Immediately after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, many people argued that the Soviet purpose in invading was limited and that its intervention would soon succeed. But Soviet policies since the invasion, and the Afghan resistance, have undercut much of this type of analysis. A more ambitious and threatening Soviet posture on Afghanistan is in fact emerging.
A year ago, Moscow was said to have soured on the pre-invasion president, Hafizullah Amin, who was seen as a budding Tito. But the Soviets had loyal friends in the military and government and their own intelligence and military presence. They surely could have disposed of the unpopular Amin without dispatching 85,000 troops.
That the Soviets still appear so reluctant to consider a political compromise, even after a costly year of energetic Afghan resistance, indicates that from the start they had a more extensive ambition than the removal of one man. At the least, it was to integrate Afghanistan into the Soviet satellite empire.
The year has been costly -- above all, of course, for the Afghans. One-tenth of the country's 15 million-plus people have fled. A state of war governs life in Afghan cities, with curfews and food shortages. Substantial civilian and partisan casualties have been sustained.
The Soviet Union has also paid a price, one it apparently feels it can afford. Its behavior underlines its determination to maintain its grip on Afghanistan. Indiscriminate bombing, the exploitation of internal conflicts -- all the familiar tactics of a colonial war are being employed to break the resistance.
Growing Soviet control over the Afghan bureaucracy suggests an intent to administer Afghan affairs perhaps until the "rebellious Afghans' can be pacified and packaged into a Soviet republic. Travelers returning from Moscow confirm that the notion of a "civilizing Soviet mission" finds a racist echo among Moscow's political elite, who have accepted the dispatch of Soviet troops with socialistic chauvinism.
What are the prospects for the "second year"? The answer depends not only on Afghans and Soviets but also on the rest of the international community. The German and French contention that "detente cannot survive another Afghanistan" implies writing off this one. But without support, the Afghans are not likely to be able to continue resisting. Western "neutrality" will seal their fate. Afghanistan is not the only victim of foreign aggression to require aid. Without such help, there would probably be no France, no Belgium -- perhaps no United States.
From a Western perspective, it should also be clear that Moscow's continued and unhindered occupation of Afghanistan, and a possible Soviet move in the direction of the Persian Gulf, constitute a threat to American and Western credibility and, more immediately, to vital economic and security interests in the Gulf. The Afghan invasion came in the wake of an enormous growth in Soviet power and especially in the ability to project power into the Gulf -- a vital region and one where Western ability to influence events has declined.
The argument that the Soviets came into Afghanistan because they could not tolerate instability on their border, or because they felt threatened by Moslem fundamentalists, is intended to calm fears. In fact, this argument provides little comfort, since most countries of this crucial oil-producing region to the south of the Soviet border are by this definition potential candidates for Soviet intervention.
Whether the Soviets attempt other Afghan-style operations in the region will depend on many factors, but a major one is likely to be the Western ability to contain Soviet power. Without such a Western capability, the Soviets may well be tempted to become more adventurous, and few states in the region will have the suicidal courage to be overtly anti-Soviet.
Soviet policy in the larger region may well depend on its experience in Afghanistan. Afghan partisans continue to be poorly armed and face serious economic and organizational problems. By supporting the Afghan opposition, however, the United States and its allies could increase partisan effectiveness and perhaps induce the Soviets to accept a political compromise. So far, Moscow has been unwilling to do this.
At the same time, the United States should maintain a continuous dialogue with the Soviets for possible regulation of superpower competition around the Gulf. Such an understanding must be based on maintaining a military balance in the region to meet a potential threat on its own terms -- and to achieve a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.