Chowni, Afghanistan — During the turbulent events of the past two weeks in Pakistan, a Monitor correspondent traveled inside neighboring Afghanistan where he found that many Afghans feel the loss of the Pakistani leader deeply. From their mountain stronghold here, Afghan guerrillas watched with mild curiosity as rockets and flares from weapons of antigovernment tribesmen on the Pakistani side of the border streaked across the night sky.
Only later that night did the mujahideen, as the Afghan resistance fighters are known, learn that members of Pakistan's Turri Shiite sect were celebrating the death of President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.
For many mujahideen, who have been at war against the Soviet-backed Kabul regime for more than a decade, the news of President Zia's death Aug. 17 came as a profound shock. Crouched over radios tuned into Pashto or Persian-language services of the BBC, the Voice of America, and other international shortwave stations, some wept openly. Others worried that Pakistan's support for the resistance may now change.
``For us Afghans, losing President Zia is almost worse than losing our father,'' said Jan Agha, an engineer active with the mujahideen. ``He has done so much for our people, our country and our jihad [holy war].''
The Afghans - almost all Sunni Muslims - were angered by the response of the tribesmen in Pakistan's Kurram Agency to Zia's demise. According to local officials, Afghan mujahideen and refugees have been involved in the Sunni-Shiite violence that has since wracked the agency. More than a dozen deaths and scores of wounded have been reported since Aug. 19.
Turri tribesmen, who were in the majority until some 300,000 primarily Sunni Afghan refugees converged on Kurram, opposed the former President's introduction of Sunni sharia (Islamic law). Since then, armed clashes between Pakistani Sunni and Shiites tribesmen as well as Afghans have erupted.
``The trouble is that too many weapons have been entering the agency. It is becoming like Beirut with the types of weapons available,'' said a Pakistan Army major. Arms are being supplied to dissident Shiite groups by the Kabul regime, he added.
Under Zia, Pakistan aided more than 3 million refugees and allowed the mujahideen to operate from Pakistani soil. Almost from the start of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979, Pakistan channeled hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign military and humanitarian aid to the resistance.
``We don't know what will happen, whether this will all change,'' said Hajii Fakir, a farmer from Kwaja Khel, a hillside village that now lies abandoned after years of bombardment by Soviet-Afghan forces.
``We must go on fighting until the Shouravi [Soviets] and the communists in Kabul are thrown out,'' Mr. Fakir said. ``We hope the new leaders in Pakistan will continue to help... .'' One of the few refugees to have returned to this region since the Soviets began pulling out in May, Fakir now operates a chaikhana (tea house) and scrap-metal shop.
Fakir says he cannot bring his family back to Kwaja Khel until the mines in his fields have been cleared and he has rebuilt his house. In the meantime, there is a constant to-and-fro of supplies to resistance-controlled areas.
Although Pakistan has sought to make its support for the resistance less obvious since April's Geneva accords - the mujahideen have moved most of their weapons' stocks inside Afghanistan - the guerrillas are still permitted largely unhindered crossborder access.
Resistance representatives, however, fear that Pakistan's almost enthusiastic support under Zia for the mujahideen could change in coming weeks. Acting President Ghulam Ishaq, has voiced a desire for the Afghans to accept a broadbased coalition government as a means to end the war. Most guerrilla commanders refuse to include members of the present Kabul regime.
The death, too, of Lt. Gen. Mian Muhammad Afzal in the crash worries Afghans. Afzal was in charge of crossborder support through Pakistan's military intelligence service. In the past six months, Western diplomats and resistance sources say, the service had often planned and even directed attacks with mujahideen in border areas.