Helping Afghan resisters

AMERICAN sympathies are wholly on the side of the Afghan resistance fighters, whose representatives came to Washington last week seeking increased aid and political recognition. With their widespread support at home and fight against a crystal-clear case of communist aggression, these resisters surely deserve the description ``freedom fighters'' more than most groups so labeled. On moral grounds, those in Congress are correct in backing the resisters' bid for recognition and stepped-up covert aid. But the political realities are such that the cautious reaction of the executive branch is appropriate.

President Reagan has pledged his ``unshakable commitment'' to the mujahideen's desire for self-determination, but he has correctly branded their bid for recognition ``premature.'' As in Managua, the United States maintains an embassy in Kabul. It serves a useful purpose both as a presence and for observation.

US options on stepped-up aid are more limited. Pakistan, already the less than eager host to more than 3 million Afghan refugees and a key party in the continuing United Nations-sponsored ``proximity'' talks in Geneva, basically wants Soviet troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Pakistan's cooperation in any further delivery of arms is vital. President Zia ul-Haq insists that a larger insurgency effort will not make a negotiated settlement any more likely. As it is, many Pakistanis suspect that the US would prefer to prolong the war for its own purposes than arrive at a mutually acceptable negotiated agreement.

For that reason, as well as to encourage the Soviets -- who continue to claim they would like to withdraw but clearly do not want to leave behind a noncommunist government -- the White House would do well to state clearly its preference for a negotiated settlement even as it continues to assure resisters that only an agreement with the support of the Afghan people will work. The US has already declared itself willing to play a role as guarantor. The Soviets have signaled their interest by agreeing to Pakistan's bid for indirect talks and by suggesting a timetable before any agreement is signed.

The next round of UN talks is slated to begin July 30 in Geneva. Many of the details have already been settled. Let us hope that after six years of protracted fighting, the parties will soon come to some agreement on substance.

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