Why did the USSR invade Afghanistan?

By Sunil Kumar

The year was December 1979. The Cold War was still on; with the USA and the USSR competing for global influence. Both were equally paranoid; wanting practically every country on the globe to fall into their camp.

The US had successfully courted Egypt; Saudi Arabia, Israel and with Pakistan under General Zia also eager to prove himself as an ally to the West; the USSR feared the loss of another proxy government to the enemy.

Afghanistan as you know is nearly entirely Muslim; but a communist government under Nur Mohammed Taraki had been in power since 1978.

The party in power; the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had two factions; the majority Khalqists and a minority the Parachmites. To maintain power; Taraki started massacring and locking up dissidents and civilians.

His radical Marxist reforms were not welcome in a deeply conservative society with a history of struggle against a strong central government apart from the communist policy of displacing the landed classes; who always tend to be powerful and react strongly.

Taraki had a strong enemy within his majority faction in the form of Hafizullah Amin. Contrary to popular perception; the Soviet Union invaded the country only after being initially reluctant to do so. Taraki had urged Brezhnev; the top leader of the Soviet Union at the time to do so repeatedly; but they refused to get involved.

After Taraki was “murdered” by his opponent Amin; the Soviet Union faced a challenge in Amin who tried to play both sides; wanting to keep the Russians happy as well as improve relations with the US. Iran and Pakistan.

The KGB under Yuri Andropov were threatened by Taraki who seemed to be rejecting communism and atheism; and trying to become more friendly with the West and its satellite states. Another goal was removing Amin who was now a major irritant to the USSR.

Despite Brezhnev’s initial reluctance; Andropov managed to persuade the Soviet leadership to invade Afghanistan to protect their strategic interests and attempt to prop up a regime friendly to Moscow.

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