MOSCOW — Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze ended his high-level mission to Afghanistan on Wednesday and again stated the Soviet Union's position that it is ready to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan if outsiders will stop providing military aid to the rebel forces there.
Shevardnadze said that Moscow is reviewing with Afghan leaders a phased withdrawal of Soviet troops, estimated to number 115,000, in the hope of ending the lengthy guerrilla war.
He and Anatoly F. Dobrynin, a senior Kremlin foreign policy expert and former longtime ambassador to Washington, returned to Moscow on Wednesday after two days of talks in Kabul, the Afghan capital. They are the highest-ranking Soviet officials to visit Kabul since Soviet troops were sent in seven years ago to bolster a Moscow-installed regime.
The sudden visit, which caught Western observers in the Soviet capital by surprise, appeared to be aimed at underscoring a cease-fire proposal put forth by the Afghan leader, Najib, which has been rejected by leaders of the Muslim guerrillas on grounds that it would shore up the Soviet-backed government there.
Najib said that Afghan army units--and presumably their Red Army allies--would return to their bases Jan. 15 under a six-month truce if rebel units respected the cease-fire. But he made it clear that Afghan government troops would fire back if attacked.
Shevardnadze, in an interview with Bakhtar, the official Afghan news agency, as much as acknowledged that the cease-fire proposal will fail. Referring to the rebels' rejection, he said:
"By countering reconciliation with irreconcilability, they have demonstrated once again what has long been obvious, namely, that the cease-fire is opposed by those who are backed by imperialism, the forces who aren't in the least concerned about what will happen to Afghanistan and which make their policy on Afghans' blood."
Bid to Improve Image
Western diplomats here said the Soviet Union is trying to improve its poor image in the Muslim world by championing peace and national reconciliation in Afghanistan.
They said the Shevardnadze-Dobrynin trip was also aimed at influencing the next round of indirect talks on the war, being held under U.N. auspices, between representatives of the Kabul government and Pakistan. The next round is scheduled to begin Feb. 11 in Geneva.
Shevardnadze told the Afghan news agency that a political settlement of the fighting "depends primarily on an end to outside interference and on guarantees of its nonresumption." He referred to arms and equipment supplied to the guerrillas by the United States, Pakistan, Iran, China and other countries.
Optimistic on Accord
But again he expressed optimism that a political deal could be struck to end the war, saying:
"We believe that a political settlement is not a remote prospect but a reality of today. The issue of withdrawing the Soviet troops is being considered by us and the government of democratic Afghanistan accordingly. This event is not far off; it is only needed that in neighboring countries they also realize what is in their interests and what isn't."
He appealed to Pakistan and Iran, neighbors of Afghanistan, to halt their support for the Afghan guerrillas.
"A settlement in Afghanistan," he said, "will benefit both Pakistan and Iran, which should be vitally interested in the existence of a nonaligned and independent friendly neighboring country."
Last October, the Soviet Union announced the withdrawal of six regiments from Afghanistan, but, according to U.S. officials, these troops were replaced and the overall level of Soviet strength in Afghanistan has not changed.
Najib, who replaced Babrak Karmal as first secretary of the ruling party in Afghanistan last May, conferred with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev last month before he put forth his cease-fire proposal on New Year's Eve.
In contrast to past policy, Najib also offered to negotiate with rebel leaders and even invited monarchists to join in a coalition government.