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1988: USSR pledges to leave Afghanistan
The Soviet Union has signed an agreement pledging to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

The pact, drawn up in negotiations between the United States, the USSR, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was signed in a United Nations ceremony in the Swiss capital, Geneva.

It ends nine years of occupation by the Soviet Union, who intervened in 1979 to prop up the struggling communist government.

The subsequent confrontation has drawn in the United States and Afghanistan's neighbours.

Delicate negotiations

Today's agreement provides for a gradual Russian withdrawal, phased over nine months.

But critics have pointed out that it still allows the Soviet Union and the United States to continue arming the two sides in the Afghan civil war.

Today's signing ceremony was itself fraught with complications and required some delicate negotiations to get all four parties around the table.

The Pakistan and Afghanistan groups have so far never met face to face.

One UN official commented, "Getting them to agree where to sit is almost as difficult as getting the agreement in the first place."

Elaborate schedule

In the end, an elaborate and precise 21-minute schedule was drawn up.

The UN Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, came in first, followed by the Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers who entered the room simultaneously from separate doors.

They sat either side of Mr Perez de Cuellar.

There was then a similar arrangement for the US Secretary of State and his Soviet counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Threat of anarchy

Resistance leaders are furious that they were excluded from the Geneva talks.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, chairman of the seven-party mujahideen alliance, attacked the accord as defective, unpracticable and ineffective.

He dismissed the entire UN-sponsored peace process as a waste of time, saying the agreement would ensure that what he called "an illegitimate puppet regime" would remain in place in Kabul.

Critics believe Afghanistan will slip into anarchy after the Russians leave, as war continues between the Soviet-backed Communist government of President Sayid Mohammed Najibullah and the seven mujahideen rebel groups.

But UN mediator Diego Cordovez was confident the pact would hold, and rejected fears that a bloodbath would follow the departure of the Soviet army.

"Things will start changing now," he said. "There will be a fundamental change of attitude among all the people."

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Guerrilla fighter in Afghanistan
Leaders of rebel Mujahidin fighters have been excluded from the talks

In Context
The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in February 1989.

As predicted, a long period of civil war followed.

The mujahideen overthrew President Najibullah in 1992. Rival mujahideen factions then spent the next four years vying for control, until the Pashtun-dominated Taleban seized control of Kabul in 1996.

They instituted a hardline version of Islam, banning women from work and introducing punishments such as amputation and stoning.

Following the September 11 attacks in America in 2001, the Taleban refused to hand over the man believed to be responsible, Osama bin Laden.

Their stand meant Afghanistan became the first battleground in the so-called war against terror.

The US and Britain launched airstrikes against Afghanistan later that year, and the Taleban was driven from power within months.

An interim government under Hamid Karzai was sworn in in December 2001.

In presidential elections in 2004, he was elected president with 55% of the vote.

He leads a country whose economy and infrastructure are in ruins.

Many parts of the country are still controlled by regional warlords and their private militias, while attacks by Taleban remnants and militant groups continue.

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