Red Army in Afghanistan: going home soon?; Kremlin doesn't like trend of events south of the border

For the Kremlin, the view south toward Afghanistan and its neighbor states of Iran, Pakistan, and India is not very encouraging. Soviet troops in Afghanistan are not being beaten, but they are not winning either.

And although no official here suggests that Soviet troop morale in Afghanistan is flagging, a May 17 piece in the Soviet military newspaper Krasnya Zvezda (Red Star) painted a picture of homesickness for "the motherland" among typical Afghan-based troops.

The Soviet reporter speaks, in part, of the crew of a transport aircraft, of its "customary conversation about home and families. . . . This theme is never ending: home, family."

Iran is in chaos, apparently in neither the mood nor the shape to talk with Afghanistan's Soviet-backed leader, Babrak Karmal.

The Pakistanis have completed negotiation on a US aid deal that, if the US Congress approves, would deliver some $2 billion worth of military assistance to the Pakistanis in coming years.

And even the position of India, a relative bright spot for the Soviets, has appeared a bit cloudy recently.

Since early June the Indians have held talks with two past military foes who are no friends of moscow: Pakistan and China.

There has been no public sign that genuine rapprochement is afoot with either country. Nor have diplomats here discerned any indication the Indians, arms clients of Moscow who have sought to avoid publicly attacking the Soviet troop presence in Afghanistan, are preparing an about-face.

But the diplomats are assuming the Kremlin, habitually concerned at the prospect of hostile "encirclement," is less than happy with the mere fact the Indians have been talking to China and Pakistan.

One possible sign of this is omission from the official Soviet news media of any mention of various upbeat comments that followed the two rounds of talks.Reports here have instead played down chances for any substantive results and stressed alleged dangers both China and Pakistan pose for India.

Yet however unencouraged by Southwest Asian developments the Kremlin may feel , it won't necessarily react by backing the European initiative on Afghanistan, diplomats here feel.

It is still assumed that the Soviets will eventually pull out their troops, presumably under some kind of compromise that will be claimed as victory here. Theoretically, the European initiative might be able to fill that bill.

"But," one third-world diplomat said, "the Soviets have invested a lot in the Afghanistan venture -- most importantly, a political investment." Under current conditions, he suggested, the Soviets would have trouble pulling out their troops without the appearance of a posture they can't accept -- weakness.

Foreign diplomats in Moscow doubt for these reasons that British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington will be welcomed with open Kremlin arms on his visit here connected with the European initiative on the Afghan situation.

For one thing, diplomats say, Soviet officials have as yet given no indication of willingness to abandon their current position on the Afghan crisis: that "internal" Afghan matters should be off-limits for negotiators and that a resolution must be sought in bilateral contacts between the Soviet-backed Afghan regime and its immediate neighbors, Iran and Pakistan.

A key element in this Soviet stand, and a key problem for most of the outside world, is that it presupposes that the negotiators formally recognize the current Afghan regime.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.