By G.L.J. Jacobs on 2014-06-12 in Conflict maps,
This text aims to give a summarized overview of the events in Afghanistan between 1978 and 2001.
The large-scale military intervention by forces of the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan in late December 1979 was one of the defining moments in the Cold War relationship between Soviet Russia and the United States of America. As with other Soviet interventions of the period (for instance, the 1986 case of Czechoslovakia), the move could be seen as primarily a defensie reaction by the Communist leadership fearing that domestic instabilities within the target state would produce political and social changes which would profoundly damage Soviet interests. The motivation behind the Afghan initative was particularly controversial since the 'defensive' analysis of Soviet intentions was broadly rejected by American elites in favour of more offensive/confrontational interpretations. The consequential American reaction produced dissension in the Atlantic Alliance as leading European states refused to subscribe to the American policy of selective economic sanctions against the USSR. Implicit in this secondary intra-mural dispute within NATO was the issue area of détente. For the American leaders the 'invasion' of Afghanistan signalled that détente should finally be abandoned. France and West Germany in particular refused to subsribe to this definition of the situation.
In the XIXth century Afghanistan had been seen as a buffer state betwee the Britisch and Tsarist Empires. Following the Russian revolution and the conclusion of the First World War the two states agreed to abrogate any special interests in Afghanistan and to recognize its independence. The gradual decline in Britisch influence in the Indian sub-continent meant that perforce the Afghans came increasingly under Soviet influence. The immediate reality of the Cold War added to the geopolitical significance of Afghanistan in Soviet perceptions. American partiality towards Pakistan further polarized the area.
In the spring of 1978 a group of radical Army officers staged a successful Coup d'état. A loose power sharing Revolutionary Council was formed comprising the miitary and the Marxist People Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) which had been formed in 1965. The subsequent attempt by the new leadership to introduce reforms and to modernize Afghan society met with stiff resistance from traditional leaders. As a result an Islamic fundamentalist insurgency began to take hold in a country which had a strong tradition of tribal and provincial subsidiarity in any event. By the winter of 1978-9 most of the provinces of Afghanistan were experiencing some degree of civil strife and organized anti-centric resistance. In a secnario which was redolent of American policy in Vietnam during the Kennedy years, the Soviet Union became inexorably involved in Afghan domestic politics at a time when that system was evincing great instability and uncertainty. At the end of 1978 the two governments concluded a Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation. The treaty included a military dimension in a number of articles and specifically talked of the need for an 'effective security system in Asia' in its 8th article.
Faced with a deteriorating security situation throughout the state, pressure upon the Soviet leadership to intervene more directly began to mount throughout the summer and autumn of 1979. An internecine power struggle within the Afghan Communist leadership developed in the autumn and purges within the ruling clique failed to stabilize the situation. Garthoff (1994) has argued that at the Politburo meeting of 12 december 1979 the decision was taken to intervene with force in Afghanistan to replace the leadership in Kabul. Thereafter military preperations were put in hand and the intervention began over Christmas 1979. By the end of the year a more compliant clique was installed and by the end of January 1980 some 80,000 Soviet troops were in Afghanistan. Technically the logistical side of the intervention was effeciently and rapidly affected. Soviet air-lift capabilities were impressively demonstrated and resistance from sections of the Communisty party identified as anti-Soviet was suppressed.
Various rationalizations and justifications were offered by the Soviet leadership for the intervention. Ostensibly the intervention was by invitation and could be justified by the Friendship Treaty and the Brezhnev Doctrine. As ex post facto pretexts these may be adequate. As subtential analyses of motivations and perceptions they are not. Clearly the situation in Afghanistan in the witner of 1979 was ripe for intervention. The existing Communist party faction was seen by the Soviets as unstable and unreliable. The country was sliding into internal chaos and civil strife. Externally Pakistan and China were opposed to the regime. The incipient Islamic rebellion raised the possibility of such contagion spreading to non-Russian Muslim republics in the USSR. In the USA the Carter presidency seemed preoccupied with the Iranian hostage issue. Failure by the Soviet Union to intervene might have looked like a failure of nerve and damaged their credibility, particularly in Eastern Europe. Valenta (1984) has analysed the decision on Afghanistan in the light of a modified bureaucratic politics model, suggesting that the Politburo gradually came to the decision to intervene by the late autumn because of an absence of attractive alternatives.
Opinion in the USA was much more ready to see the intervention as expansionist and offensive rather than in the defensive framework suggested above Fundamentally b taking such coercive action outside the scope and domain of the Warsaw Pact, Soviet Russia was held to have infringed the tacit rules of the Cold War confrontation which had delimited spheres of influence which Afghanistan seemed to contest. Western observers speculated that the move was inspired by traditional Russian expansionism involving access to the Persian Gulf oilfields and a warm water port. The fact that Afghanistan was landloced weighed lightly in this analysis. Subsequently the invasion was condemned in the United Nations andby non-aligned states. Within the USA it procuded a reappraisal of polcy towards the Soviet Union and it led directly to the promulgation of the Carter Doctrine and to significant American rearmament. US military aid to the partisans (mujaheddin) was initiated under carter and expanded under his successor Ronald Reagan. Electorally Afghanistan seemed to suggest to many Americans that President Carter had been naïve before the event and confrontational afterwards. The charge of inconsistency was hard to avoid. As withthe Cuban missile crisis, the Soviets seemed to misread American intentions and reactions in their planning.
The war hthat ensued between the Soviet forces, their putative allies in the central government andthe partisan Islamic forces proved very costly and fundamentally inconclusive. The Afghan war caused a major displacement of peoples into Pakistan and Iran as a result of the fighting. The territory was flooded with weapons by both superpowers and it is probably that som were diverted into other uses and other hands than those intended by the donors. Vast tracts of the territory were made uninhabitable as a result of the indiscriminate sowing of anti-personnel mines. The failure of the Soviet Union to achieve any of their goals in Afghanistan was recognized by the Gorbachev leadership after 1985. Deciding that its prosecution should not interfere with the objective of a new détente withthe USA, Gorbachev demoted Afghanistan to a reional conflict whcih allowed United Nations good offices to broker an agreement at Geneva in 1988. The parameters of the agreement were:
1 withdrawal of Soviet forces
2 non-interference in internal affairs of states
3 right of return for refugees
4 USA and the Soviet Union to become co-guarantors of the accord
While the Soviet withdrawal was generally welcomed by the international community which saw it as evidence of Gorbachev's 'new thinking' on Soviet foreign policy, the net cost to Afghanistan, as shown above, were profound. The cessation of outside intervention did not produce the stable coalition government and the commitment to power sharing that it implied. The Afghan episode showed once again the perils and pitfalls for parties intervening in situations of civil strife and communal violence. It confirmed the finding that military power is not particukarky fungible and it demonstrated how readily policy makers can misperceive others' intentions and responses in their definition of the situation.
Conflict Map: Afghanistan II
How the failure of the Afghan state led to the emergence of warlordism and the rise of the Taliban (http://warandpeace.nl/articles/75/papers)
Litrature: Maley, W., (2009), The Afghanistan Wars