Afghan guerrilla dilemma: how to respond to Kabul? Fighters seek counter-plan to official cease-fire

The Afghan government's apparent peace initiative is provoking considerable confusion among guerrilla groups fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Shortly after the Kabul regime's unilateral cease-fire went into effect yesterday, Afghan leader Mohammad Najibullah reportedly announced that his government and the Soviet Union had reached an agreement paving the way for withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The Afghan leader, however, gave no details. A specific withdrawal timetable is considered crucial in determining whether the plan would be acceptable to the guerrillas and to the West.

While Afghan guerrillas attacked several government posts Thursday, their leaders, based in Pakistan, were reportedly trying to hammer out a response to Kabul's recent moves. They say they are planning a ``historic announcement'' in Peshawar, Pakistan, tomorrow.

The Afghan resistance leaders, most of whom cooperate in a seven-party alliance, initially rejected Kabul's Jan. 1 offer to join in a coalition government. Instead, the guerrillas proposed direct talks with Moscow to end the Soviet occupation, now in its eighth year. But over the past week, the resistance leaders appear to have realized they need a more constructive response than ``no'' to the six-month cease-fire proposal, for the sake of their standing at home and abroad.

Most indications suggest that, while hatred for the occupation remains deep, many Afghans are feeling considerable war fatigue. Already, hopes of returning home have spread among the 3 million refugees in Pakistan, sources say. Many refugees have been changing their money into Afghan currency and have stopped building homes in the camps, sources say.

Even if the Moscow-Kabul move is only a ploy to strengthen Kabul's position and further divide the mujahideen, as Afghan partisans are known, the Kremlin has achieved a distinct political advantage, admit some resistance sources privately.

Moscow may be sincere in its wishes to withdraw from Afghanistan as part of Soviet leader Mikahil Gorbachev's glasnost (openness) policy, experienced observers in Paris and London feel. But, most agree, the initiative is part of a subtle and effective propaganda push to improve the Kabul government's image.

In particular, they see Moscow as trying to improve its bargaining position for the Feb. 11 UN-sponsored indirect talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Kabul is not necessarily in a position of strength as it claims, observers say. The guerrillas control most of the countryside and are active in or around all towns. Few doubt that the communist regime, which suffers from internecine strife, would fall without Soviet support. Hence previous Soviet offers of a three-to-four-year pullout timetable have been rejected by the mujahideen and their backers as too long. Pakistan says several months should do; the guerrillas say ``weeks.''

``Soviet strategy remains a long-term one and they will only leave under terms favorable to them, notably a pro-Moscow government securely installed in Afghanistan,'' a French analyst says. ``So they are trying to convince world opinion that the Kabul regime is legitimate ... and portray the mujahideen as intransigent if they don't agree to the cease-fire.''

As a result, observers say, unless the mujahideen can counter the proposals with a more plausible strategy of their own, the resistance will suffer. So far, the two major parties in the war, the Soviets and the Afghan resistance, are not directly involved in the UN peace talks.

Some analysts consider this essential to any successful peace agreement. A precedent for direct Soviet-Afghan resistance negotiations was established in 1983 when guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud agreed to a 16-month cease-fire with the Soviet Army, to Kabul's consternation. Afghan Communist Party leaders reportedly feared Moscow would make its own deals with the resistance and bypass the party.

From the mujahed point of view, Dr. Najib, as the Afghan leader is commonly known, is little more than a Soviet-imposed surrogate. Last May, the Soviets replaced former President Babrak Karmal with Najib. As former head of the dreaded Afghan security police, they felt Najib would prove more adept at broadening the government's minority base.

In a recent appeal to Afghans, particularly refugees, Radio Kabul announced a readiness for ``open talks,'' adding ``you are welcome in any village, in any town, and our leaders will receive you....''

Observers say that some guerrilla, village, tribal, and even Peshawar-based leaders may accept Kabul's offer. Afghan diplomats stress that a coalition would include even ``extremists.'' The bottom line, says one, is acceptance of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Some observers say even if resistance leaders take part in a coalition, they would eventually be forced out.

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