11. Analysis Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1


The Soviets almost certainly are ambivalent about the coming to power of a seemingly pro-Soviet government in Kabul headed by a known Communist because of the damage it is likely to do to the USSR’s position in Iran and Pakistan, and possibly in India. Nevertheless, the Soviets apparently are doing what they can to improve its ability to remain in power, in hopes of securing greater influence with it.

The Soviets welcome the advent of a leftist government in Kabul, but they know its Afghan Communist component has very little support domestically. Their major concern over the short-term is that the new government’s naming of Communists to top positions will not only galvanize local opposition but perhaps also invite outside meddling. They also recognize that, in any event, there almost certainly will be severe complications in their own relations with other neighboring states.

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There is no hard evidence that the Soviets had foreknowledge of the coup, but they apparently have been in contact with coup leaders since shortly after it got under way. An American official in Kabul observed a meeting between a Soviet Embassy officer and a coup leader outside the Soviet Embassy last Thursday night, and the Soviets reportedly were sounding out influential Afghans last Friday on the advisability of appointing Taraki as Prime Minister. Moscow has not yet confirmed Kabul Radio’s account of the Sunday meeting between Taraki and the Soviet Ambassador at which Soviet recognition of the new government reportedly was conveyed. The TASS replay on May 1 of the “Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’s” May Day pronouncement certainly implies Soviet recognition, however.

Moscow presumably has been in regular contact with Afghan Communists, but the evidence suggests that relations have not been particularly close. Until last June, the party had been split into two factions, both of which vied for Soviet recognition and both of which had relations with other Communists and Communist parties in the region. Suggesting that the Soviets lacked confidence in the prospects of the newly merged party, Moscow never formally recognized it and reportedly was instrumental in persuading it to adopt a policy of accommodation with the Daoud government.

The Afghan Communists presumably will be more inclined than Daoud has been in the last two years or so to press the Pushtunistan cause in relations with Pakistan. The Soviets in Kabul have complained about Daoud’s muting of this issue in recent years presumably because it lessened his need for Soviet support. They probably would oppose a revival of the issue by the new regime before it has had a chance to consolidate its [power?].2

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Program Files for Soviet-Asia Relations, 1960–1978, Lot 90D320, Afghanistan, January–June 1978. Secret; Noforn.
  2. The last word of the paper is missing in the original.