The Afghanistan conflict: Gorbachev's options

Author/s (editor/s):

Amin Saikal

Publication year:

1987

Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 42

The Afghanistan conflict has become a lingering major crisis in world politics. The Soviet invasion of the country in late December 1979 marked the first Soviet military action since World War Two against any state outside the Warsaw Pact zone. The invastion has had far reaching consequences not only for the Soviet Union's foreign relations, but also for regional security and international order. Since the Soviets have thus far failed to pacify the Afghan people and make their military presence in Afghanistan, in support of a totally incompetent and unpopular communist regime, acceptable to the world community, the younger Soviet leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev has lately found it expedient to opt for a political solution to the Afghan problem. Gorbachev's efforts in this respect, however, have thus far produced few tangible results.

Dr Saikal examines the roots of this conflict and the possible motives behind the original Soviet decision to invade Afghanistan. He also evaluates the Soviet strategy for pacifying the country and the failure of this strategy in the context of the growth of the Afghan resistance and international support for it. Further, he looks at changes in Soviet strategy under Gorbachev, with a view to identifying what type of political solution the Gorbachev leadership has unsuccessfully so far sought, and what options are available to it in the event that it is genuinely interested in a solution which would enable the Soviets to disentangle themselves from this increasingly costly conflict.

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