Soviet Prospects in Afghanistan
On 15 February 1989, Soviet troops left Afghanistan, as required by the Geneva accords, ending the Soviet Union’s Afghan War. As in Iran in 1946, Moscow failed in its attempt to dominate strategically important real estate along its Central Asian periphery through the direct use of military power. But defeat did not mean an end to Moscow’s ambitions; nor was the withdrawal of troops tantamount to political and economic disengagement or to a flagging of interest in retaining a presence and exercising influence over a future Afghan government. After the Soviet withdrawal, two developments surprised foreign observers: Gorbachev’s willingness to expend considerable resources (estimated at about $3 billion a year, at the 1990 rate) in order to support the pro-Moscow communist leadership in Kabul; second, and really unexpected, Najibullah’s ability to survive, to hold on to the key cities and repel Mujahideen efforts to take any major provincial capital.1 These, in turn, suggest that Gorbachev was far from reconciling himself to ‘a nonaligned, independent, and neutral Afghanistan as a neighbor’ and that he sought a decisive voice in the reconstitution of the Afghan political system.
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