Winding Down the Afghan War

AFTER more than 12 years of fighting, the guns may soon fall silent in Afghanistan.

The conflict, which has cost 1 million lives and sent about 6 million refugees fleeing into Pakistan, began in 1979 with the Soviet Army's invasion to prop up a puppet regime in Kabul. The United States and Pakistan countered Moscow's incursion with extensive military aid to the mujahideen guerrillas that were battling the Soviet and Afghan government forces. Against all expectations that the guerrillas would sweep to victory after the Red Army withdrew in 1989, however, the military stalemate has contin ued.

At last, conditions that could bring about an end to the war have emerged. They include the battlefield standoff, political infighting among the major factions of the mujahideen, the decisions last year in Washington and Moscow to cut off military aid to the belligerents, and, now, Pakistan's decision to end its support of the guerrillas and to back a United Nations plan for a negotiated settlement.

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Pakistan's abandonment of its attempt to establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Kabul reflects post-cold-war developments in the region. Islamabad is eager to establish economic and political links to the Muslim republics formerly in the Soviet Union, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The moderate governments of the Central Asian republics oppose the establishment of a radical regime on their southern borders.

Moreover, Pakistan wants to improve its frayed relations with the US, which has embargoed military aid to Islamabad owing to Pakistan's advanced nuclear-weapons development program. Besides changing its policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan has agreed to new curbs on its nuclear program.

The road to peace in Afghanistan is still strewn with obstacles, however. Some guerrilla factions strongly oppose the UN plan, which would set up a broad-based interim government to oversee free elections. The US, Pakistan, and other nations need to throw their full weight behind the UN effort.

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