The Geneva Accords, 1987-89

The Geneva Accords, 1987-89

By the beginning of 1987, the controlling fact in the Afghan war was theSoviet Union's determination to withdraw. It would not renege on its commitmentto the Kabul government's survival--Gorbachev's options were restricted bySoviet military insistence that Kabul not be abandoned. Nevertheless, the Sovietleadership was convinced that resolution of cold war issues with the West andinternal reform were far more urgent than the fate of the Kabul government.

Conveniently, a formula was readily available for minimizing the humiliationof reversing a policy in which enormous political, material, and human capitalhad been invested. In 1982 under the auspices of the office of its secretarygeneral, the UN had initiated negotiations facilitating a Soviet withdrawal fromAfghanistan. Its format had essentially been agreed upon by 1985. Ostensibly itwas the product of indirect negotiations between the DRA and Pakistan (Pakistandid not recognize the DRA) with the mediation of the secretary general's specialrepresentative, Diego Cordovez. The United States and the Soviet Union hadcommitted themselves to guaranteeing the implementation of an agreement leadingto a withdrawal.

Both the format and the substance of the agreement were designed to beacceptable to the Soviet Union and the DRA. Its clauses included affirmation ofthe sovereignty of Afghanistan and its right to self-determination, its right tobe free from foreign intervention or interference, and the right of its refugeesto a secure and honorable return. But at its core was an agreement reached inMay 1988 that authorized the withdrawal of "foreign troops" accordingto a timetable that would remove all Soviet forces by February 15, 1989.

The accords emerged from initiatives by Moscow and Kabul in 1981. They hadclaimed that Soviet forces had entered Afghanistan in order to protect it fromforeign forces intervening on the side of rebels attempting to overthrow theDRA. The logic of the Geneva Accords was based on this accusation, that is, thatonce the foreign threat to Afghanistan was removed, the forces of its friend,the Soviet Union, would leave. For that reason a bilateral agreement betweenPakistan, which was actively supporting the resistance, and the DRA prohibitingintervention and interference between them was essential. In meticulous detaileach party agreed to terminate any act that could remotely effect thesovereignty or security of the other. This agreement included preventing anexpatriate or a refugee from publishing a statement which his/her governmentcould construe as a contribution to unrest within its territory. The bilateralagreement between the Afghanistan and Pakistan on the principles ofnon-interference and non-intervention was signed on April 14, 1988.

The accords thus facilitated a withdrawal by an erstwhile superpower, in amanner which justified an invasion. They exemplify the delicacy of UN diplomacywhen the interests of a great power are engaged. In essence, the accords were apolitical bailout for a government struggling with the consequences of a costlyerror. The UN could not insist that accusations of national culpability wererelevant to the negotiations. In the case of Afghanistan, the Soviet Unioninsisted on its own diplomatic terms as did the United States in a differentmanner concerning Vietnam.

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