Afghanistan The Soviet Decision to Withdraw, 1986-88
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
These changes in the war came at the peak of the fighting. In 1985-86 Soviet forces launched their largest and most effective assaults on the mujahidin supply lines adjacent to Pakistan. Major campaigns had also forced the mujahidin into the defensive near Herat and Qandahar.
At the same time a sharp increase in military support for the mujahidin from the United States and Saudi Arabia allowed it to regain the guerilla war initiative. By late August 1986, the first Stinger ground-to-air missiles were used successfully. For nearly a year they would deny the Soviets and the Kabul government effective use of air power.
These shifts in momentum reinforced the inclination of the new Gorbachev government to view further escalation of the war as a misuse of Soviet political and military capital. Such doubts had developed prior to the decision to install Najibullah. In April 1985, one month after Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the Soviet leadership, its May Day greeting to the Kabul government failed to refer to its "revolutionary solidarity" with the PDPA, a signal in Marxist-Leninist rhetoric that their relationship had been downgraded. Several months later, Karmal suggested the inclusion of non-party members in the Revolutionary Council and the promotion of a "mixed economy." These tentative concessions toward non-Marxists won Soviet praise, but divergence in policy became obvious at the Twenty-Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1986. Gorbachev's "bleeding wound" speech hinted at a decision to withdraw "in the nearest future." In his own speech Karmal made no reference to withdrawal. In early May he was replaced by Najibullah.
Najibullah was obliged to move toward the evolving Soviet position with great caution. Karmal's followers could use any concessions to non-Marxists or acceptance of a Soviet withdrawal against him. Accordingly, he moved in conflicting directions, insisting there was no room for non-Marxists in government, only offering the possibility of clemency to "bandits" who had been duped by Mujahidin leaders into resisting the government. In addition to air strikes and shelling across the border, KHAD terrorist activity in Pakistan reached its peak under Najibullah.
Late in 1986 Najibullah had stabilized his political position enough to begin matching Moscow's moves toward withdrawal. In September he set up the National Compromise Commission to contact counterrevolutionaries "in order to complete the Saur Revolution in its new phase." Allegedly some 40,000 rebels were contacted. In November Karmal was replaced as now-ceremonial president by a non-party member, Haji Muhammad Samkanai, signaling the PDPA's willingness to open government to non-Marxists.
At the end of 1986 Najibullah unveiled a program of "National Reconciliation." It offered a six-month cease-fire and discussions leading to a possible coalition government in which the PDPA would give up its government monopoly. Contact was to be made with "anti-state armed groups." Affiliation was suggested, allowing resistance forces to retain areas under their control.
In fact much of the substance of the program was happening on the ground in the form of negotiations with disillusioned mujahidin commanders who agreed to cooperate as government militia. The mujahidin leadership rhetorically claimed that the program had no chance for success. For his part Najibullah assured his followers that there would be no compromise over "the accomplishments" of the Saur Revolution. It remained a standoff. While a strenuous propaganda effort was directed at the both the Afghan refugees and Pakistanis in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, the program was essentially a sop to Moscow's hope to tie a favorable political settlement to its desire to pull its forces out.
Najibullah's concrete achievements were the consolidation of his armed forces, the expansion of co-opted militia forces and the acceptance of his government by an increasing proportion of urban population under his control. As a propaganda ploy "National Reconciliation" was a means of gaining time to prepare for civil war after the Soviet departure.
Data as of 1997
NOTE: The information regarding Afghanistan on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Afghanistan The Soviet Decision to Withdraw, 1986-88 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Afghanistan The Soviet Decision to Withdraw, 1986-88 should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.