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April 1, 1979

Memo on Protocol #149 of the Politburo, "Our future policy in connection with the situation in Afghanistan"

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Communist Party of the Soviet Union, CENTRAL COMMITTEE




No P149/XIU


To Comrades Brezhnev, Kosygin, Andropov, Gromyko, Suslov, Ustinov, Ponomarev, Pusakov, Baibakov, Skachkov, Zamiatin.
Memorandum on protocol no. 149 of the meeting of the Politburo (CC CPSU) on April 12, 1979


Our future policy in connection with the situation in Afghanistan.
Comrades Gromyko, Andropov, Ustinov, Ponomarev are in agreement with the considerations on the given question, which are laid out in the memorandum (enclosed).


SECRETARY OF THE CC [Central Committee]


[The report is appended:]
In reference to point XIU of protocol no. 149

Top secret



In accordance with the 3/18/79 request we are reporting an analysis of the reasons for the situation in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which have recently worsened and our thoughts about our possible further steps in helping the leadership of DRA strengthen its position and stabilize the situation in the country.


Last April’s revolution in Afghanistan occurred in an economically weak, backward feudal country with primitive economic forms and limited domestic resources.  The old regime left a great variety of social, economic, and political problems.


In the conditions of a severe class struggle, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan appeared on one pole,  representing the interests of the working class, facing the forces expressing the interests of the gentry-feudal class, the bourgeoisie, and the most reactionary part of the clergy on the other.


The Afghan reactionary forces are very skillfully taking advantage of the almost complete illiteracy of the population, complex international and intertribal conflicts, religious fanaticism and nationalism.


Subversive actions, sabotage and the resistance of the overthrown class of exploiters are deepening the economic problems, lowering industrial and agricultural output, as well as hampering business activity, raising prices and reducing the influx of revenue into the state budget.  The actions of reactionary forces, which are at present headed by Muslim leaders, who rely on the “Muslim Brothers” organization, have banded together on the basis of their common negative relation to the new order in separatist and nationalist groupings and in the pro-Maoist organization “Shoalee Javid.”  


The reactionary forces have consolidated somewhat recently after overcoming the confusion following the rapid and rather unexpected victory of the April revolution.  They have started to change the forms of struggle, shifting from covert subversive actions to open armed forms of activity.  They were able not only to regroup within the country but also to build wide connections with imperialist and clerical groups abroad, which supply them with active propaganda support as well as money and weapons.  The tactic of the enemies of the revolution is to widen the front of the struggle, to force the government to disperse its forces across different regions of the country.


Reactionary forces use slogans of extreme anticommunism and antisovietism.  Their main political goal is the overthrow of the revolutionary democratic order and the creation of a “free Islamic republic” in Afghanistan.


The program of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan anticipates the implementation of wide political and social-economic reforms in the interests of the working people.  But this program is just beginning to be realized and therefore only a small portion of the population has felt the advantages of the new order and its progressive character.  The new authorities must overcome centuries of backwardness of the country, remove difficulties, and solve problems.  This requires time as well as a thoroughly planned and well calculated approach.  The leaders of democratic Afghanistan have to create a new state apparatus, reorganize and strengthen the army, and gather practical experience in building a state and party.


The weak side of the people’s authority is the fact that it has not yet established a firm basis of support in the provincial and urban administrative political organs through which the working people would be involved in the management of the state from the center and particularly from distant areas.


The new authority is experiencing serious problems because of its relationship with the clergy and opposition tribal leaders which are the most influential forces in Afghanistan.  The resolution of this problem, which requires circumspection and a careful approach, has not yet been found and both forces continue to be dangerous opponents of the present regime.  They play a major role in the counterrevolutionary struggle.  The situation in Iran and the spark of religious fanaticism all around the Muslim East was the underlying cause of the activization of the struggle against the government of Afghanistan.


The difficulties which the leadership of DRA faces are growing more complex because the PDPA has not yet become a mass political organization.  The best workers and poorest peasants are becoming involved very slowly.  The party is still unable to attract the layers of society which could accept the revolutionary aspects of the revolution: the intelligentsia, white-collar employees, the small bourgeoisie, and lowest layers of the clergy.


The party itself split following the April revolution and weakened its position, influence, and prestige.  PDPA continues to be not only small in number but  also has been weakened seriously by the internal struggle between the “Khalq” and “Parcham” groups.  The most popular leaders of the “Parcham” group were either physically destroyed or purged from the party, army, and state apparatus.  Some of them found themselves abroad as political refugees.  This situation has hurt the party’s remaining “Parcham” members.  The people have demonstrated fear, suspicion, and distrust of the PDPA leadership.  Rapid changes in the leaders of important administrative units in the center as well as the periphery and constant changes in the army have made the situation even worse.


The enemies of the revolution are acting not only from within the country but from abroad, especially from Pakistan and Iran where many of the opponents of the new order have emigrated.  According to our sources, Western special services, particularly American and Chinese agencies, are involved in the organization of the struggle against the government inside the country.  They have taken advantage of the fact that Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan and Iran are practically open.  Not only subversive and terrorist groups, but also large armed bands are sent across those borders.


The internal and external counterrevolutionary forces are trying to use not only the objective difficulties of the new order, but also the miscalculations and mistakes of the Afghan leadership.  It is known that following the victory in the April revolution, extreme measures and unjustified repression were often allowed in solving both internal party and government problems.  There were cases of financial corruption, as well as violence towards arrested persons during investigations.


The dissatisfaction with unjustified repression affected the army, which still remains the main basis for the regime.  This makes the counterrevolutionary task of dictating the system not only from within the country but also from abroad significantly easier.  Many commanders feel uncertain and fear arrest after witnessing their colleagues’ arrest and disappearance.   These fears were confirmed by events in Herat, where not only a large portion of the population but also some army units, on their commanders’ orders, sided with the counterrevolution.


The Herat events also revealed the weakness of the political, agitational, and propagandistic work of the PDPA among the people.   The destabilizing activities of the enemies of the new system, including the reactionary clergy, are much more active and widespread than the work of the party.


The Soviet leadership has many times given recommendations and advice to the leaders of the DRA, and on a very high level.  They have pointed to their mistakes and excesses.  But the Afghan leaders, displaying their political inflexibility and inexperience, rarely heeded such advice.  


The insufficient political experience of the DRA leaders was apparent during the conflict in Herat, where they displayed a lack of understanding of the serious political consequences which would have followed if the Soviet side had granted their request to call in Soviet troops.


It is clear that due to the internal nature of the antigovernmental opposition, the use of Soviet troops in repressing the Afghan counterrevolution would seriously damage the international authority of the USSR and would set back the process of disarmament.  In addition, the use of Soviet troops would reveal the weakness of the Taraki government and would widen the scope of the counterrevolution both domestically and abroad, bringing the attack of antigovernmental forces to a much higher level.   The fact that the government was able to suppress the rebellion in Herat with its own forces should hold back the counterrevolution and demonstrate the relative strength of the new system.  


Therefore, our decision to refrain from satisfying the request of the leadership of DRA to send Soviet military units to Afghanistan was correct and this policy should be continued further because the possibility of new rebellions against the government cannot be excluded.


Of course, we should continue to do anything we can to assist the leadership of Afghanistan with their struggle against counterrevolution and in their stabilization of the situation of the country.  We have to help the government strengthen its influence and to lead the people along the path of socialist reform.


The Soviet Union has been providing active political support to the new government, as well as widespread economic and military assistance and has been participating in the training of skilled personnel from the first days following the victory of the April revolution.  Large numbers of advisers and specialists were sent to Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government to assist in solving the problems faced by the DRA leadership.


Taking into account the recent additional decisions, in order to continue this work it is necessary:


1. To continue to support the leadership of the DRA in improving the combat efficiency and political awareness of the Afghan army, ensuring its loyalty and dedication to the revolutionary leadership, and in strengthening and improving the efficiency of the security organs, including the border patrol.


    It should be noted that in connection with the latest events, large amounts of arms and military technology have been sent and an additional amount will be sent into Afghanistan.  In addition, the training of military specialists for the armed forces of the DRA has been expanded in military academies in Afghanistan itself as well as in the Soviet Union.  It should be emphasized that modern and effective mastering of the supplied weapons and technology is essential.  The same applies to aid provided to the security organs.


2.  As much as is possible, to examine and solve problems connected with provided economic assistance to Afghanistan, especially that which would accelerate and strengthen the political position of the revolutionary-democratic regime in the country.  To advise the Afghan leadership on developing the principal sectors of the economy which would strengthen the productive capacity of the country, resolve social problems, and provide employment to the population.


3.  In contacts with the leadership of the DRA at all levels to always emphasize the importance of widening the political base which supports the party and the government.  The importance of the consecutive implementation of the planned reforms, such as land reform, should be instilled in the leaders of the DRA.  This has to be done carefully, devoting essential attention to the political and ideological side of reform.  For example, the peasants should be convinced that they are getting the land only because of the revolution and will lose it if they will not protect the revolutionary authority.  Similar explanations should be made in cases of other socio-economic reforms.


To widen the political base of the PDPA, the Afghan leadership should be made to understand that it is essential to gradually create electoral organs, yet, of course,  the leading role of the party should be maintained and strengthened in the state and political structure of the country.  They should also understand that it is advisable to develop and enact a constitution which will secure the democratic rights of the people and regulate the activity of the state organs.


4.  It should be emphasized to the Afghan leadership that as the party ranks grow numerically, it is crucial to maintain the unity of the party leadership and membership.  They should also be reminded  about the advisability of collective decision-making on the most important issues along party and state lines.  The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and the leadership of DRA should be given practical assistance in establishing the party organization, spreading mass information, and preparing party and state cadres.


5.  To continue to draw the attention of the Afghan leadership to the necessity of carrying out appropriate work among the Muslim clergy of the country in order to fractionalize it and reduce the influence of reactionary Muslim leaders on the people.  This influence could be diminished by encouraging religious freedom and demonstrating that the new power does not persecute the clergy as a class, but only punishes those who act against the revolutionary system.


6.  The DRA leaders should be convinced of the necessity of the introduction and strict observance of law and order, based on revolutionary legality, as well as the necessity of a more reasonable approach to the use of repressive measures.  This does not mean, however, that repressive measures should not be used against true infidels or those who engage in active counterrevolutionary activity.  A person’s fate should not be decided on the basis of circumstantial and unverifiable evidence, or verdict by two- and three-man commissions, without a true investigation and trial.  This applies both to party and military cadres.


7.  Considering the importance of personal contacts in communicating our views and thoughts on the above questions to the DRA leadership, visits on various levels should be practiced on a more regular basis in order to normalize the situation in Afghanistan.


8.  To continue, along official diplomatic and special channels, to work against the interference of other countries, particular neighboring ones, in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.


9.  To help Afghan friends conduct political work among the people, including radio propaganda, which due to the high percentage of illiteracy plays a special role in Afghanistan.  


In our propaganda concerning Afghanistan, the traditional friendship and  wide base of mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries should be emphasized.   This relationship not only exists today, but will continue to develop in the future.  The achievements in socio-economic development of the Central Asian republics during the Soviet period should be described in a wide and clearly understandable manner; these republics should be used as an example to demonstrate the falsity of assertions concerning repression of religious expression, the Muslim faith included.


10.  To periodically inform brother socialist countries about our steps in aiding the leadership of DRA in stabilizing the situation in the country, thereby orienting them to render similar political and material support of Afghanistan.


Concrete proposals on the above positions, as well as any other measures, will be included as needed.


Please review these materials.


A. Gromyko.   

Y. Andropov.   

D. Ustinov.    

B. Ponomarev.


April 1, 1979

No 279/gs

No 25-S-576

The following CPSU Central Committee document, dated 1 April 1979 and signed by Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Defense Minister Dmitrii Ustinov, KGB chief Yurii Andropov, and CC International Department head Boris Ponomarev, provides a strikingly candid assessment of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan that the Soviet Politburo confronted in spring 1979. The report attributes the increasing success of the Islamic opposition (i.e., the Afghan Mujaheddin) to the “miscalculations and mistakes” of the PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) regime that seized power following the April 1978 “revolution.”

Document Information


RGANI (formerly TsKhSD), f. 89, per.14, dok. 28 [cited by Archive-Information Bulletin, 1993 as RGANI, op. 14, d. 27, ll. 11, copy, secret file, CC.] Translated for CWHIP by Loren Utkin.


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