Very few wars end the way they are originally envisioned.  Perhaps this is what informed the old maximum ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy.’  The voluminous output on Afghanistan after September 2001 is staggering.  Unless you follow Central Asian political economies, it is nearly impossible for anyone to discern whom to read.  Not with Rodric Braithwaite, Sherard Cowper-Coles, and Artemy M. Kalinovsky.  All three men are true authorities on Afghanistan, specifically the Soviet prescience that dawned upon more salient adventurists that Moscow had overdrawn its hand in Southern Central Asia and that it would nearly collapse the house of Muscovy.   ‘Afgantsy:  The Russians in Afghanistan’ by Brathwaite is just as compelling as ‘A Long Goodbye:  The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan’ by Artemy M. Kalinovsky and ‘Cables From Kabul’ from Sherard Cowper-Coles.  I’m sure all three texts are bookends for Petreaus.

December 1979 would signal the end for the Soviet Empire throughout South Central Asia.  No one at the time could envision it.  Ironically, one would think that somewhere in the bowels of the Kremlin would reside a Leninist who could understand that any nation without a stable urbanized social base would reject Marxism.  Hadn’t Lenin and Marx both fervently believed that the best chances for Marxism resided in thoroughly westernized urban social environs?  It isn’t quite hubris that fits this momentous reversal, nor is it stupidity, for Moscow was invited into Afghanistan by the countries newly minted Leninists.  The Afghan Communist leader Hafizullah Amin was desperate to have the tutelage of Moscow.  The first act that Soviet special forces performed upon entering Kabul was to murder Amin.  Celebrating his coup at a lunch party, he was initially poisoned by the KGB but survived.  Upon awakening he was captured and ruthlessly murdered.  Ironically, Amin did the same to his predecessor Nur Muhammad Taraki.  But why murder Amin?  The answer is ideological.

Yuri Andropov (KGB Chairman), Dmitry Ustinov (Minister of Defense), and Andrei Gromyko (Foreign Minister) had come to distrust Amin.  He had studied in the United States before returning to Central Asia.  It was sheer paranoia that Amin was a CIA plant that drove Moscow to eliminate Amin.  Even Leonid Brezhnev thought that any time spent in Afghanistan would be short lived.

The invasion was completely mis-read throughout western chanceries.  The invasion should not have been interpreted as an expansionist move but instead as an isolated case of a client holding disproportionate influence over a patron.  Soon enough, Moscow was obliged to maintain its interest.  The law of diminishing returns just never penetrated the veil of that iron curtain.

A little history is in order.  The Soviet invasion had absolutely nothing to do with the removal of Muhammed Zahir Shah, who reigned over Afghanistan from 1933-1973 when he was ousted by his cousin Muhammed Daud.  The Soviets had good relations with both men.  Real troubles began when Daud was deposed in April of 1978 by Afghanistan Communists known as the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).  This group was bitterly divided into two factions, the Parcham and Khalq, both political and cultural groups that were basically tribal in their orientation.  Because Rodric Braithwaite was the British Ambassador to Moscow from 1988-1992 and remains the best authority on cable traffic between Moscow and Kabul.  The ‘April Revolution’ in deposing Daud by the PDPA was an unwelcomed thunderous bolt that Moscow felt hamstrung in denying.  According to Braithwaite, Moscow’s continuous inappropriate framework of analysis only widened the already hardened dissonance.  Absolutely no one understood nor strove to understand the complex social and ethnic structure of Afghanistan.   This gamed an already tenuous political economy that riddled Moscow to its core.

Both Kalinovsky and Braithwaite maintain that Moscow’s incursion into Kabul should NOT be interpreted as decisive in the disintegration of the Soviet Union!  This is surprising given how so many prominent professionals have stated and explained otherwise.  Perhaps an application of David Hume can enlarge the canvas we’re studying; can we contain the historical, diplomatic and ideological composition that inform causality distinct from correlates?  Is not a more synoptic vision, one less enamored from positivism more fruitful here?  Can international relations of this order have a distinct probative value?  Neither author takes up this challenge.

The humiliating defeat is undeniable.  The impact of that defeat in the hearts of South Asian nomads is undeniable too.  Perhaps Afghanistan can evade the hardened truths westerns seek in validating their preconceptions.

Nevertheless, Braithwaite and Kalinovsky are worthy of their endeavor.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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