A sad anniversary in Afghanistan

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Soviet-supported communist coup which overthrew the nonaligned, independent, nationalist government of Afghanistan. It was a bloody day. As I described at the time in reports from the United States Embassy in Kabul to Washington, it fulfilled a century-old Russian dream to dominate Afghanistan, the stepping-stone to the subcontinent, to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

The anniversary is a time of sadness, to mourn the brutal foreign invasion of a fiercely independent land, a time of anguish, to celebrate the incredible and continuing Afghan battle for freedom and independence, and a time of reflection, to connect past to future. It is the future which is the subject of this article.

There is no cause for optimism in the present situation. Neither on the diplomatic nor the military front is there any sign that Soviet resolve is weakening. The Russians continue to score propaganda victories, causing the Afghan resistance repeatedly to be labeled ''rebels'' by the world's press and having prime-time news readers on US television refer to the problem ''around Afghanistan'' as if there is no problem ''in'' Afghanistan.

The UN Secretary General and his special representative, Under Secretary Cordovez, continue to engage in shuttle diplomacy, moving between Pakistani diplomats and those representing the puppet Afghan regime of the Russians. New talks in the series have just taken place in Geneva. Neither of the principal parties, the Afghan resistance and the Russians, is involved directly in the talks. Afghan resistance movements cannot agree on a common representative and certainly abhor the concept of negotiations with puppet leader Babrak Karmal. The Russians are content to make vague noises which give rise to Western wishful thinking that Yuri Andropov may want to cut his losses and move out of Afghanistan.

What is the reality?

It is a brutal war waged by the Russians on the Afghan populace. Villages are being destroyed. Crops are being burned. Three million Afghans, about one-fifth of the country's population, are refugees outside their country. Afghan material resources - gas, copper, iron ore, uranium - are in Soviet hands. New Soviet air bases are being constructed.

To be sure, there are Soviet casualties, probably in the thousands. These casualties have caused Moscow's propaganda machine to reveal more of the facts of the war, ''explaining'' it to the Russian people as a fight against ''imperialist'' attempts to overturn the April 1978 ''revolution'' in Afghanistan. There is no reason, however, to believe that Moscow's propaganda and security forces are not in complete control of any real or potential opposition in the USSR to the war. Soviet diplomacy and military power continue to operate without internal constraints.

On the ground in Afghanistan the resistance controls most of the countryside and even many major towns at night. But the Russians are steadily raising the cost of resistance by using modern military technology and scorched-earth tactics combined with the old British cantonment policy of keeping their bases secure. At the same time they are engaged in a major effort to train Afghans in the Soviet Union to run their new satellite.

Meanwhile, the Russians continue to put diplomatic and sometimes military pressure on Pakistan, the nation through which supplies to the Afghan resistance are channeled. The Pakistani economy, always fragile, is strained by the influx of Afghan refugees and may be further strained if the remittances from the thousands of Pakistanis working in the Arab OPEC countries are reduced as a result of lower oil revenues. Moscow is aware that Pakistan is the key to further Afghan resistance to the Kremlin's imperial ambitions. It will do what it can to weaken Pakistani resolve and foment internal instability.

The Russians believe time is on their side, and it is hard to gainsay them. The Afghans will no doubt fight as long as any Afghan can wield a weapon. But they cannot be a match for the modern Soviet state, any more than the conquered peoples of Central Asia could withstand the czarist empire in the 19th century.

The Andropov regime is most unlikely to pull back because it scents victory in the long run. It cannot retreat from the Brezhnev Doctrine, which compels Moscow to support ''socialist'' regimes. Andropov himself, backed in his accession to power by the Soviet military, is unlikely to risk his generals' displeasure by causing them to ''lose'' Afghanistan.

This is admittedly a pessimistic prognosis. It bodes ill for the possibilities of a renewal of detente. But it would be well to stress two conclusions: first, that the imperialist imperative is a mainspring of Moscow's outlook and policy as it has been for five centuries, and, second, that the Afghan resistance, like its predecessors in Hungary and Poland, is the front line of resistance to that imperative. It merits American support.

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