110. Telegram From the Embassy in Afghanistan to the Department of State1

8668. Subj: (LOU) Some Thoughts on Whether To Recognize the Babrak Karmal Regime.

1. (C—Entire text)

2. As the Department considers the question of recognizing the new regime in Afghanistan, I would like to add some thoughts for your consideration. First, it seems to me that the paramount factor in this [garble—equation?] is the means by which the Babrak Karmal regime came to power. Based on the views of our Mission officers, and those too of the French and Italian Embassies who have consulted us, the Soviet forces which had been airlifted into Kabul over the past two days, launched last night a surprise attack on the Afghan Army units guarding DRA installations in the city, and spared no force in destroying them. The struggle was strictly one of Soviet military vs. Afghan units. Thus, Babrak now holds his position solely [due] to the might of the Soviet Army, a consideration which casts doubt on whether this regime has actual or ethical legitimacy or can ever really rule this country. Though the Soviets got away with such tactics in Eastern Europe after World War II, I doubt they can duplicate it here in Afghanistan.

3. Secondly, following the April 1978 revolution, there was some discussion—in the context of “recognition”—of whether the overthrow of Daoud had been launched by Afghans or by connivance of the USSR.2 After examination of available evidence, we and the Dept. generally agreed that the Khalqi regime did appear to have organized and launched its own revolution, although the USSR undoubtedly had helped the conspirators clandestinely over the years with advice on subversion and secret training. That conclusion of an indigenous revolution, I think played some part in our decision to carry on business with the Khalqis. That argument hardly holds now with a regime which was brought to power only because of Soviet military intervention.

4. Thirdly, I recall that generally it is U.S. practice with respect to recognition to consider the key factor to be whether the new government exercises effective control over the country. If it does, the U.S. [Page 311] Government generally extends recognition and issues a diplomatic note with the appropriate language. As I mentioned in a cable sent two days ago,3 on the eve of the “Babrak Soviet coup,” we here had doubts regarding the Amin regime’s effective control over the countryside, and particularly its legitimacy in the light of its action of permitting Soviet troops to enter the country, presumably to keep itself in power. After viewing the USSR’s deplorable action of yesterday, [we] harbor even greater doubts about the new regime’s legitimacy. Moreover, it is by no means clear that the Babrak/Soviet hold on power is firm anywhere beyond Kabul.

5. Finally, as regards the new regime’s attitude towards the U.S., we have only skimpy information so far. Babrak’s initial speech contained the accusation that the “traitor” Amin was an agent of the CIA and of “fascist American imperialism.” Not surprisingly, Babrak threw the usual bouquets at the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries. Babrak also requested further “economic and military” assistance from the USSR. Based on my assessment that there really is little to choose substantively between the Khalqis and their Parchamist successors, I have no reason to believe at this point that the new regime will be any more kindly disposed to U.S. interests and programs than its predecessor.

6. On balance, therefore, I come down on the side of breaking or suspending diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. I think that we may have more to lose in U.S. prestige globally and internally too, were we to maintain a Mission here than withdrawing it. I favor however no hasty action on our part, and would counsel discreet prior consultation with our NATO allies. My surmise is that this regime will not be looking for “recognition” from anybody, as it will probably allege that what has happened merely represents an internal tiff within the party in power and in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

7. By septel, I have recommend a temporary modest phasedown of Amcit personnel.4 Were we to decide to suspend or break relations, I must ask that this decision be closely held, and be implemented without fanfare, until almost all personnel and our personal effects are gone. None of us here relishes the prospect of losing our effects as a result of an angry reaction by a fickle, hostile government.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Daily CIA Brief File, Box 24, 12/15/79–12/19/79. Confidential; Niact Immediate; Exdis. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room. Carter initialed “C” in the top right corner of the cable.
  2. See Document 11.
  3. Not found.
  4. In telegram 8653 from Kabul, December 28, Amstutz recommended the temporary closure of USAID and USICA offices at the Embassy. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800001–0186)