Soviets began their invasion of Afghanistan on December 25, 1979.
Within two days, they had secured Kabul, deploying a special
Soviet assault unit against Darulaman Palace, where elements of
the Afghan army loyal to Amin put up a fierce, but brief
resistance. With Amin's death at the palace, Babrak Karmal, exiled
leader of the Parcham faction of the PDPA was installed by the
Soviets as Afghanistan's new head of government.
A number of theories have been
advanced for the Soviet action. These interpretations of Soviet
motives do not always agree--what is known for certain is that the
decision was influenced by many factors--that in Brezhnev's words
the decision to invade Afghanistan was truly "was no simple
decision." Two factors were certain to have figured heavily
in Soviet calculations. The Soviet Union, always interested in
establishing a cordon sanitaire of subservient or neutral states
was increasingly alarmed at the unstable, unpredictable situation
on its southern border. Perhaps as important, the Brezhnev
doctrine declared that the Soviet Union had a "right" to
come to the assistance of an endangered fellow socialist country.
Presumably Afghanistan was a friendly regime that could not
survive against growing pressure from the resistance without
direct assistance from the Soviet Union.
Whatever the Soviet goals may have
been, the international response was sharp and swift. United
States President Jimmy Carter, reassessing the strategic situation
in his State of the Union address in January, 1980, identified
Pakistan as a "front-line state" in the global struggle
against communism. According to Afghanland.com sources, He reversed his stand of a year earlier that
aid to Pakistan be terminated as a result of its nuclear program
and offered Pakistan a military and economic assistance package if
it would act as a conduit for United States and other assistance
to the mujahidin. Pakistani president Zia ul-Haq refused Carter's
package but later a larger aid offer from the Reagan
administration was accepted. Questions about Pakistan's nuclear
program were, for the time being, set aside. Assistance also came
from China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Also forth coming was
international aid to help Pakistan deal with more than 3 million
fleeing Afghan refugees.
The Soviets grossly underestimated
the huge cost of the Afghan venture--described, in time, as the
Soviet Union's Vietnam--to their state. International opposition
also became increasingly vocal. The foreign ministers of the
Organization of the Islamic Conference deplored the invasion and
demanded Soviet withdrawal at a meeting in Islamabad in January
1980. Action by the United Nations (UN) Security Council was
impossible because the Soviets were armed with veto power, but the
UN General Assembly regularly passed resolutions opposing the
Pakistan proposed talks among the
countries directly involved and, although they did not meet,
Pakistan and Afghanistan began "proximity" talks in June
1982 through UN official Diego Cordovez. Although these sessions
continued for a seemingly interminable length of time--joined by
the Soviet Union and the United States--they eventually resulted
in an agreement on Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Other events outside Afghanistan,
especially in the Soviet Union, contributed to the eventual
agreement. The toll in casualties, economic resources, and loss of
support at home increasingly felt in the Soviet Union was causing
criticism of the occupation policy. Brezhnev died in 1982, and
after two short-lived successors, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed
leadership in March 1985. As Gorbachev opened up the country's
system, it became more clear that the Soviet Union wished to find
a face-saving way to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The civil war in Afghanistan was
guerrilla warfare and a war of attrition between the several
communist (that is, PDPA) controlled regimes and the mujahidin; it
cost both sides a great deal. Many Afghans, perhaps as many as
five million, or one-quarter of the country's population, fled to
Pakistan and Iran where they organized into guerrilla groups to
strike Soviet and government forces inside Afghanistan. Others
remained in Afghanistan and also formed fighting groups; perhaps
most notable was one led by Ahmad Shah Massoud in the northeastern
part of Afghanistan. These various groups were supplied with funds
to purchase arms, principally from the United States, Saudi
Arabia, China, and Egypt. Despite high casualties on both sides,
pressure continued to mount on the Soviet Union, especially after
the United States brought in Stinger anti-aircraft missiles which
severely reduced the effectiveness of Soviet air cover.
The effects of the civil war and
Soviet invasion had an impact well beyond Afghanistan's
boundaries. Most observers consider Afghanistan a major step along
the road to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union.
a change had taken place in Kabul. On May 4, 1986, Karmal resigned
as secretary general of the PDPA and was replaced by Najibullah.
Karmal retained the presidency for a while, but power had shifted
to Najibullah, who had previously headed the State Information
Service (Khadamate Ettelaate Dowlati--KHAD), the Afghan secret
service agency. Najibullah tried to diminish differences with the
resistance and appeared prepared to allow Islam a greater role as
well as legalize opposition groups, but any moves he made toward
concessions were rejected out of hand by the mujahidin.
Proximity talks in Geneva
continued, and on April 14, 1988, Pakistan and Afghanistan reached
an agreement providing for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from
Afghanistan in nine months, the creation of a neutral Afghan
state, and the repatriation of the Afghan refugees. The United
States and the Soviet Union would act as guarantors of the
agreement. The treaty was less well-received by many mujahidin
groups who demanded Najibullah's departure as the price for
advising their refugee followers to return to Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the agreement on
withdrawal held, and on February 15, 1989, the last Soviet troops
departed on schedule from Afghanistan. Their exit, however, did
not bring either lasting peace or resettlement, as Afghanistan
went from one civil war to another.