Afghanistan: No. 1 need is food
As the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan enters its sixth year, resistance fighters realize more so than before that they are in for a long struggle. For some time now, guerrilla commanders and Western observers have warned that drastic action is needed to help the civilians. If Moscow continues its policy of killing the Afghan people or forcing them out of the country, the resistance could well be brought to its knees over the next two or three years. Among the most immediate needs is a large-scale emergency relief program for the interior. Earlier this month five Paris-based voluntary aid groups (Aide Medicale Internationale, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Medecins du Monde, Guilde Europeene du Raid, and Afrane), in cooperation with American and European Afghan support groups, appealed for an initial $3 million to launch such an effort.
Based on reliable reports brought back by relief workers, doctors, and journalists from different parts of Afghanistan, the French agencies maintain that no fewer than 12 out of Afghanistan's 28 provinces are threatened by famine. An estimated half million Afghans, they say, are in danger of starving this winter.
While United Nations and other aid organizations provide aid to refugees in Pakistan, little outside help has gone to the 7 to 8 million people believed to be living in Afghanistan's resistance-dominated regions.
It is only over the past 12 months that the governments of France, Britain, Sweden, the United States, and other countries have begun to take effective steps toward alleviating the plight of those Afghans. For diplomatic reasons these governments prefer to operate through voluntary relief agencies.
The main reasons behind the threat of famine are:
* An intensification in 1984 of Soviet ground operations and aerial bombardments against prominent resistance regions, notably Herat, Kandahar, the Panjshair Valley, and the provinces surrounding Kabul, the capital. Areas near strategic highways and government bases have also suffered badly.
* The exodus of farmers from the countryside, which has caused growing food shortages. The abandonment of entire villages leaving no one to cultivate the fields or maintain fragile irrigation systems has already caused serious deterioration of agricultural infrastructures that may take years to rectify.
* Lack of rain in many areas, with drought conditions prevailing in western Afghanistan.
Although some areas remain virtually untouched by war, almost everyone in the country is vulnerable to Soviet attack or various economic and political pressures aimed at breaking resistance resolve.
''For the past five years, we have witnessed the steady depopulation of a country that is being laid waste by a brutal occupation army,'' said a spokesman for the Guilde Europeene du Raid. ''If we do not help now, then we might as well sit back and watch one of the most repressive moral and physical annihilations of a people since the Second World War.''
From January on, the French groups plan to send in the first of a series of missions to bring food, boots and clothing, medication, fertilizers, seeds, and other supplies to critical zones accessible in winter. Because of snow, some badly stricken provinces such as Badakhshan and Takhar cannot be helped until spring.
Much of this aid, the relief organizers say, will be sent as cash directly to proven resistance commanders for purchases in the government-controlled bazaars.
In the long term, Western aid organizations and observers have emphasized the need for substantial outside support to help the resistance organize itself politically and socially. This includes the setting up of effective infrastructures for relief to the interior.
Furthermore, selective financial backing of promising internal commanders and political organizations based in Peshawar, Pakistan, could encourage a greater degree of unity, possibly leading to a strong, majority-supported centrist alliance. Some of the political leaders have found themselves tied to the more extreme Muslim fundamentalists because they lack alternative outside funding.
The resistance does not have the expertise or resources to combat the ''Sovietization'' of Afghanistan.
''All we have to offer is war,'' says Mohammed es-Haq, Mr. Massoud's foreign-affairs representative. ''We have to go beyond that. In modern guerrilla warfare, one needs to train good fighters but also teachers, doctors, organizers , and even office workers.''
A variety of aid proposals based on private and government initiatives are now being studied in Western Europe and North America. These include:
* Creation of a free Afghan university based in Pakistan. This could serve as a valuable resistance forum and it would bolster guerrilla ranks with qualified men. The option of Afghan faculties of medicine, engineering, languages, and Islamic studies plus a teachers' training college in Pakistan could draw students and lecturers away from the now thoroughly Sovietized University of Kabul.
* Creation of a fund to set up primary and secondary schools, pay teachers' salaries inside Afghanistan, and set up a literacy and health program in resistance areas.
* Permanent funding, technical expertise, and equipment for Radio Free Kabul. Previous efforts foundered because of poor management and lack of money.
* Financial and advisory backing for more effectively organized offices to deal with the press and relief coordination. Also, the setting up of political representations in London, Paris, New York, and some Mideast countries.
Chart: Helping Afghan civilians
Some US-based voluntary agencies supporting emergency relief effort for Afghanistan:
1. Afghanistan Relief Committee
345 Park Avenue Suite 4100
New York, N.Y. 10154
Tel. (212) 355-2931
2. Afghanistan Information Center
Wilkie Memorial Building
20 W. 40 Street
New York, N.Y. 10018
3. American Aid for Afghans
6443 S.W. Beaverton Highway
Portland, Ore. 97221
Tel. (503) 638-5345
4.Dignity of Man Foundation
P.O. Box 4344
Walnut Creek, Calif. 94596