54. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

[Omitted here are a title page, cover page, and security information page.]

Afghanistan: A Regime Besieged ([classification marking not declassified])

Key Judgments

The localized tribal fighting that erupted in the eastern provinces when the pro-Soviet coup group seized power in late April 1978 has since grown into a countrywide insurgency. Faced with the hostility of the devoutly Muslim and traditionally independent population, the regime of President Taraki and Prime Minister Amin has no better than an even chance to complete its second year in power.

Taraki will survive only as long as the loyalty of the military, the security services, and the party remains intact under the heavy pressure being brought to bear by hostile forces. The prevailing instability portends a highly fluid political situation in the next 12 months. A number of outcomes are possible.

The most likely successor regime would be led by, or at least have the backing of, leftist military officers, who are now considered loyal but who might become disaffected. Coup plotters might seek Moscow’s tacit approval to seize power and in any case would retain strong ties with the Soviet Union.

Despite the loss to the insurgents of more than half of the country, the government’s control of Kabul, the other major cities, and the main lines of communication equates to political control of the country. Tribal forces, lacking a centralized command and deficient in material support, do not appear capable of challenging the Soviet-equipped army’s control of the main population centers.

The insurgents’ prospects would be enhanced if Pakistan were to provide substantial material support, tactical advice, and training. Barring an improvement in the insurgents’ military capabilities, the [Page 159] outlook is for a prolonged period of inconclusive fighting for control of territory, population centers, and main roads.

The beleaguered Taraki regime’s survival has come to depend increasingly, as the insurgency has spread, on Soviet political, military, economic, and technical support. Taraki’s nearly total dependence on Moscow has given the Soviets far more say in the Afghan Government’s day-to-day decisionmaking process than they have ever had, but Taraki still appears to be setting the main lines of policy.

Kabul has closely associated itself politically with Moscow and has adopted foreign policy positions that are virtually indistinguishable from those of the Soviet Union.

In part because it has accorded the Soviet Union patron state status, Afghanistan shows no interest in improving frayed relations with the United States and other Western powers. Relations with its neighbors Pakistan and Iran are poor and could deteriorate further if Kabul comes to believe Tehran and, in particular, Islamabad are giving substantial backing to Afghan insurgents.

The regime does not yet face a security situation that might prompt a request to Moscow for the direct intervention of Soviet forces, but such an appeal is conceivable over the next 12 months. The Soviets have an important stake in Afghanistan. They will go to some lengths to protect it, but probably not to the extent of intervening militarily. The Soviets would be deterred by the possibility that their forces would be bogged down indefinitely trying to shore up a discredited regime. Soviet leaders also would have to weigh the regional and international political costs of direct intervention.

The USSR might consider other options short of dispatching combat units to protect its interests in specific contingencies. Moscow, for example, might permit more open use of Soviet advisers in ground combat roles to defend Soviet personnel or equipment. If serious fighting broke out in areas adjoining the Soviet border, Soviet leaders might decide to provide increased numbers of tactical ground support aircraft, helicopter gunships, pilots, and advisers on the ground to assist Kabul.

[1 paragraph (1 line) not declassified]

[Omitted here is the body of the paper.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence, Job 06T00412R: Intelligence Publication Files, Box 1, NESA Research Paper—Afghanistan: A Regime Besieged, July 1979. Top Secret; [codeword and handling restriction not declassified]. A statement on the cover page reads: “The author of this paper is [less than 1 line not declassified] Office of Political Analysis. The Office of Strategic Research contributed to the report.” Another statement on the cover page reads: “This report has been coordinated with the Office of Economic Research, the Directorate of Operations, and the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia.”