JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN — SUPPORT for radical Pushtun commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is growing in eastern Afghanistan, as mujahideen rebel commanders controlling the country's third city, Jalalabad, pledged their support for him. They are willing to join Mr. Hekmatyar in his drive against the militia who remain in the capital, Kabul, they say.
"If the militia don't get out of the city, we will go to Kabul to fight against them," says rebel commander Mohammad Sidiq, whose troops are part of a 15,000-strong mujahideen force in Jalalabad, 57 miles east of Kabul. Mujahideen forces now control the interim government in Kabul, but militia forces that once protected the Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah remain armed and have reached an accommodation with the ruling mujahideen coalition.
In this area, Afghanistan's fractured rebel groups are uniting in their hatred of the militia. This is strengthening the hand of Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, which has violently opposed any compromise with the militia forces.
"These are beasts, these people," says a Hekmatyar spokesman in Peshawar, referring to the militia. "We cannot allow them to hold any power in the new government.
Hekmatyar controls the eastern approaches to Kabul, including the dam at Sirobi about 30 miles east of Kabul which supplies the capital with electricity and water, his spokesman says. Mujahideen forces at Sirobi underlined their potential control over Kabul on May 1 by capturing an emergency supply of wheat from Pakistan and holding it for two days, the spokesman adds.
Hezb-i-Islami's influence also is growing in the Afghan refugee camps over the border in neighboring Pakistan. The party has circulated stories of the militia's atrocities among the 3 million Afghans in Pakistan. As a result many refugees are thinking more of revenge than the much-celebrated peace.
"I didn't lose four brothers in the jihad [holy war] only to join hands with these people," says Syed Rauf, a refugee in Nasir Bagh camp outside Peshawar.
Afghan groups appeared unified May 4 when a massive convoy of about 200 trucks and jeeps filled with heavily armed mujahideen from Peshawar made it through to Kabul.
The column was escorting Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the dominant Afghan party Jamiat-i-Islami, or Islamic Society, to Kabul. According to an agreement among mujahideen coalition groups, Mr. Rabbani is to become president of Afghanistan in two months, replacing the interim leadership of Sibghatullah Mojadedi. His arrival is expected boost support for Mr. Mojadedi's Islamic government in Kabul.
Beyond the border post at Torkham, the Afghans stopped to give thanks for an end to their country's 14-year Islamic jihad against a Soviet-backed government in Kabul and then the Soviet invaders themselves. As the convoy traveled through opium poppy fields and apple orchards on the road to Jalalabad, local mujahideen fighters let off welcoming salvos of heavy-caliber antiaircraft fire. Crowds ran out from dusty hamlets to greet the entourage, shouting religious slogans in encouragement.
The convoy's reception suggested that there is little enmity between mujahideen groups in the countryside, even as Hekmatyar forces continued shelling militia positions in Kabul. Virtually every vehicle in the convoy flew the flags of Persian-speaking parties, yet they were warmly greeted along the Jalalabad highway by supporters of Pushto-speaking Hekmatyar.
The convoy slowed to a crawl passing through the minefields around Jalalabad. Normally exuberant Afghan drivers formed a disciplined single file. Scorched craters pockmarked the road, while small piles of stones marked the whereabouts of unexploded mines under the road.
However, the enthusiasm of the returning Afghans contrasted with the state of the country. The pitted road was littered with abandoned tanks, empty shell cases, and burned-out field guns.
In Jalalabad itself many buildings are still covered with bullet holes. Window frames hang broken and empty, senior schools are closed, and mujahideen troops occupy the main hospital and hotel. Some shops and offices are open for business but the streets are quiet.
"A lot of people are staying at home," says Najibullah, a Jalalabad student. "They are afraid of the mujahideen."
Jalalabad has been run since elections on April 26 by a 50-member shura, or council, led by a coalition of Pushtun-dominated parties. They have allowed some members of the former regime to stay. Traffic police still stand on street corners wearing their government uniforms, but the main government militia was disbanded and sent back to Kabul.