Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Will the new Afghanistan be pro-US?

THE United States is now focusing in Afghanistan on the next phase of the Reagan Doctrine of help to anticommunist guerrillas: dealing with success. The departure of the Soviet troops under the pressure of the US-armed resistance presents the US and its allies with new problems. Washington hopes the regime that emerges in Kabul will be democratic in nature, respectful of human rights, non-threatening to its neighbors, and friendly to the US and its global policies.

The Reagan Doctrine presumes, also, that the US will have a continuing influence over any leadership established with the help of US-supplied arms. Whether these hopes will be realized in Afghanistan depends on at least four factors: the nature of the future regime, the obligations of that regime to the US, the role of the regional powers, and the future use of US-supplied arms.

About these ads

The future regime. Experts within the Reagan administration anticipate that, ultimately, the mujahideen will capture Kabul and overthrow the communist regime left behind by the Soviets; how soon this will happen is a matter of conjecture. The resistance, however, consists of at least seven groups. Although some moves have been taken to build national unity, the problems of overcoming old rivalries and current ambitions in a tribal country are enormous.

The possibility that exists of establishment of a conservative Islamic regime might well mean that in matters of human rights and democracy the model would be far from that of a Western democracy. Women in Kabul under the communist regime recently expressed their concern that freedoms granted them while the Soviets were in the country might be taken away by a strongly Muslim government.

A further complication may be appearing; it is one that has been a feature of other revolutionary situations, such as the one in Algeria. When a cease-fire comes, those who have been doing the fighting in the interior, less known to the outside world, emerge to challenge the leadership in exile. With the credentials of heroes and the strong support of their troops, they deal from strength. Their appearance may bring unexpected tensions into the job of sorting out the future.

Obligations to the United States. Washington assumes that the Afghan resistance leadership will acknowledge the debt owed the US by its supply of arms. Political leadership has sometimes emerged from revolutionary situations, convinced that it must distance itself from other powers. This might well be true if the new Afghan leadership were strongly Islamic in orientation. If such leadership believed, also, that it was committed to a nonaligned policy, its support for US global policies might be limited.

The role of the regional powers. Countries other than the US, including China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, have also been involved in supplying equipment to the resistance. Because of its own Muslim population, India will work to prevent a strongly pro-Pakistani and Islamic regime in Kabul. The new Kabul regime will be under diverse pressures, from neighbors and other Islamic countries, which could further dilute support for the US.

New issues could arise or old ones reappear. The Pushtu issue, based on an Afghan claim to lands in Pakistan inhabited by Pushtu-speaking Pathan tribes, could be revived by opportunistic politicians.

Future use of US-supplied arms. The US has provided millions of dollars' worth of military equipment to the resistance. Much of this will remain after the Soviets leave. Equipment captured from the Soviets and the Afghan Army will augment these supplies. It would be unrealistic to assume that the groups competing for power in Kabul will not be tempted to turn these arsenals against each other. In this event, the US would have little control over the ultimate disposition of the arms.

About these ads

The perception in 1979 that the invasion of Afghanistan was a dangerous projection of Soviet power and the willingness of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to cooperate in supporting the resistance probably made the US involvement in this struggle inescapable.

Rhetoric since then, however, has suggested that the outcome would be not only the departure of the Soviets, but the establishment of a friendly, pro-American, democratic regime.

Given the myriad issues likely to arise once the Soviets are gone, Americans should not be too surprised if this does not happen. US ability to create regimes totally to its liking is limited - even where Washington supplies the arms.

David D. Newsom, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, is a former undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.