Afghans say Soviets hunkering down for a longer stay
Peshawar, Pakistan — Despite Yuri Andropov's declarations that the Soviets would like to get out of Afghanistan, Moscow is continuing to invest heavily in its occupation of the rugged Asian nation - militarily, economically, and politically.
Diplomatic and guerrilla sources here who make this assertion add that Soviet actions belie any pretense of seeking a peaceful settlement acceptable to both Pakistan and the Afghans themselves.
They shrug off United Nations assertions of ''substantial progress'' in the recent Geneva talks on Afghanistan. Rather, they say, a solution to the bitter conflict that has embroiled Afghanistan since well before Soviet tanks rolled in nearly four years ago remains as elusive as ever.
In particular, the Kremlin shows no sign of withdrawing its estimated 105,000 occupation troops, currently reinforced by a further 30,000 just inside the Soviet frontier. Over the past 18 months, the Red Army high command has been gradually reinforcing or replacing ordinary soldiers with more specialized combat contingents.
At the same time, the Soviet community of technical advisers and their families, brought to Afghanistan to help run the ministries, police, industries, and educational establishments, continues to grow. And the Soviets persist in their expansion and improvement of airfields, supply depots, barracks, roads, and overall communications facilities.
Diplomatic and other analysts just across the border here in Pakistan are in general agreement that the Soviets are steadily initiating a shrewd, long-term strategy aimed at gaining the upper hand - both inside Afghanistan as well as on the diplomatic front.
Moscow is believed to be counting on increasing Western acquiescence to the Soviet occupation as a fait accompli. The Reagan administration's lifting of the American grain embargo, imposed on the Soviet Union as a penalty for the original invasion, is seen as encouraging the Soviets in this belief.
Appraisal of Kremlin policies since the December 1979 invasion suggest that its concept of a ''new'' Afghanistan is that of a satellite territory, either partially or completely annexed to the Soviet Union.
More so than before, the Russians appear to be moving toward fully absorbing the northern provinces by incorporating their economic infrastructures (such as rail links or electricity supplies) into those of the adjoining Soviet Muslim republics. Afghanistan's northern provinces are potentially rich in natural gas, oil, and other minerals.
As for the remaining parts of Afghanistan, the Soviets may eventually seek to split them into two separate Pushtun and non-Pushtun states - just as they did with the artificial creation of their own Asian republics during the 1920s. Pushtun tribesmen, or Pathans, represent roughly half the Afghan population and have traditionally dominated this ethnically and religiously varied nation.
Informed sources here maintain that the Soviets have plans to place each of these two entities under the respective control of Afghanistan's bitterly feuding Communist Party factions: the primarily Pushtun Khalq (''masses'') and the principally Farsi-speaking Parcham (''banner''). Not only would such ethnic shuffling help stifle any resurgence of Afghan nationalism or unity, but the presence of a Soviet-controlled Pushtunistan or even Baluchistan would pose a constant threat for Pakistan with its own populations of dissident Pushtun and Baluch tribesmen.
In the Soviet Union itself, the Kremlin has been carefully nurturing public opinion for the eventuality of a long and perhaps costly military involvement in Afghanistan. Censored reports referring to tough conditions and occasional casualties have become more common in the press.
Constant comparison is made with the ''basmachi'' revolts in central Asia during the 1920s and early '30s, when the Bolsheviks, adopting the same imperialist policies of the previous tzarist regime, ruthlessly suppressed local independence movements. Party propaganda now repeatedly reminds the$Soviet public that, as with the ''basmachi'' wars, even if it takes 15, 20, or even 30 years, ''we'll have to do the job.''
Bearing such developments in mind, it is hard not to question Moscow's sincerity at the Geneva talks which are expected to resume later this month.
''I think it is quite clear that the Soviets have absolutely no intention of leaving,'' observed one senior West European diplomat in Islamabad. ''They are simply playing for time while they get on with trying to subdue the country. By participating (in the talks), they want to create the impression that they want a universally acceptable settlement. In reality, they will not accept a settlement which does not serve their interests.''
Diplomatic observers also maintain that the indirect talks between the Pakistan and Afghan government (the Soviets act as backroom advisers to the Kabul negotiating team) have become completely bogged down. The plan calls for a complete withdrawal of Soviet troops, a cessation of all outside aid to the resistance, appropriate conditions for the eventual return of Afghanistan's estimated nearly three million refugees, and the establishment of international guarantees.
Following the third Geneva round in June, UN representatives confidently declared that ''95 percent'' agreement had been reached. But as one former Moscow-based Western diplomat said: ''Anytime you hear a diplomat saying negotiations are 95 percent completed that means they have run up against an absolute brick wall.
Privately, the Pakistanis say that the Kremlin has no intention of relinquishing its control over Afghanistan. But both Western and Pakistani officials want to cultivate a readily available diplomatic mechanism ''just in case the Russians start getting serious'' and so as not to be accused later of obstructing a peaceful solution.
As a result, in contrast to the UN's optimistic declarations, the Islamabad government has preferred to adopt a more pragmatic public stance.
''There has indeed been some movement in our discussions,'' said Foreign Minister S. Yaqub Khan in Islamabad. ''But they have been extremely complex and one cannot expect quick results. There are still a lot of grey areas to be examined.''
He added: ''Mr. Andropov has made it quite clear that the Soviet Union would want to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. So we are working on the assumption that what the Soviets say they will do they will in fact deliver. But with regard to timing, we do not have a clue.''
Among the Afghan resistance leadership, there is an overall consensus that absolutely no political settlement can be achieved without the direct participation of the most relevant parties concerned: the Soviets and the mujahideen.
''Without these two, the Pakistanis and the Karmal regime can make as many agreements as they like,'' declared Muhammad Eshaq, a close associate of the Panjshir guerrilla commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud.The Afghans, however, do not reject a political settlement. As before, the more astute mujahideen realize that even a resistance-run Afghanistan will have to live within the Soviet shadow. But before any negotiating can be done, they stress, the Soviets must carry out a complete and unconditional withdrawal.
''We shall never sit down with the Karmal puppets, but if the Soviets really are sincere, then let them leave to prove it. Then we shall talk with them,'' said ''moderate'' alliance spokesman Prof. Sayed Makhdoon Rahin in Peshawar.
Among the key elements to finding a political settlement is not only the continued ability of the resistance to fight the Soviets at a level which will make them think twice, but also sufficient Western and third-world pressure. On both counts, resistance sources fear they are losing serious ground.
Issues elsewhere have distracted international opinion from the fighting in Afghanistan. Every step by the West at a normalization of relations with Moscow is regarded as a waning in committment. There is also clear disappointment with the limited amounts of weapons and humanitarian relief that have been dribbling into the Afghan interior.
Some of the more discerning resistance commanders realize that, despite mujahed determination to keep on fighting, their struggle has lost its sense of direction. They have now come to perceive that a major diplomatic offensive is necessary. Hence the efforts by the ''moderate'' alliance to bring back former King Zahir Shah as a figurehead leader; these are part of an attempt to improve overall combat coordination and to establish an internationally-recognized resistance presence.
Some leading resistance members are now talking of persuading Islamic countries to initiate a move to oust the Karmal regime from the UN General Assembly or to at least bring in the mujahideen on an observer basis.