Afghan communist party chief, Najibullah, left in charge by the Soviet Union after its troop pullout in 1989
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Sept 13
On Nov 13, 1983, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union discussed how to extricate the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. The only record of that meeting, a document classified Top Secret, was published in the Cold War International History Project Bulletin. Three decades later the echoes of that discussion can be heard from Washington today.
Mikhail Gorbachev chaired that meeting, which was attended by Andrei Gromyko (Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet); Eduard Shevardnadze (later foreign minister); Victor Chebrikov (KGB chief); Anatoly Dobrynin (ambassador to Washington); Vitaly Vorotnikov (Chairman of the Council of Ministers); and Sergey Akhrome’ev (Deputy Defence Minister).
Gorbachev: Have all comrades familiarized themselves with the memorandum…?
Politburo Members: Yes, we have
Gorbachev: Then let us exchange opinions. I have an intuition that we should not waste time. Najib (Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah) needs our support…
We have been fighting in Afghanistan for already six years. If the approach is not changed, we will continue to fight for another 20-30 years. This would cast a shadow on our abilities to affect the evolution of the situation. Our military should be told that they are learning badly from this war….
Gromyko: It is necessary to establish a strategic target. Too long ago we spoke on the fact that it is necessary to close off the border of Afghanistan with Pakistan and Iran. Experience has shown that we were unable to do this in view of the difficult terrain of the area and the existence of hundreds of passes in the mountains….
Gorbachev: It is necessary to include in the resolution the importance of ending the war in the course of one year --- at maximum two years.
Gromyko: It should be concluded so Afghanistan becomes a neutral country. Apparently, on our part there was an underestimation of the difficulties, when we agreed with the Afghan government to give them our military support. The social conditions in Afghanistan made the resolution of the problem in a short amount of time impossible. We did not receive domestic support there. In the Afghan army the number of conscripts equals the number of deserters.
From the point of view of evaluating the domestic situation in Afghanistan, we can sign under practically everything that Najib suggests. But we should not sharply cut off (Babrak Karmal, the head of the Communist Party’s Parcham faction), as he serves as a symbol to his people….
Concerning the Americans, they are not interested in the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. On the contrary, it is to their advantage for the war to drag out…
It should be considered how to link India into the settlement…. Our strategic goal is to make Afghanistan neutral, not to allow it to go over to the enemy camp….
Chebrikov: …(Gromyko) is partly right, speaking about the difficulties of such a closing (of the border) due to geographic and other conditions. But partly the failure in the closing is also tied to the fact that not everything was done that could have been. Right now the enemy is changing its tactics. He is going underground. It is necessary to look for the means to a political solution of the problem. The military path for the past six years has not given us a solution…
Shevardnadze: Right now we are reaping the fruit of un-thought-out decisions of the past. Recently, much has been done to settle the situation in Afghanistan and around it. Najib has taken up leadership. He needs practical support, otherwise we will bear the political costs. It is necessary to state precisely the period of withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. You, Mikhail Serge’evich (Gorbachev), said it correctly --- two years. But neither our, nor Afghan comrades have mastered the questions of the functioning of the government without our troops…
Dobrynin: We must give liberty to Najib. Two questions arise here. First --- the idea of national reconciliation, and second --- the political settlement of the situation around Afghanistan…
Akhrome’ev: No, it will not be possible to (achieve reconciliation)… Military actions in Afghanistan will soon be seven years old. There is no single piece of land in this country which has not been occupied by a Soviet soldier. Nevertheless, the majority of the territory remains in the hands of rebels. The government of Afghanistan has at its disposal a significant military force: 160 thousand people in the army, 115 thousand in Tsarando and 20 thousand in state security organs…
At the center there is authority; in the provinces there is not. We control Kabul and the provincial centers, but on occupied territory we cannot establish authority. We have lost the battle for the Afghan people. The government is supported by a minority of the population. Our army has fought for five years. It is now in a position to maintain the situation on the level that it exists now. But under such conditions the war will continue for a long time… (so) we need to look for a way out and resolve the question, as [Gromyko] has said. We must go to Pakistan.
Vorontsov: A few words to continue the thought, just expressed by Comrade Akhrome’ev. Afghanistan is a peasant country (80 percent of the population are peasants). But it is exactly they who have least benefitted from the revolution. Over eight years of the revolution agricultural production has increased by only 7 percent, and the standard of living of peasants remains at pre-revolutionary levels…. When there are only 5 million people out of a population of 18 million under the control of the government (moreover, 3 million of them live in the cities and only 2 million in the country --- this is no more than 300-400,000 families), the party and the government have not inherited from the previous government precise plans on how to quickly raise the standard of living of these 300-400,000 peasant households which are under the sphere of influence of the government.
Gorbachev: In October of last year  in a Politburo meeting we determined upon a course of settling the Afghan question. The goal which we raised was to expedite the withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan and simultaneously ensure a friendly Afghanistan for us. It was projected that this should be realized through a combination of military and political measures. But there is no movement in either of these directions…
We must operate more actively, and with this guide ourselves with two questions. First of all, in the course of two years affect the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. In 1987 withdraw 50 per cent of our troops, and in the following [year] another 50 per cent.
Second of all, we must pursue a widening of the social base of the regime, taking into account the realistic arrangement of political forces. In connection with this, it is necessary to meet with Comrade Najib, and, possibly, even with other members of the (Afghanistan Communist Party) Politburo.
We must start talks with Pakistan. Most importantly, [we must make sure] that the Americans don’t get into Afghanistan. But I think that Americans will not go into Afghanistan militarily.
Akhrome’ev: They are not going to go into Afghanistan with armed forces.
Dobrynin: One can agree with USA on this question.