The Afghan Problem in International Forums
After the invasion, the Afghan problem became the concern of the United Nations and some other countries. The concern was, however, expressed in words coupled with actions taken against the Soviet Union for the invasion. Only the United States took any serious measures, canceling grain deliveries ordered by the Soviet Union, prohibiting the sale of high-technology and strategically valuable goods, and boycotting the 1980 Olympic games, which were held in Moscow. Calling the invasion “an extremely serious threat to peace” President Jimmy Carter declared that “this would threaten the security of all nations including, of course, the United States, our allies and our friends.” The president then warned the Soviet Union that any move toward the Persian Gulf would be met with force. The French government criticized the Soviet invasion; by contrast, Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, stated that the crisis in Afghanistan was not a “world crisis of dangerous dimensions.” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain denounced the intervention and asked the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. All Western governments froze or suspended their relations with Kabul, leaving only a few personnel in their respective embassies to collect intelligence information. But if the world community did not take stern measures against the invasion, it did bring diplomatic pressure on the Soviet Union to recall its forces.
Starting with a special session on 15 January 1980, every year the General Assembly of the United Nations passed by an overwhelming majority a resolution demanding that foreign forces be unconditionally withdrawn from Afghanistan, that the country’s integrity and nonaligned status be maintained, and that the right of self-determination of the Afghan people be observed. In February 1980 the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned the Soviet aggression against the Afghan people as a flagrant violation of international law and human rights. In 1982 the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, on instruction from the General Assembly, appointed a special envoy to seek the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but because of the intransigence of the Soviet Union, no progress could be made. However, the channel was kept open until it finally succeeded in its mission in 1988. Beginning with a special session on 28 January 1980 the Organization of the Islamic Conference, composed of the Muslim countries, annually passed stronger recommendations to the same effect, despite the pro-Soviet stance of some of its members (Syria, Iraq, and Libya).
Similarly, a resolution calling for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was passed by the foreign ministers of the nonaligned countries at a meeting held early in 1981 in New Delhi; this resolution was particularly notable since the number of pro-Soviet countries in the movement was considerable. In summer 1981 the European Economic Community (EEC) used even stronger terms asking that the Soviet Union withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. At the same time, the EEC assured the Soviet Union that Afghanistan would remain neutral after the withdrawal, much like Austria after the Soviet withdrawal in 1955. The proposal was explained to the Soviet authorities in Moscow in July of the same year by a mission of the EEC headed by the British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington; the Soviets called the plan “impractical,” although they did not reject it outright. The European Parliament also adopted a similar resolution. In January 1981 President Giscard d’Estaing of France called for an international conference to be held on Afghanistan, but the Soviets rejected that as well. The People’s Republic of China was more assertive in its demands. Since it viewed the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan as detrimental to its own security, the Chinese government made the improvement of its relations with the Soviet Union contingent on, among other things, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan did not create a stir among the people of the world comparable to that aroused by the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, but on certain occasions anti-Soviet demonstrations were held. Within Eurocommunist circles there were few defenders of the introduction of Soviet forces into Afghanistan. The French Communist Party was conspicuous among those few who defended the Soviet invasion. The Italian Communist Party, the second biggest communist party in Western Europe after that of France, came out against the invasion, calling it “a mistake.” The opposition soon led to an open polemic between the communist parties of Italy and the Soviet Union, but the former did not change its stand. In Eastern Europe dissident groups began to send out protest letters to Western Europe. An eloquent appeal came from Czechoslovakia in January 1980, calling for an international boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow and even comparing them to the 1936 Olympics, held in the Berlin of Hitler’s Third Reich. The letter read in part, “The Soviet intervention in Kabul, deprived of shabby justifications, is an outright and outrageous aggression. Today we can merely guess its continuation, but dread its ultimate objectives. If the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan is merely condemned by words, it will, against our will, become the norm to be repeated on future suitable occasions.”
Inside the Soviet empire, although Soviet youths fell in Afghanistan, the voice of opposition to the war could not be heard. The Soviet police state was too strong for Soviet men and women to express their views on the Afghan War as the American people had done on the Vietnam War. The Soviet government had made its involvement in Afghanistan a nonissue. Within the government framework a few military generals, including Chief of General Staff General Ogakov and Major General Zaplatin, adviser to the head of the Afghan chief political directorate, were opposed to the invasion. In the weeks following the invasion, members of the Moscow groups monitoring violations of the Helsinki human rights accords and other dissident groups publicly condemned the invasion. Also, shortly after the invasion “a group of academics, headed by O. Bogomolov, sent to the USSR Central Committee a report in which they reacted sharply to this act and prophesied its failure.” Calling the invasion “a fatal error that could cost the country dearly,” Edward Shevardnadze stated, “The invasion of that country provided a strong negative reaction that grew daily in our society and abroad, whereas only a few people in the Soviet Union openly protested the sending of troops into Prague in 1968. After 1979 the majority condemned the Afghan adventure, either directly or indirectly.” The man who symbolized the Soviet conscience by opposing the war was Andrei Sakharov, the winner of the Nobel peace prize and a human rights activist; for his stand, the Soviet government in January 1980 deported him to the closed city of Gorky, where he spent seven years in isolation. Although Sakharov came to be hailed as the “conscience of the Soviet Union,” at the time the Soviet government stifled voices of conscience and as a result lowered its international standing. More serious, the Soviet Union’s defiance of the voices of sanity poisoned international trust, an attitude that led to a new phase in international tension and armament programs during the final years of the cold war.
In view of the Soviets’ inflexible attitude, the Afghan elders of Ningrahar were almost wildly optimistic in asking Sulaiman Laweq, a mere Soviet proxy, to affect the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They were carried away by the eloquence of the poet Laweq for making the new plan of rural administration work. To this plan we now return.