Afghans struggle to present united front

The recently created Afghan guerrilla alliance may be as shaky as ever, but its six leaders are conscientiously persevering in their attempts to hammer out their political differences in the hopes of establishing a firm, united front.

The Peshawar-based guerrilla groups officially created their Islamic Alliance for the Liberation of Afghanistan at the end of January in order to proclaim loudly to the Muslim world their ability to mount an effective, well-organized resistance to the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.

In desperate need of financial and military aid to fight the Russians, the guerrilla leaders hoped to rally to their cause participants at last month's three-day Islamic conference on Afghanistan in the Pakistani capital.

But things did not quite work out that way. Even while they were making the public announcement of the alliance, the leaders unashamedly resumed the bickering that has kept them apart for the past two years. And skepticl Muslim nations attending the conference agreed to lend their support only on the condition that the six Afghaan factions elaborate a charter for the formation of a supreme council by March 1. No charter, no money.

Furthermore, insisted the Islamic countries, it funds are to be forthcoming, the supreme council must be more than just a showpiece. It must serve as a viable, well-coordinated organization that can bring together Afghanistan's scattered mujahideen, or guerrilla warrior, forces under one solid military command.

Even the guerrilla leaders, who seem to spend more time attacking their compatriots in the other parties than the Kabul regime, have come to realize that without common leadership, they can never hope to defeat the communists and establish a united Islamic republic, which, they all claim, is their ultimate goal.

The six leaders involved in the discussions at present are: Sayed Ahmad Gailani (Hizb-e Inqilab-e Islam-e Afghanistan); Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Hizb-e Islam); Sebratullah Mojadidi (Jibbeh Nijat-e Milli); Burhanuddin Rabbani (Jamiat-e Islam); Mauliwi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi (Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami); Al-haj Din Muhammad (Hizb-e Islam, Maulawi Khalis group).

The factions, whose political colors range from Mr. Gailani's moderately progressive, Western-oriented but thoroughly Islamic national front to Mr. Hekmatyar's publicity-conscious, fanatically religious and conservative Islamic party, have been meeting to negotiate almost daily since Feb. 3 at one another's headquarters in this raucous, frontier bazaar town.

Although the gravity of the situation following the Dec. 27 Russian invasion at last seems to be impressing itself on each of the factions, the leaders are finding it severely problematic to place national interests above their own factional interests.

Their political divisions remain deep, and no one faction seems willing to yield to another for fear of losing control. Each leader sees himself as the savior of Afghanistan.

"WE are just going along, because we have no choice," said one Hizb-e Islam partisan close to Hekmatyar. "We need the money and the arms, so we have to stand together for the world to see. But we will not combine our forces." Similar thoughts are voiced by almost every other faction.

Political divisions among the Afghans historically have run along tribal lines. Today, in a country of 14 to 17 million people, the situation is no different. With at least seven major ethnic groups, it is not easy to speak of "Afghan nationalism" in one sweeping gesture.

But as hatred for the atheistic communists in Kabul and their Soviet cohorts increases, the guerrillas are finding this to be their strongest binding element. Hatred may eventually provide the required unity to fight the Soviets, but it seems doubtful that it will provide a healthy atmosphere for the creation of a peacetime government once the communists are thrown out.

Already, the negotiations appear to be revolving around two central figures: Gailani and Hekmatyar.Much ill-feeling was caused among the other groups when several Gulf countries, possibly including Iran, allowed some funds (less than $ 1 million) to filter in to provide relief aid to the parties of these two men.

The neglected leaders felt that the money should have been donated to the alliance as a whole. But the gesture also indicates that Gailani and Hekmatyar have established themselves in the eyes of these Muslim countries as the leading contenders for control of the council.

The most ticklish problem for the moment is how to decide which of the groups has the largest following. They all agree that this should be the criterion for choosing the chairman of the council. But each group claims the largest following for itself.

Gailani, whose support is mainly tribal, feels that the tribal leaders of Afghanistan should be invited to Pakistan to vote for an overall leader in a giant jirga (assembly). This undoubtedly would give him control.

Hekmatyar is adamantly opposed to this. Leadership should be based on numbers, he says. Hizb-e Islam is the most organized and disciplined of all the groups, and therefore creates the impression of being the most effective.

In reality, however, it is virtually impossible to determine how many mujahideen each group commands.

In an effort to legitimate their followings, the six groups issue identity cards to their supporters. But they all quote absurdly high membership figures, and there is no way of knowing how many of these supporters are armed.

An additional factor is that some groups are more conspicuously representated in certain Afghan provinces than in others. This only confuses the overall issue on how much influence each faction wields.

Based on my own observations inside Afghanistan, many mujahideen appear to be fighting for their maliks or chiefs against the atheistic "nonbelievers" rather than under the command of a political group.

Futhermore, I was struck by the large number of fighters who could name neither the parties nor their leaders in Peshawar. One therefore questions to what extent these parties do, in fact, play a role in Afghanistan.

But with growing numbers of Afghan refugees flocking across the borders every dy -- there are now an estimated 750,000 refugees in Pakistani camps -- the Islamabad government is becoming increasingly perplexed by its unwanted guests. The fact nearly 100,000 Soviets have installed themselves on Pakistan's doorstep is not doing the situation much good either.

Constantly trying to avoid provoking the Russians over the mujahideen presence in Peshawar, the Pakistanis repeatedly deny that they are encouraging the establishment of an Afghan government-in-exile on their soil. "We only provide the Afghans with humanitarian aid," emphasized one government official. "We are not supporting the insurgency politically or militarily."

Although they refer to the Afghan situation as a "regional affair," it is blatantly evident that the Pakistanis would like to see the Afghans form a united council as soon as possible. The responsibility could then be shoved into other hands. "It is a problem to be dealt with by all Islamic nations," Pakistani officials tell you.

Up till now the Pakistanis have been de facto supporting the mujahideen by tolerating their political activities. "Quite frankly," whispered one official, "we don't mind what they do, as long as they don't get us into hot water with those chaps across the border." But a truly united council would make it easier for them to control the guerrillas. And most of all, the guerrillas would then become marketable to the rest of the Islamic world, thus ridding the Pakistanis of a substantial part of the burden.

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