These imports were vital to the Afghan economy. Most of the country's food consumption was supplied by domestic production, but wheat imports from the Soviet Union in the 1980s were thought to be at least 200,000 tons annually. They were averting serious shortages in the government-controlled cities. In addition, imports from the Soviet Union supplied most of the sugar consumed, and Indian tea met all domestic demand for tea. Imports also satisfied most of the country's nonfood consumer goods demands, and import laws were relatively liberal. Finally, imports provided almost all capital and intermediate goods upon which its nascent industry depended. All of the refined petroleum products came from the Soviet Union, as did transport machinery. Factory machinery came from all over Eastern Europe.
Afghanistan's gradual integration into the Soviet sphere was easily observable in the shift in the supply sources for its imports. During the mid-1970s bilateral trade agreements with members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) provided from 25 to 33 percent of Afghanistan's imports; of these the Soviet Union supplied 21 to 38 percent each year. After 1978, however, the share of the Soviet Union more than doubled, so that by 1981 it provided about 65 percent of Afghanistan's imports. Bilateral deals with Eastern Europe provided 68 percent of the total commercial and aid financed import bill.
Meanwhile, imports from Afghanistan's Western trade partners declined,
as did their share of the Afghan import market. Japan's share fell from
19 percent in 1977 to 9 percent in 1981, the Federal Republic of Germany's
(West Germany's) from 7 to 2 percent and Britain's from 4 to 2 percent.
American imports, which had been as high as 12 percent in 1973, fell to
less than 1 percent in 1981. At the same time, imports from Afghanistan's
two main regional trading partners also declined in significance. In the
mid-1970s Pakistani imports accounted for 3 to 5 percent of total imports
into Afghanistan; in 1981 they constituted only 1 percent. India, which
had supplied 5 to 10 percent in the 1970s, provided only 2 percent in
1981. By the 1980s Soviet products dominated the Afghan market for all
sorts of goods ranging from tractors and vehicles to soap and fertilizer.