The latest round of indirect talks aimed at restoring peace in Afghanistan could seriously challenge the Pakistan-based Afghan resistance if the Kabul regime makes concessions on the timetable for withdrawing Soviet troops. Observers believe that the Soviet-backed Afghan team now envisages an 11-month pullout period for Moscow's estimated 115,000-strong occupation force. This is much closer to the seven months sought by Pakistan, which has been participating in the UN-sponsored ``proximity talks'' with the Kabul regime since 1982. The talks, which began in Geneva Monday, are scheduled to end today.
Pakistan's foreign minister reiterated before leaving for Geneva that a timetable for Soviet withdrawal was not the only matter to be agreed on. The makeup of an interim government acceptable to all parties concerned was also a priority, he said.
The main seven-party resistance alliance in Peshawar, however, continues to maintain that it will not recognize any agreement made in Geneva as long as the two most involved parties - the Soviets and the mujahideen (Afghan guerrillas) - are not negotiating with each other.
``Our position is that the Kabul puppet government does not have any legitimacy ... nor can Pakistan represent the views of mujahideen,'' says a spokesman for the Jamiat-i Islami party. ``As a result, we feel the talks will fail.''
All seven parties insist that no communists should be allowed to participate in an interim government. The moderate parties, however, say they would support the return of former King Zahir Shah from exile as figurehead leader of an interim administration.
The Zahir Shah option is also being considered by Moscow, which, some analysts say, might opt for dropping present Afghan leader, Najib, if it meant the creation of a Kabul government not hostile to the Soviet Union.
The fundamentalist parties view Zahir Shah as the man who first allowed the Soviets to gain a foothold in Afghanistan in the 1950s and refuse to endorse him.
Nevertheless, international aid officials and other observers feel that many grassroots Afghans, including guerrilla commanders with fundamentalist party affiliations, would welcome the return of the King if it meant getting the Soviets out.
A recent survey of 2,000 male refugees in Pakistan carried out by the Afghan Information Center, an exile Afghan group, indicates that all would return home if the Soviets and the communist Kabul regime left. Seventy percent said they would support the King as a national leader.
``For most Afghans, what matters now more than anything else is bread and peace,'' says Anders Fenge of the Swedish Committee in Peshawar. Though not all Afghans may like Zahir Shah, who was deposed in 1973, he is associated with a nostalgic period of relative peace.
The resistance alliance, however, continues to suffer from internal squabbling and has failed to counter Soviet moves at the UN with its own diplomatic front. According to aid sources here in Peshawar, UN special envoy Diego Cordovez has indirectly approached the parties for their views, but the leaders have yet to respond.
``The party leaders have not even bothered to send their own representation to Geneva to explain their position with press conferences of their own,'' one observer points out.
Observers further note that the Soviets could score a propaganda victory, particularly among some ``nonaligned'' nations, because of the resistance's inability to respond with a diplomatic strategy of its own. An outright rejection of a seemingly reasonable compromise solution would make Pakistan and the resistance appear intransigent.
This overall political ineffectiveness of the Peshawar parties, coupled with rampant corruption, is causing bitterness among guerrilla commanders fighting inside Afghanistan.
According to international relief sources, less than 30 percent - some say 15 - of the humanitarian and military aid provided through Pakistan directly to the Peshawar parties by the United States and other countries actually reaches the inside.
Pakistan has preferred to support the Peshawar parties, primarily the fundamentalist one, as a means of control. But a growing number of international relief coordinators maintain that dealing directly with proven resistance commanders from the interior might encourage a more natural development of leadership, or at least pressure the Peshawar parties to organize and crack down on corruption.