet intentions to withdraw for quite some time. In some cases, suspicions of Moscow’s ultimate objectives lingered until the very end of the Soviet pull-out. In November 1988, three months before the withdrawal was to be completed, a top official in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul claimed that the Soviet leadership might cancel their pull-out to prevent Najibullah’s government from unraveling. Although most of his colleagues disagreed, the diplomat’s suspicion illustrates a point: U.S. policy toward Afghanistan right up to the end of the Soviet occupation was based on a deep mistrust of Moscow’s goals, a mistrust which continued well after the withdrawal. Policy-makers argued that if Moscow succeeded in keeping the PDPA in power, then "excessive" Soviet influence in Afghanistan would continue. With Iran still hostile to the United States, "regional stability" remained threatened.

    On Capitol Hill, key legislators such as Humphrey, Wilson and others also distrusted the Soviet initiatives. Months before the U.N.-sponsored Geneva Accords were to be signed in April 1988, they galvanized enough congressional support to stop the White House from guaranteeing the agreement until President Reagan had promised to continue arming the mujahidin even after the USSR had withdrawn. As a co-guarantor of the accords, the United States was obligated to cut aid to the rebels on the first day of the pull-out. Humphrey and others protested that this would leave the rebels at a military disadvantage since Kabul would continue receiving aid from Moscow. Secretary of State George Shultz took this matter up with Soviet officials suggesting that both sides cease supplying their respective clients when the withdrawal began, a proposal he called "negative restraint."

    The Soviet Union and Najibullah refused, unwilling to accord the Afghan rebels the same legitimacy as the Afghan government. Soviet and Afghan officials, however, fearing a possible rebel onslaught following the Soviet withdrawal, tried desperately to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the mujahidin leaders. The rebels refused, calling the offer a ploy to keep the PDPA in power. Due to congressional pressure and over Soviet objections, the United States created a separate, unwritten "clause" to the Geneva Accords which stipulated that Washington could aid the rebels as long as the Soviet Union aided Kabul. The United States called this stipulation "positive symmetry."

    Other complications almost prevented the signing of the accords. At the last minute, after the United Nations had convinced the Soviet Union to drop its demand for a coalition government as a precondition to signing, Pakistan insisted on the formation of a rebel-dominated interim government, made up largely of rebel and other non-PDPA elements, before it would sign. President Reagan called President Zia and assured him that the United States would stand by the rebels until they seized power, and that since the USSR was probably going to withdraw with or without an agreement, Pakistan ought to sign. Besides, the White House had been advised that the PDPA would fall to the rebels shortly after Soviet troops had gone.

    On April 14, 1988, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed—with the USSR and the United States acting as their co-guarantors—to refrain from any form of interference in each other’s territory, and to give all Afghan refugees the opportunity to return voluntarily to their homeland. For their part, the superpowers pledged to stop interfering in Afghanistan, with the USSR agreeing to withdraw its troops. Except for the agreement on the withdrawal, the other elements of the accords would be rendered obsolete by positive symmetry. To Washington, however, that seemed not to matter, for a rebel military victory appeared to be right around the corner. On May 15, 1988, Soviet troops began their ten month withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Part 1. The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Russian Documents and Memoirs
Part 2. U.S. Analysis of the Soviet War in Afghanistan: Declassified
Notes

1. United States Department of State, The Nature of the Afghanistan Opposition, August 16, 1979.

2. David Gibbs, "Does the USSR Have a Grand Strategy?" Journal of Peace Research, Volume 24, Number 1, 1987: p. 368.

3. United States Department of State, Elements of U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan, March 27, 1962.

4. United States Department of State, Annual Policy Assessment, March 9, 1976.

5. Maxwell J. Fry, The Afghan Economy. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1974, p. 4.

6. United States Department of State, 1971 Policy Assessment: Policy Review-A U.S. Strategy for the 1970s, June 26, 1971. 

7. United States Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammad Daud: President of Afghanistan, August 13, 1973.

8. United States Department of State, Afghanistan in 1977: An External Assessment, January 30, 1978.

9. United States Department of State, The Afghan Coup, April 30, 1988.

10. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983, p. 427.

11. Author’s interview with Pakistani military official, Peshawar, Pakistan, November 1988.

12. United States Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Commentary, January 7, 1980.

13. "Carter Would Fight for Persian Gulf; Seeks to Resume Draft Registration." Washington Post, January 24, 1980.

14. Author’s interview with present and former U.S. officials, Washington, D.C., 1988-1989.

15. Author’s interview with Viacheslav I. Dashichev, Moscow, November 1988.

16. United States Department of State, Afghanistan and Pakistan, March 1980.

17. Selig S. Harrison, "Inside the Afghan Talks." Foreign Policy, Fall 1988: p. 41. 

18. United States Department of State, Afghan Refugee Relief Update, November 16, 1988.

19. Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan: Population Problems and Political Stability, November 1982.

20. Author’s interview with U.S. Embassy advisor, Peshawar, Pakistan, November 1988.

21. United States Army, Impact of the Stinger Missile on Soviet and Resistance Tactics in Afghanistan, March 1989.

22. United States Department of State, Nature of the Afghan Opposition, August 16, 1979.

23. United States Army, Lessons from the War in Afghanistan, June 1989.

24. "A Diplomatic Solution to Stalemate: Gorbachev Never Wedded to the War." Washington Post, April 17, 1988.

25. Ibid.
 

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