A year Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan the Kremlin shows no disposition to end the searing tragedy visited on the Afghan people or the colossal mistake that is becoming part of Soviet history. Eventually the Russians will have to extricate themselves from a morally and politically untenable position. In the name of all their anti-imperialist assertions of concern for the peoples of the world, they ought to count the cost of intransigently prolonging the agony.
For Russians at home the price of Afghanistan appears in something as mundane as less meat on the table, the result of the United States grain embargo along with a poor harvest. And the price appears in something as poignant as coffins coming home with the remains of Russians killed abroad, an unusual occurrence in recent years. According to US government information, there is no evidence so far that such domestic results of Afghanistan are causing enough popular pressure for the leaders to think they may have been wrong to mount the invasion that installed President Babrak Karmal last Dec. 27. But Moscow keeps some 85, 000 troops plus thousands of advisers in Afghanistan. The troops killed and wounded have reportedly reached some 5,000. Continued casualties could begin to have an effect on the Soviet public.
What is already said to concern Moscow is the all but universal international condemnation of the Afghanistan venture. It extends throughout those nonaligned nations that the Soviets would so much like to have at least a little aligned with them. And Russia's claimed ties with the Muslim world have become decidedly frayed with its continued subjugation of Afghanistan.
A central irony is that Moscow had more likelihood of influencing Afghanistan in its favor when it was simply a powerful neighbor with a major hand in developing the Afghan economy. Then the Soviets were not hated as such. Even now it is not so much that they are Soviets as that they are outside invaders which has turned the nation against them. They might still be able to retrieve a relationship based on something besides military force if they were to respond to Afghan and world opinion and begin the withdrawal demanded on all sides.
As it is, many of the Afghan people are voting with their feet -- some 1.5 million having left their homeland for Pakistan or elsewhere. Far from diminishing, the refugee flow last month was the highest so far -- 104,000. (A few have been admitted to the US under the new refugee law.) And the effort of Afghan freedom fighters continues unabated. Indeed, the presence of the invaders has brought unfamiliar instances of unity among the warring tribes. Many of their weapons have been seized from the Soviets or obtained from defectors from the Afghanistan Army, which had already declined from 100,000 in uniform before the Soviets came and is now believed to be around 30,000.
Despite the appearance of getting into a Vietnam-like quagmire, Moscow refuses all serious discussion of political settlement. It sticks by hollow proposals to talk first about outside intervention -- by others! -- in Afghanistan. It will not meet with the designated committee of the Islamic Conference, let alone with the US or other Western parties.
What might world opinion be willing to accept? There would have to be some movement toward Soviet withdrawal and reestablishment of Afghanistan as an independent country with a government responsive to the people. In the absence of such movement, will the next anniversary of the invasion see a world a little more tired, a little more willing to accomodate Soviet aggression? That would be an indictment of the world. We know the Afghanistan people, to their credit, will not be so accomodating.