Playing for power in the `great game' of Afghanistan. A pawn in Soviet hands
Afghanistan: The Great Game Revisited, edited by Rosanne Klass. New York: Freedom House. 530 pp. $19.95. The Fall of Afghanistan, An Insider's Account, by Abdul Samad Ghaus. London: Pergamon-Brassey's International Defense Publishers. 219 pp. $25.
UNTIL 1979, the word ``Afghan'' probably brought to most people's minds thoughts about cuddly wool blankets or those stately, thin hounds that regular people can't afford. Then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and the dozing masses were rudely awakened to the fact that people known as Afghans were being massacred by the Red Army.
Eight years later, the Soviets have exiled more than 5 million Afghans and killed 9 percent of Afghanistan's population in a war marked by cruelty of Visigothic proportions: population bombing; the wholesale destruction of towns, agriculture, and livestock; the raping of women; and the truly evil, intentional maiming of children with bombs disguised as toys. Even the United Nations is calling it genocide. Two recently published books tell the whole bloody story.
``Afghanistan, the Great Game Revisited,'' a collection of scholarly articles, derives its name from Kipling's term for the struggle over Afghanistan between the British and czars that began in 1791. The British wanted Afghanistan as a buffer state to protect India, while the Russians were trying to gain access to the Indian Ocean, a policy continued by the Bolsheviks after they conquered Central Asia. The effort to keep the Russians and their Soviet successors out of Afghanistan was largely successful until the end of World War II, when the British Empire began to fold.
In ``The Fall of Afghanistan, An Insider's Account,'' former Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Ghaus paints a picture of Afghan leaders walking a thin line between the Soviets and British, trying to accommodate the Soviets in the hope they would be left alone. They greeted ``the emergence of American might with interest and were thrilled about the role that this noncolonial, non-European power would inevitably be called upon to play in shaping the new postwar world.'' But the Afghans didn't expect the United States to turn a cold shoulder.
In ``The Great Game,'' the late State Department official Leon Poullada details the failure of the United States to capitalize on Afghanistan's oft-stated desire to begin a commercial and military relationship with the United States, leaving the country open to Soviet political, economic, and military pressure. From 1953 to 1979, the US repeatedly and shortsightedly rejected Afghan requests for economic and military aid, forcing the country to look north. The American national-security community simply didn't view Afghanistan as a strategic asset, an erroneous judgment in light of the Russians' historical quest toward the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
American policymakers also thought ``more active US involvement with Afghanistan would prove fatal for the latter, because Russia would feel threatened by a greater US role there,'' Ghaus writes. In addition, the US viewed aid to Afghanistan as an action against its ally in Pakistan, rather than an opportunity to build an alliance between the two states.
When Mohammad Daoud came to power in 1953, he turned to the Soviets for economic and military assistance because of the West's ``proven negative attitude toward Afghanistan's problems.''
By 1978, the year of the communist coup, the Soviets had invested $3 billion in Afghanistan and trained 8,000 Afghans in schools and in the military in the Soviet Union. They were already in charge of the country when the Red Army swept in after Christmas 1979.
``A careful study of history,'' Poullada writes, ``reveals that the 1979 Soviet invasion, far from being a casual, random or defensive move, was the culmination of a calculated process which ... involved five stages'': the establishment of a subversive infrastructure, the formation of a secret Communist Party, a Communist-backed coup in 1973 to destroy the monarchy and establish ``behind-the-scenes'' Soviet control, and two optional stages - the overthrow of Daoud, who took care of the monarchy for the Soviets, and, when his successor proved incapable of defeating a resistance, the invasion and ``installation of totally controlled puppets and absorption of Afghanistan into the Soviet bloc.''
A popular myth exploded by ``The Great Game'' is that the Soviets are ``bogged down'' in their own ``Vietnam.'' Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite Mikhail Gorbachev's metaphorical allusion to Afghanistan as a ``bleeding wound,'' the ``Soviet military appears to be delighted with its strategic and tactical gains resulting from the seizure'' and ``unconcerned about the costs.'' The Soviet-enlisted population is ``very cohesive and stable'' and casualties are ``well within the average of the Soviet armed forces,'' Yossef Bodansky writes. ``The Soviet Union is presently winning in Afghanistan and is closer than ever before to total victory.''
According to a US-educated Afghan economist, M. Siddieq Noorzoy, an illusion that the war is too costly for the Soviets to continue is ``part of the rationale for the frequent description of Afghanistan as `Moscow's Vietnam.' An examination of the economic data suggests that ... under the rubric of international trade, the Afghans are being forced to pay for the invasion and occupation of their country.'' One way the Soviets reverse the charges is by purchasing Afghan crude oil for about $45 per barrel, and selling refined products back to the Afghans for more than $90.
Finally, Ghaus points to the ultimate cause of the ``downfall of the Republic'': ``Mohammad Daoud had seized power primarily with the help of Communist military officers. As part of the price for their help, he had to include them in the government apparatus. However, the number of leftists and their sympathizers appointed to sensitive jobs ... quickly reached alarming proportions.''
In 1975, trying to ``resist the spread'' of the ``imported ideology'' of communism, he ``greatly curtailed Communist influence'' in his government and began moving on the Army. He also tried to open up relations with Iran and the Arab countries. Daoud told Ghaus, ``You know the gamble is lost.'' The next year Daoud and his family were killed in the Soviet-backed coup.
Ghaus says Daoud was ``tough and demanding ... extremely skeptical of the Afghan Communists ... whose old-fashioned nationalism was in flagrant conflict with Communist internationalism. ... He could not bring himself to accept the hard-core Communists as patriotic Afghans.''
The question that looms at the end of Ghaus's book - the theme of which is the losing gamble Daoud took in trying to resist Soviet hegemony even as he invited Moscow to gradually take over the infrastructure of the country - is why, if he was so suspicious of communists, he trusted them in the first place. Why develop so close a relationship with the Soviets?
Both books question the wisdom of signing an agreement for Soviet withdrawal that allows communists a role in governing the country. Klass notes that the accord to which the US so hastily agreed in Geneva does not account for 4,000 KGB-trained secret police set up to control the country after the Soviets leave. Nor does it require the withdrawal of thousands of East-bloc and Soviet advisers running the country.
Ghaus observes that the Soviets ``may withdraw their armed forces from that country, if an advantageous deal is offered to them in a superpower settlement or if the West, and especially Pakistan, recognizes a pro-Moscow government in Kabul. ... In the euphoria of Soviet military withdrawal, the other components of the political solution would be conveniently forgotten, and the Soviets would continue to control Afghanistan through a pro-Moscow government.''
On Jan. 12, 1988, Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq agreed communists must be included in any post-occupation Afghan government.
R. Cort Kirkwood is a writer for the Washington-based wire service American Press International.