How is the Soviet government explaining its actions in Afghanistan to the Soviet people and to what extent is it possible to agree with this explanation?

The Soviet government’s explanation for the action in Afghanistan is contained in tass press releases and in the interview that L. I. Brezhnev gave to a Pravda correspondent. The explanation was published at the end of December 1979 and the beginning of January 1980 and it consists of three points: (1) The Soviet government sent its forces into Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government and in accordance with the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation that had earlier been signed. (2) The Afghan government made this request because the new regime, established as a result of the democratic revolution of April 1978, was in a critical state with the rise of counter-revolution. The Afghan army was not able to defeat the insurgents with its own forces. (3) The success of the counter-revolution in Afghanistan is due to the support it is receiving from the usa, China and Pakistan.

There is some degree of truth in all three points. It is clear, for example, that the new regime in Afghanistan was in a critical position in December 1979. The government of Kh. Amin had lost control of most provinces of the country and it would not have been able to survive without direct help from the ussr. I am sure that the Afghan government, first under Taraki and then Amin, repeatedly asked the Soviet government for military support. Proof of this is shown by the fact that long before December 1979, the ussr sent a large number of military and civilian advisors, specialists and weaponry to Afghanistan. Still earlier helicopter guard units were sent to defend aerodromes and military bases in Afghanistan. This support turned out to be insufficient to halt the growth of insurgency, however. There is evidence that the Afghan insurgents have received help from Pakistan and China. (It was the Western press, not the Soviet, that reported the existence of partisan bases, supply depots, field hospitals and command centres for the disparate groups of insurgents in Pakistan in the spring and summer of 1979.)

The official version of the events in Afghanistan is incomplete however and therefore it is inaccurate. But the official American version is also difficult to believe. In times of military and political crisis all sides are guilty of circulating ‘misinformation’ as well as the facts. It is very difficult to get to the truth, especially when the events take place in such a distant and unfamiliar country as Afghanistan. Therefore I am unable to comment critically on the Soviet and Western versions of the present crisis.

My personal opinion is that the murder and death of Amin and part of his circle of followers and relatives on the night of 28 December 1979 was not planned but happened as a result of unexpected developments during the seizure of Kabul on 27–28 December. It is clear that the replacement of Amin by Babrak Karmal (plus the fate of a number of other officials) had already been decided before the intervention. Other decisions were taken actually in Kabul by the Soviet advisors there under the direction of the deputy minister of Internal Affairs, ussr, General Paputin. The replacement of Amin by Karmal was meant to take place 2–3 days after the successful securing of the capital by the Soviet army but it seems that something ‘went wrong’ with this scenario. The Soviet government is now having difficulty explaining how its army was invited into Afghanistan by the president of that country who died a few hours after the arrival of the Soviet forces. Even more difficult to explain is how it is that the Soviet army was invited to Kabul by a person who the present Afghan government is describing as a longstanding agent of the cia. Babrak Karmal’s statement that he was hiding secretly in Kabul and had organized an underground government is completely incorrect. The behaviour of Amin on the fatal day of 27 December; his meeting with the Soviet ambassador and journey to his country palace, indicates that he did not intend to oppose the arrival of the Soviet forces. Also the unexpected recall of General Paputin, his suicide in an airplane at a Soviet airport and the tardiness in reporting this death, to my mind are further evidence that miscalculations took place.

It is possible however that all the events of 27–29 December took place in accordance with a plan and that the invitation to the Soviet armed forces came from a semi-official group of activists in the pdpa, including Babrak Karmal. If this is the case, the episode of Paputin’s death must presumably be due to something else. Of course we will not know the answers to these questions for a long time.

As far as I know, the ussr cannot be held responsible for ‘organizing’ the April revolution in Afghanistan in 1978. This was an internal affair of the country itself. Afghanistan belongs to the ranks of the poorest and most backward countries in Asia. The Afghan intelligentsia had more than enough reasons for dissatisfaction with the existing regime and this dissatisfaction was shared by members of the armed forces. It was the support of the army that ensured the victory of the pdpa. However, there was not a mass revolutionary movement in Afghanistan. The greater part of the poor peasant population, the nomads and the mountain tribes lent their support to the feudal and tribal chiefs and the spiritual leaders who opposed the government. Taraki’s government met this opposition with repression. Factional struggles developed in the pdpa, of which Taraki and his supporters were victims along with many of the supporters of Babrak Karmal. The repression increased and even the Soviet papers told of the tens of thousands of innocent people suffering at the hands of the ruling group in Kabul. It is not surprising that with such a brutal regime in Kabul mass opposition developed. It was the Kabul government, not China or the usa, that must be held responsible for the size of the counter-revolution in Afghanistan.