Afghan resistance sources remain skeptical and suspicious about the prospects of a Soviet withdrawal, despite the optimism expressed by Western analysts. Western observers in Peshawar, Pakistan, say there is considerable confusion within the Afghan resistance over how to react to what they see as an astute political move by the Kremlin.
``The mujahideen [as the Afghan guerrillas are known] were taken by surprise with the suddenness of the Soviet proposal.... No one quite knows what the Soviets want,'' said Julian Gearing, director of the London-based Afghanistan Information Office, from Pakistan.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced Feb. 8 that the Kremlin would begin withdrawing its 115,000 troops on May 15, and complete the operation within 10 months, provided Pakistan - which has played reluctant host to 3 million Afghan refugees as a result of the war - and the Soviet-backed Afghan regime reach a settlement by mid-March.
Both Afghan guerrilla sources and Western observers contacted in Pakistan are doubtful that UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, scheduled to begin March 2, will provide conditions necessary for a cease-fire and a return of Afghan refugees. There are already indications in Pakistan that the talks may be postponed if a satisfactory outcome is not assured.
Resistance sources and their supporters worry that a hurried settlement without an interim coalition government worked out will only provoke chaos and continued fighting.
For Abdul Haq, a leading guerrilla commander in the Kabul region, the Soviets are publicly washing their hands off any responsibility for a future Afghanistan as part of a diplomatic ploy. By putting the onus on Pakistan and the resistance for reaching an accord in Geneva, Mr. Haq says, the Soviets can make the mujahideen appear intransigent if they refuse.
``It is not just a question of the Soviets leaving. It is what they will leave behind,'' says Haq, a member of the Hezb-i-Islami party (Khales faction), one of seven groups of the Peshawar-based resistance alliance.
Both Haq and other guerrilla commanders say it is equally important to address the future role to be played by: the communist regime and the People's Democratic Party of Afganistan (PDPA) headed by Muhammad Najibullah; the 50,000-strong Afghan armed forces; the secret police; and Soviet advisors and military facilities.
``What we want is the total dismantling of the Kabul regime. If there is no comprehensive solution, the war will continue,'' says Mohamed Eshaq, political spokesman for the fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami party.
Mr. Gorbachev's announcement, however, stressed that Moscow has no intention of participating in any talks on establishing an interim government. That is ``purely an internal Afghan issue,'' he said.
Pakistan is aware that any agreement with Kabul that does not have the guerrillas' backing will not induce the 3 million Afghan refugees and armed mujahideen to return home. Iran, too, which hosts as many as 2 million Afghan refugees and provides significant backing to resistance groups, might not support a Geneva accord without mujahideen acceptance. However, yesterday there were reports in Tehran and Moscow that Iran had indicated to the Soviets it would not impede an Afghan settlement.
But a crucial issue still remains unclear: Who will actually sign an accord in Geneva?
Since the indirect negotiations were first initiated by the United Nations in 1982, they have always been held between the Pakistani and Afghan governments. Both Iran and the mujahideen have refused to participate because of the PDPA presence at the talks. But in recent weeks, Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq has said he will not sign an agreement with a government still headed by Dr. Najibullah - a statment analysts take as an indication of mujahideen pressure.
Without an agreed upon interim government, observers say, Soviet subversion could strengthen the PDPA regime through stepping up secret-police actions against the resistance or exacerbating divisions between fundamentalist and moderate resistance groups.
``If an agreement is not properly worked out, and an interim government appointed, it will be a very worrying situation. I can foresee some pretty ruthless shedding of blood,'' says one West European aid coordinator.
Even were the US to halt its $715 million military and humanitarian aid program to the mujahideen as part of a settlement, there is little doubt among many observers that the mujahi-deen will continue fighting with stockpiled arms.