Afghan Envoy Says Ethnic Rivalry Threatens a Peaceful Transition

AFGHANISTAN

RIVALRIES among rebel factions could provoke renewed fighting in Afghanistan as leaders try to form a transitional government to replace the crumbling communist regime, warns the Afghan ambassador to Russia.

The rebels, known as the mujahideen, have seized control of all major cities in Afghanistan, except the capital Kabul, following the ouster of President Najibullah in a palace coup April 16. What remains of the fast-decaying Kabul government, which was installed by the Soviet Union following its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, is negotiating with several mujahideen factions on a peaceful transfer of power, says Mohammad Daud Razmyar, the Afghan envoy in Moscow.

According to Mr. Razmyar, the biggest obstacle to ending the 14-year-old Afghan civil war is the ethnic and doctrinal differences between the two most powerful rebel factions; the Jamiat-i-Islami, led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, and the Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, of its leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Both groups have units positioned on the outskirts of the capital.

Foreign nations - particularly the United States, Russia, and Pakistan - must intensify efforts to broker an orderly transfer of power, otherwise there will be more bloodshed as factions battle to control Kabul, the envoy said.

"Afghanistan could become a second Lebanon and the war may only continue," Mr. Razmyar says. "Just as the former Soviet leadership made a mistake by sending in its Army, it would also be a mistake for the Western powers and other governments not to take a tough stand for peace."

United Nations peace negotiators have worked fast to secure an agreement between the government and mujahideen, but have met with only limited success. While Mr. Massoud has indicated the Jamiat would join a mujahideen transitional government, Mr. Hekmatyar of the Hezb refuses to participate in any rebel coalition. Instead, the Hezb has vowed to attack Kabul if the government does not hand over power to his group by April 26.

Spokesmen for Hekmatyar's Hezb faction have denounced Massoud for what the group says was collaboration with the communist government.

"He's an extremist," Mr. Razmyar, the Moscow envoy, said of Mr. Hekmatyar. "Even when there's a real chance for a peaceful solution, he's using the same old slogans."

The Jamiat and Hezb have battled each other for a variety of reasons for years - even as they were fighting the government and the Soviet forces supporting it. A central source of tension between the two is religion. Hekmatyar's views on Islam - the driving force behind the mujahideen war effort - are considered more strict than Massoud's, and the Hezb leadership has said it wants to establish a fundamentalist government.

According to Razmyar, lack of mujahideen unity played a large role in enabling Mr. Najibullah to remain in power for more than three years after the Soviet Army departed Afghanistan in 1989. Many had predicted his regime would collapse shortly after Moscow withdrew, but the action weakened the mujahideen's resolve, Razmyar claims.

"The exit of the [Soviet] Army took away the main reason for the holy war," he says. "Many commanders and the people felt there was no reason for the war."

Razmyar, who was a Politburo member of the ruling Watan Party before being dispatched to Moscow, also says an international arms embargo imposed on combatants Jan. 1 was not a factor in the government's rapid collapse.

Najibullah's seemingly sudden ouster was the result of more than a year of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by government and ruling party leaders, Razmyar says. The former president is reportedly preparing for exile in India.

"Unfortunately, until the very end [Najibullah] wanted to be the supreme leader," Razmyar continues. "He conducted himself in such a way that no one could accept it and, thus, he had to be removed."

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