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

8624. Subj: Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan: What To Do About It. Ref: Kabul 8623.2

1. (S—Entire text)

2. Summary: The arrival of Soviet battalions at Bagram Air Base and now in Kabul significantly changes the Afghan political picture, and points to a need for a new policy review. The intervention not only suggests an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine to Afghanistan, but it also raises the related question of whether the Amin regime has not now lost its legitimacy. Hence, I recommend a new policy review of Afghanistan/USSR by a group of countries, such as the NATO powers, Pakistan, India and China, to try to bring about a Soviet withdrawal; or the U.S. raising the issue of Soviet intervention in the UN Security Council, and our urging the termination of UNDP and World Bank aid to the Soviet satellite; and/or our giving massive assistance to the Afghan insurgents. Were either or both of the latter two options adopted, we would have to break our relations with this puppet regime and withdraw all official American personnel from the country. Our SALT monitoring capability would thereby also suffer. End summary.

3. Whether you call it a “qualitative change” or a new ball game, we have now a different political situation in Afghanistan. By reftel, we have just reexamined the question of why the Soviets chose to bring in troops at this time. We concluded that the reasons were probably multi-purpose, but at heart were to try to make sure the Khalqi party remained in power and the country within the Soviet orbit.

4. The fact that the Soviets, with presumably Hafizullah Amin’s consent and/or invitation, were impelled to introduce combat troops suggests too that both parties had concluded that the Khalqi regime could not otherwise long survive. Counter-insurgency efforts were having mixed results, urban terrorism was increasing, dissatisfaction in the Khalqi party was widespread, and the Soviets were probably painfully conscious that they were expected to meet all the expensive bills for hardware and the ever growing numbers of Soviet advisors. [Page 273] They must have concluded that an intervention of Soviet forces was necessary to save the regime and for Soviet prestige.

5. I suspect that Soviet intervention in Afghanistan is the first occasion since World War II of the Soviets entering a non-Warsaw Pact country to maintain the special Soviet position. In Eastern Europe, when uprisings occurred in Poland and the GDR, Soviet troops were already in place, and in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Soviet troops intervened to reestablish those governments’ “traditional” and proper position within the Soviet sphere. Thus, the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan would appear to represent a blatant power move by Moscow to expand its sphere of influence in the world.

6. What should the USG do? Whether or not the Dept’s planned IG meeting on Afghanistan has already convened,3 I think it would be timely for the Dept to consider the implications of the new developments in Afghanistan, I also believe the time has come for us to take some new policy initiatives. The fact that the Soviets have disregarded our verbal warnings of the recent past suggests that they have been ineffective and shrugged off by the Soviets as being all bark but no bite.

7. I would thus like to propose two possible courses of action, the second of which could follow on the first.

8. The first course, this would be to try to mobilize the NATO countries, together with India, Pakistan, PRC, Saudi Arabia, Japan (and perhaps Iran through a third country), to make a harmonized if not joint démarche to the Soviet Union.4 The démarche would consist of a proposal that regional stability required two things: the establishment of a new, broader-based government in Afghanistan, which would include non-Khalqi and oppositionist elements; and the withdrawal of Soviet forces. The Soviets, by their military presence now in Kabul, can now probably influence the shape of any Afghan government; Hafizullah Amin would probably have to go, but the Soviets probably have the power to make him do so. The alternative for the Soviets is prolongation of the expensive civil war, which could drag on for years.

9. This idea of a harmonized joint démarche originates with the FRG Ambassador, Karl Berninger. While I see formidable obstacles to trying to galvanize any kind of harmonized démarche to the Soviets, and little chance of its succeeding, I see little harm in its being attempted and some advantages to our consulting with the mentioned countries.

10. The second alternative. This course would see us take a tougher stand. It would be based on the reality that Afghanistan is no longer [Page 274] truly independent and has become a puppet of the Soviet Union. Since most Afghans despise the regime, and the government has at best tenuous control of urban centers, its legitimacy can now be questioned. The fact that Soviet troops have had to intervene to keep it from collapsing makes too its legitimacy moot. A tough anti-Khalqi stand by the U.S. would be widely welcomed by Afghans. I thus wonder whether, were the first option to fail, we should not consider labeling the present regime illegitimate and taking certain follow-up measures. I appreciate that such a course would require our cutting diplomatic relations with the Khalqi govt, and the withdrawal of our official presence in the country. This I realize would end our capability to help monitor Soviet SALT compliance. Follow-up actions which we might take might include raising in the UN Security Council the charge of Soviet intervention and to appeal for Soviet withdrawal. It would also be proper for us to try to terminate World Bank and UNDP aid to this country, which together now comes to $100 million per year.

11. Last, but by no means least, we should then address the question of whether the time has not come to assist the insurgents on a large scale. I realize the last cannot be done without Pakistani concurrence, and that this would have difficult policy ramifications for the whole unsettled world of U.S.-Pakistan relations (and the Glenn Amendment).5

12. I am also not unmindful of other competing considerations, which complicate the Afghanistan situation, such as our attempts to get USSR cooperation to free our Tehran hostages, and to achieve SALT Two. The Dept is in a better position than I to weigh these other factors. In looking though at the big picture, what disturbs me is that almost annually the USSR is succeeding in expanding its power around the globe, and that here in the subcontinent the possible extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine is likely in the long run to be detrimental to regional stability and our interests.

13. In sum, I think the arrival of Soviet troops calls for new initiatives and new thinking about the U.S. posture towards this government.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office Files of Marshall D. Shulman, Special Advisor to the Secretary on Soviet Affairs, 1977–1981, Lot 81D109, untitled folder. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See Document 98.
  3. No record of a meeting was found.
  4. The idea to send out telegrams to U.S. Allies on policy toward Afghanistan was taken up at the NSC meeting the next day. See footnote 4, Document 107.
  5. Under the Glenn Amendment to the Arms Export Control Act (Section 102), the President can apply sanctions against a non-nuclear state that detonates a nuclear device. The status of non-nuclear states is defined by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, which Carter signed into law March 10, 1978.