TWO points need to be made about Afghanistan. The first is that the pending Soviet withdrawal is not coming about because of new leadership in Moscow, or because the Soviets have suddenly been overtaken by remorse or a wave of reforming liberalism. It is coming about because the Soviets have failed to break the guerrilla resistance; they are in a military mess and have decided it is time to cut their losses.Skip to next paragraph
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Soviet withdrawal, if it actually takes place, will be a tribute to the incredible bravery of the resisting Afghan people, and to a consistency and fortitude on the part of the United States, and others, in keeping the guerrillas armed.
The second is that Afghanistan, after the Soviets depart, is not necessarily going to be a land of tranquillity and democracy. This warning has been offered in this column before. The West should have reasonable expectations, but not outlandish ones. The transition from communist dictatorship to Jeffersonian democracy is unlikely to come overnight.
The Afghan resistance hates its country's communist invaders, who have been so brutal, who have taken such terrible toll in human life, and who have sent millions of Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. That does not mean that the various guerilla factions are united or that the ``freedom'' they seek is based on traditional Western democratic concepts.
In other words, don't be surprised if Afghan politics get a little messy after the Soviet departure. The players are tough and sometimes mean, as they have proved in fighting the Soviets. This may not be all to the good, but what follows will likely be substantially better for most Afghans than what has been happening under Soviet occupation.
What we will witness is a struggle for power. Although the major countries involved with Afghanistan are paying at least lip service to the concept of a ``nonaligned'' Afghanistan, it is a country on the border of the Soviet Union and it is inconceivable that the Soviets will not try to retain influence there.
Lally Weymouth, reporting in the Washington Post on a visit to Kabul, said she found the diplomatic community ``surprisingly united'' in the conviction that the Soviets are not likely to withdraw - and that even if they do withdraw some troops, Soviet influence will not disappear.
The Soviets have signed some 300 economic treaties with the Afghan government, and hope that the next government will honor them. In addition, Soviet leaders have made it plain they expect to maintain some 9,000 advisers in Afghanistan even after a troop pullout.
Although US Secretary of State George Shultz says some ``delicate and tense'' negotiations are still required to complete a peace agreement, the Reagan administration is generally upbeat about the prospects for a Soviet pullout over a 10-month period, beginning in May.
Those negotiations will reach a critical stage next week in Geneva when Pakistan and Afghanistan resume their indirect talks intended to end the war.
Pakistan has lately suggested formation of a coalition government in Afghanistan before any final settlement. With a possible Soviet withdrawal looming, the Pakistanis are becoming fretful about the prospect of an Afghanistan on their borders riven by civil war. The guerrillas are even more recalcitrant, demanding a coalition government among themselves, perhaps including some Muslims from Kabul, but excluding communists.
Thus though the USSR and the US seem eager to get Afghanistan behind them, agreement could still be elusive, and what follows could still be tempestuous.
John Hughes will resume his column March 9.