Muslim states 'helpless' over Afghanistan

Muslim nations gathered here for their foreign ministers' conference are faced with an embarrassing reality: The Soviets remain in the neighboring Islamic state of Afghanistan.

Last January, just a month after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, they deplored the Soviet military move. The new pro-Soviet government in Kabul was suspended from the conference.

Now a year later they find the Soviet have increased their troop strength in Afghanistan and show every sign of digging in for a long stay, despite their strong and unyielding condemnation.

As a result, the conference -- attended by 39 Muslim nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has the status of a full member -- now appears ready to tilt in favor of a political solution to be explored and advanced by a high-level committee of Islamic foreign ministers.

The conferees also are expected, according to delegates and observers of the closed-door meeting, to soften their denunciation of the Soviet Union even as they maintain ranks on the demand for troop withdrawal.

Also predicted is an escalation of rhetoric against the United States for its naval buildup in the Persian Gulf and for its thwarted military hostage rescue mission and threatened economic sanctions against Iran.

The expected net results: condemnation of both superpowers for military action and meddling in the Islamic world, and efforts to distance the Muslim states from superpower rivalries.

"It is a situation in which we can look neither to the East nor to the West for our security and independence," said conference chairman Agha Shahi, foreign affairs advisor to Pakistan President Zia Ul-haq.

The Islamic world, he told the open inaugural session on Saturday, "has become the primary focus of contention between the two major powers. The oil resources of the Gulf are a prize which both would like to secure. They have built up their naval forces in its vicinity.

"Apart from the specter of superpower confrontation the countries of the region are haunted by the fear of further military interventions. The region could well be divided into spheres of influence depriving our countries of their political independence and sovereignty over their natural resources."

the shift in focus signaled by Mr. Shahi from the Soviets' Afghan incursion to a condemnation of both superpowers follows intensive Soviet lobbying, with Cuban assistance, for a softening of the strong stand adopted by the Islamic conference in January, as well as a growing sense of the futility of ringing moral denunciations.

The American attempt to rescue the Tehran hostages intensified the fears of global conflict breaking out in the heart of the Islamic world. In addition, Pakistan has been clearly alarmed by the heavy rhetorical pounding it has been getting from the Soviets for serving as a base for "aggression" against Afghanistan by Afghan rebels.

Pakistan's slim economic resources have been strained by the 750,000 Afghan refugees who have poured over its borders, and officials are concerned about clashes.

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