Three British Labour Party MPs have got themselves into hot water for traveling to Kabul at Afghan government expense on a five-day "fact-finding tour." The parliamentarians, all left-wingers, returned to London declaring that Britain should recognize the Babrak Karmal regime, which is kept in power by Soviet occupying forces.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assailed the MPs on the floor of the House of Commons, declaring their visit "deplorable" and claiming that they had given aid and comfort to the Soviet occupiers.
The MPs' trip became a focus of controversy the moment plans for it were announced. Coming just before a special Labour Party conference next week, the flap highlights the sympathies some a number of Labour MPs have with the Soviet Union.
The parliamentarians set out for Kabul claiming that their intention was to discover the facts about the Soviet military presence. When they got back to London they a first claimed they had said and done nothing that committed them to the Karmal regime.
But then Kabul radio broadcast news bulletins suggesting that while in Afghanistan at least one of the Labourites had spoken out in favor of the regime. Later London newspapers printed a photograph of two of the MPs standing in front of a memorial marking Russia's intervention in Afghanistan.
Official British government policy is to withhold recognition of the Karmal regime and to press for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops as a precondition of negotiations. Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington has been particularly vigorous on this point. At the new year he declared that the Russians now realized they had blundered badly by invading Afghanistan.
But while British Tories are fully united on the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, the opposition Labour Party is split. Party moderates tend to align themselves with Foreign Office thinking, but left-wingers are more inclined to reject Lord Carrington's approach.
It is being suggested in Whitehall that, in offering a free trip to the three Labour MPs, the Karmal regime was trying to deepen the divisions in the Labour Party. Labour leader Michael Foot is making a special effort for party unity as the special conference approaches. The row over the Kabul trip has come at a bad time.
Earlier in the week Liberal Party leader David Steel, sensing that a number of moderate Labourites might be open to persuasion, called on them to desert Labour's ranks and work with him in support of a 10-point "new deal" for Britain.
As well as disliking Labour's steady swing in recent months to left-wing domestic policies, the moderates fear that the left will eventually commit their party to a foreign policy more sympathetic toward the Soviet Union. Labour already believes Britain should scrap its nuclear deterrent force.
In attacking the MPs' trip to Kabul, Mrs. Thatcher got solid support from a group of Afghan refugees in Britain, most of whom have fled their country since the Soviet invasion.
The refugees issued a statement deploring the visit and urging the government to resist any moves to recognize th e Kabul regime.