By now, nearly everyone has heard that the Soviets want to withdraw from Afghanistan. Secretary of State George Shultz has said he does not doubt it, though some remain skeptical. More important, however, the carefully worded pronouncements from Mikhail Gorbachev and other Soviet officials leave critical questions unanswered.

Will all Soviet troops depart? Do the Soviets intend to leave a permanent presence? How will the next government be chosen? Will refugees and their leaders be permitted to participate? How much Soviet aid will there be for the puppet government in Kabul?

What did Pravda say? ''The Afghan problem has been used from year to year to block peace initiatives. . . . Hawks across the ocean say 'Afghanistan first, regional conflicts first.' Until they are settled, it is pointless to talk about the cardinal problems of war and peace or to embark seriously on nuclear disarmament.''

An extremely interesting article in a recent issue of Moscow's Literary Gazette is said to constitute the recommended interpretation of the Afghan experience. Terming the current Afghan policy one of ''national reconciliation'' and ''an expression of the new political thinking on the Afghans' side,'' the Literary Gazette recalls the euphoria in the Soviet Union when the April 1978 ''revolution'' in Kabul was announced. The writer remembers the pleasure at hearing ''that we might find ourselves with a socialist neighbor on our border to the south,'' and later recalls ''disaster . . . threatened the red flag over Kabul.'' There was outside interference -- American, Chinese, British and Pakistani guns appeared to threaten the regime. So, naturally, in response to the Afghan state's call for help, ''We sent in the troops'' to offset ''the mighty presence from abroad.''

The Literary Gazette recalls how, in the early happy days, everyone assumed ''the victorious party {the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan} would be able to create an effective structure covering the whole country, the whole territory and all the social strata of the society, and stability would prevail.''

It did not happen.

The PDPA ''offended against tradition.'' It ''turned into violence and repression.'' It fell into factionalism. Afghanistan turned out to be a ''medieval melting pot.'' Everyone could see that some accommodation was required with traditional culture and Islam. The process of compromise began.

''State forums were introduced by mullahs' prayers. The flag ceased to be red and acquired a green Islamic stripe.'' The party proclaimed its pluralism. It proclaimed a ''policy of national reconciliation'' and ''unprecedented compromise with enemies,'' and a readiness to ''see them not as enemies but as patriots, colleagues in a future traditionally Islamic society.''

Now, the Literary Gazette tells us, the original aim of the revolutionary government ''has been renounced by the government itself.'' Everyone now has come to realize that the ''experts were wrong in their assessment. Errors were made.''

''The departure of our troops is not a defeat,'' the Literary Gazette explains, adding the soldiers will leave as ''the vector of politics changes into reverse and the army follows that vector.''

It will all happen ''if the pens in Geneva sign the peace agreements.'' Gorbachev has decided to withdraw, but the decision, the Soviets explain, is not unconditional.

What must the pens in Geneva sign? The terms of the proposed agreement have not been made public, but reports have circulated for weeks. According to these reports, the Soviet Union -- which now claims 90,000 troops in Afghanistan -- will begin withdrawal by May 15 if the agreement is completed by March 15 and will complete withdrawal within 10 months.

But, and it is a very large but, the United States must cease all assistance to the Afghan mujaheddin as soon as the Soviet Union begins its troop withdrawal. The Pakistanis must dismantle the mujaheddin base camps, and the existing Afghan government will remain in place. That this government calls itself a government of national reconciliation does not change the fact that it was installed by the Soviet Union and is maintained by Soviet troops.

Obviously the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan is intensely desirable. Eight long years of war have left 1.25 million Afghans dead, 4 million in exile and the country devastated.

However, Afghan resistance leaders fear they have already been betrayed by an American government that seems too eager for any agreement.

It is inconceivable that the administration of Ronald Reagan would accept a deal that leaves a residual Soviet presence in Afghanistan, a Communist government in Kabul aided by Moscow, while cutting off the flow of assistance to the Afghan resistance.

It could not be.

If there is to be an end to ''outside interference'' in Afghanistan it must be applied equally. Cutoff of aid must include a cutoff of Soviet assistance to the Kabul puppet government.

George Shultz should make it clear to the Soviets that it takes more than a change of name to make a government a ''national reconciliation.''