Hopes dim for success in UN talks on Afghanistan
| United Nations, N.Y.
The seventh round of UN-sponsored talks to end the Afghanistan war is scheduled to resume July 30, but the indirect negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are no longer being viewed with optimism. The previous round of talks in May went directly to the heart of the issue -- the withdrawal of 120,000 Soviet troops. There, according to officials close to the negotiations, the two sides deadlocked.
The questions of monitoring any agreement resulting from the talks and of cutting off outside aid to the Afghan resistance fighters proved problematic, these sources say.
After indicating they would agree to consider a compromise UN plan for a one-year, four-phase withdrawal, the Soviet-backed Kabul negotiators reportedly reverted to their original position that three to four years was necessary for a Soviet troop withdrawal. The latter proposal was submitted earlier this year to UN mediator Diego Cordovez.
Others urge a speedier pullout. Pakistan insists that the withdrawal be accomplished within six months. And officials of the Reagan administration, which has reportedly provided nearly $500 million in covert assistance to the Afghan resistance fighters this year, have indicated that they believe a withdrawal should take place within three to four months.
The question of a simultaneous cutoff of outside assistance to the resistance fighters, the mujahideen, also proved thorny, the sources say. Moscow, which closely supervises the Kabul negotiators, is said to have insisted, with more force than previously, that all outside ``interference'' stop before the Kremlin begins withdrawing its troops.
``We were disappointed by the attitude of the Afghan negotiators,'' a Pakistani official says. ``And if we reach no agreement on timetable and monitoring, all previous progress will be swept aside, and once again we'll find ourselves back to Square 1.''
Mr. Cordovez's strategy, when the talks resume in Geneva, appears to be to tackle the monitoring issue first, with the assumption that when all other issues are settled, the Soviets will be more likely to negotiate a timetable for the withdrawal of their troops.
``This assumes,'' says one UN source familiar with the negotiations, which are now into their fourth year, ``that the Soviets are interested in withdrawing. And this is an assumption that we have to make.''
But monitoring could prove as troublesome as a timetable, other UN sources say.
There are suggestions that Cordovez, an undersecretary-general of the UN, will seek an agreement for a UN-sponsored monitoring force, or direct UN monitoring, possibly by the Security Council itself. The Soviet Union has previously not wanted to accept a UN role.
It has previously asked for verification by Pakistan and Afghanistan that outside assistance has stopped. And, while Pakistan is willing to accept a UN force on the Pakistani-Afghan frontier, it insists that the force also monitor Soviet troop withdrawal.
The mujahideen themselves are also likely to be another hurdle, as is the role of Iran, which is home to 1 million Afghan refugees and has insisted that no solution to the warfare would be acceptable without the mujahideen's playing a role.
Two weeks ago, four of the mujahideen's political leaders made their first official visit to the White House, where they requested diplomatic recognition, plus a seat at the Geneva talks.
The leader of the delegation, Burhanuddin Rabbani, says that, although President Reagan did not give him a definite response, he ``indicated'' that the United States supported a direct role in for the mujahideen in the talks. And Professor Rabbani was emphatic that no solution would be acceptable to the 100,000 resistance fighters under arms that was negotiated without their participation in the talks. Pakistani and UN sources say no serious consideration is being given to include the fighters in the Geneva talks.
The issue could prove ticklish when the Pakistani prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo, visits Washington July 15-21. There have been indications of growing differences over Afghanistan between the two governments.
Pakistan has been a key conduit for channeling US covert assistance to the mujahideen. Never an eager partner, it has become increasingly cautious over the last six months as Soviet cross-border raids continue and internal opposition grows among Pakistani politicians on their country's involvement in what is viewed increasingly as an American war.
A $15 million US cross-border program for humanitarian and medical assistance inside Afghanistan has been delayed by the Pakistani government, despite continuing negotiations with the Agency for International Development which began early this year.
A $500,000 program to establish an Afghan News Agency in the Pakistani border town of Peshawar has not been approved by the Pakistani authorities, despite US congressional funding made available last year.
One of the mujahideen leaders visiting Washington, who asked not to be quoted by name, says the military-backed government was increasingly dragging its feet during negotiations and trying to thwart efforts to unify the often quarreling resistance leaders in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's general-turned-President, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, was chief military adviser to King Hussein of Jordan during the uprising of September 1970, when Jordan's Palestinians were expelled. He is all too aware of how disruptive a unified and homeless guerrilla force can be.
Pakistani officials have consequently been quick to caution against any US efforts to strengthen further the role of the mujahideen.