UN hopes for the creation of a broad-based coalition government, including communists, in Kabul appears very unlikely from here. With the recently signed Geneva accords paving the way for a Soviet military withdrawal, UN special negotiator Diego Cordovez has said that the next step toward a peace settlement is for the Afghans themselves to resolve their differences and form a new government. The ever-optimistic Ecuadorean diplomat has offered to mediate between the resistance forces and the Soviet-backed Kabul leadership.
The ruling People's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (PDPA) has already accepted the offer of UN mediation. On the signing of the accords last Thursday, Afghan head of state Najibullah said he was convinced a coalition government would be formed and appealed for an end to what he described as his country's ``civil war.''
But Afghan resistance leaders have bitterly condemned the Geneva accords as ``unjust'' and unable to end the war.
At a refugee rally last weekend in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar, leaders of the the seven-party guerrilla alliance said that the people of Afghanistan would not consider themselves bound by a settlement to which they were not part and warned that the mujahideen (guerrilla fighters) would intensify their struggle until the Kabul regime had been overthrown.
Resistance leaders at the rally repeated their intention to set up an interim government inside ``liberated'' Afghanistan in the weeks ahead. According to resistance sources, the provisional government, which would hold nationwide parliamentary elections later this year, will be established in a region controlled by the mujahideen.
From the guerrilla point of view, there is no possibility of a coalition with the communists. Only the ``heirs of the martyrs whose blood had reddened the soil of Afghanistan,'' they say, ``can be the true rulers.''
Nevertheless, an interim government could include ``good Muslims'' of the present Kabul administration known to have secretly cooperated with the resistance. According to guerrilla sources, civil servants and armed-forces officers have established their credentials with the resistance over the years by providing intelligence or special services.
Many of the country's 850 guerrilla commanders are in the process of strengthening their fiefdoms in anticipation of Soviet withdrawal, scheduled to start on May 15, and a fallback of government forces. Increased fighting has already been reported in a number of provinces, notably Kandahar, Paktya, and Herat with more expected once the snows melt in the northern regions.
Western diplomatic and other sources have also noted a rise of clandestine weapons and ammunition being transported by truck to the Pakistani frontier zones with Afghanistan to supply the resistance.
While military analysts expect heavy fighting in provincial areas abandoned by the Soviets, particularly during the first three months when Moscow is supposed to withdraw half of its contingent, several key commanders are known to be preparing for what they claim will be a concerted push on Kabul. Nevertheless, resistance sources maintain that the battle for Kabul could prove not only long and difficult, but also extremely costly.
According to resistance sources, small, mobile hit teams trained in urban guerrilla warfare have already been infiltrated over the past few months through the security belts of the Afghan capital. With the tenth anniversary of the Saur ``April'' Revolution coming up later this month, the sources anticipate a rise in operations aimed at undermining government celebrations. They have also warned that foreigners visiting the city are doing so at their own risk.
For his part, PDPA leader Najibullah has shown every intention of seeking to consolidate his position even when faced by a reduction of direct Soviet combat support.
There are indications that Moscow does not intend to fully abandon its Kabul surrogate. In the weeks leading up to the signing of the Geneva accords, the Soviets channeled vast quantities of supplies by air and road to Afghan security forces, particularly in the south and west in anticipation of the withdrawal.
``Even if they finally leave, the Russians want to make sure the Kabul regime is lacking nothing,'' said one Western diplomat.
Some Western observers in Islamabad and Kabul expect that the PDPA regime will eventually collapse like a house of cards. Virtually every major military operation since the invasion where the communists have scored points against the mujahideen have been either Soviet counterinsurgency operations, or combined Soviet-Afghan government ventures.
On their own, the Afghan security forces, which include Army, militia, and sarandoy (a militarized police force of the ministry of interior), have tended to fair poorly. All too often, observers note, they have had to be bailed out by the Soviets. Many Afghans working with the government would join forces with the resistance ``once it has sunk in that Moscow is no longer there to help them and the panic button is pushed,'' another diplomat predicted.
But other analysts note it would be wrong to underestimate the ability of the PDPA to maintain power. There are enough communist hardliners to fight on in Kabul and the north with contined Soviet backing, enough guerrilla rivalries to be exploited, and enough Afghans willing to rent their loyalities to ensure a long and bitter struggle ahead.
Resistance sources foresee a substantial rise in guerrilla confrontations both with the Soviets and the Afghan government as soon as the pullout begins. They also fear that the Soviets will withdraw troops from much of the south and east, but will then seek to entrench the Najibullah regime in the north.