The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is entering its third year. To all intents and purposes, Moscow has demonstrated little or no genuine interest in withdrawing.
Ever since the first Soviet tanks rolled across the border in strength right after Christmas 1979, the Soviets have sought to consolidate communist control of Afghanistan's major towns, roads, and strategic positions. They have also adopted a long-term policy of fully absorbing their central Asian neighbor into the Soviet orbit.
Unlike the Americans in Vietnam, the Soviets have time on their hands. They do not have to worry about public antiwar demonstrations at home, nor are they concerned about television and newspaper reports on young Russians being killed in battle or executed if captured by Afghan guerrillas.
Western diplomacy and sanctions have failed dismally in persuading Moscow that its action is contrary to the United Nations Charter or the Helsinki agreement on human rights.
Even if it takes 20 years, analysts say, the overall Soviet plan is to bleed the Afghans - physically, economically, and morally -until they are prepared to accept communist authority in Kabul. But what treatens to undermine Moscow's intentions is the resilient obstinacy of the Afghan resistance as well as events elsewhere in the world involving the Soviet Union.
Ever since the emergence of Solidarity 16 months ago, the Afghan resistance has shown a vital interest in Polish affairs. In particular, they have followed Soviet reactions through the BBC, Voice of America, and other Western shortwave stations. The same goes for Russian expansion in the Horn of Africa.
As far as the Afghans are concerned, the struggles of Poland and Afghanistan are irrevocably bound to each other. Both peoples are resisting Soviet Communist domination largely by relying on religious principles and organization to maintain morale. As one guerrilla leader told this correspondent: ''Whether Christian or Muslim, we are all fighting against an atheistic communist regime which has no respect for freedom.''
Certainly one reason behind the Soviet Union's hesitation to crack down on Solidarity as soon as it raised its head was its involvement in Afghanistan. Similarly, the fact that Moscow has not expanded its military commitment to Kabul into a full-scale war is partly due to a desire not to overstretch itself, both militarily and politically, in Eastern Europe.
Were the Soviet Union really determined to break the Afghan resistance as quickly as possible, it would have brought in more troops long ago. Its present armed forces - now estimated at 110,000 by some, 85,000 by others - are barely sufficient to maintain more than superficial control of the main urban population areas.
In recent months, the communists, including Afghanistan's demoralized and declining Army, have launched numerous offensives against resistance-held areas.
But government troops, constantly harassed by the mujahideen, can dominate captured territory only temporarily. The moment they withdraw, the ubiquitous guerrillas move back in to fill the gap. With the resistance controlling most of the countryside all the time and strongly present in the towns by night, the war has developed into a dragging, no-win contest.
The Soviets are making pointed efforts to improve economic ties, communications, and transport between the two countries in the hope that improved conditions will gradually win rebellious Afghans over to the Kabul regime. Under guidance from Moscow, the government has eased up on ill-received land reforms and introduced incentives such as easy credit terms to encourage free enterprise. Substantial agricultural equipment from the East bloc has been shipped in to help farmers.
But in return, the little that Afghanistan has to offer in the way of natural resources is being mercilessly exploited by the Soviet communist empire. In early 1980, Moscow and Kabul signed an agreement tripling the amount of natural gas Afghanistan exports to the Soviet Union - at prices significantly below the world market - to help pay for its economic and military ''assistance.''
The Soviets are systematically trying to manipulate public opinion through the lengthy process of education and political indoctrination. Hundreds of Afghan children have been sent to summer camps or schools in the Soviet Union, sometimes without the permission of their parents.
Up to 2,000 Soviet university and training scholarships have been made available to Afghan students with the intention of replenishing the country's ravaged communist ranks. Russian has replaced both English and French as the main foreign language in Afghan schools and colleges.
Nevertheless, such tactics have so far failed to rupture the Afghan resistance. Guerrilla strategy has improved tremendously since last year, and blatant communist repression continues to alienate the great majority of the Afghan population. More recently Soviet intimidation attacks have been stepped up against civilians in resistance-held areas.
According to returned French sources, in several regions of Afghanistan, villages and hospitals have been deliberately attacked and in some cases destroyed by Soviet aircraft in the past two months.
Bitter but resigned Afghan resistance leaders feel they have been unashamedly neglected by the West in their struggle against the Soviets. They fear that now, with world attention focused on Poland, Afghanistan will lie forgotten beneath the winter snows of Central Asia, a fact the Soviets will certainly use to their advantage.