With the UN General Assembly gearing up for a full-scale debate on the Afghanistan President Babrak Karmal is packing for a trip to Moscow and a red-carpet welcome from top Soviet leaders.
Western diplomatic officials who monitor Afghan events expect the Soviets to emphasize Mr. Karmal's "legitimacy" as head of the Afghan government during his calls on President Leonid Brezhnev and other ranking officials next week. It will be Mr. Karmal's first visit to Moscow since he came to power on the heels of Soviet troops in December.
World acknowledgement of Karmal as Afghanistan's legitimate leader is critical for the Soviets as they get ready for verbal assaults on their continued troop intervention in Afghanistan at the United Nations and at other coming international forums.
The Soviets contend their troops are in Afghanistan by invitation of the Kabul regime to help local forces ward off foreign-inspired and directed aggression.
It is a view shared neither by most world capitals, nor by the intesely nationalistic population that has historically opposed foreign occupation, nor the Afghan mujahideen who have stymied Soviet efforts to extend their control beyond the major towns.
"If by a miracle the Russian forces were to quit the country, the government headed by MR. Babrak Karmal would fall in no time, and its members would be lynched in Kabul's streets," observes Kuldip Nayar, a leading Indian journalist and political commentator who recently returned from Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, says a diplomatic analyst, "The Soviets are trying to make Babrak Karmal look like the leader of a nation.
"He is essentially a nobody. HE's not really important to the Russian presence -- his disappearance wouldn't make one bit of difference. But they want to give the regime legitimacy and show that they've settled on him and are going to stick with him."
Despite the ongoing insurgency and intense feuding between rival wings of Karmal's ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, Karmal and his Soviet hosts also are likely to stress that Afghanistan is relatively stable these days.
The Soviets in turn will use the point to try to dampen discussion of Afghanistan at the UN and at international gatherings, such as a January meeting of nonaligned foreign ministers here predicts a Western diplomat.
"Having Babrak come and say that everything is wonderful and normal gives them another handle to say that these meetings needn't discuss the subject," he said.
Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan, which is actively promoting a UN vote to demand Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, is expected to come in for double doses on invective during Karmal's Moscow visit. Both Kabul and Moscow have been stepping up their charges that Pakistan is training and arming afgan insurgents and allowing its territory to be used as a base for Chinese and US aggression against Afghanistan.
Another result may be a tightening of Soviet diplomatic screws on Pakistan to negotiate a political settlement directly with the Karmal government. Pakistan has so far refused, saying it is bound by an Islamic Conference resolution urging member states t withhold recognition of the Karmal regime.
Pakistan's President Zia serves on an Islamic Conference committee that has offered to discuss a political settlement with Karmal -- but only in his capacity as head of his party, not as head of the government.