IT is time to be realistic about what lies ahead in Afghanistan. The Soviet invaders are withdrawing.
The mujahideen who have fought so tenaciously against the Soviets are on the offensive, nipping at the heels of departing Soviet columns and retaking more and more territory. The puppet government in the Afghan capital of Kabul seems destined to fall.
Is not this a happy chapter in world affairs? Have not the forces of repression been vanquished, the forces of liberation triumphed?
Well, sort of.
But because the good guys have triumphed over the bad guys, we should not harbor a romantic and idealistic delusion that Afghanistan is to become a land of Jeffersonian-type democracy and tranquility. Rugged independence does not necessarily mean democracy as the West understands it, and indeed such democracy is alien to Afghanistan's history. Nor has order always been the norm in a country riven by regionalism and factionalism.
So while brave guerrillas, at devastating cost, have won victory over the Soviets, there may be developments in Afghanistan offensive and troubling to some in the outside world. We could see instances of greed and corruption. There could be bitter infighting for power and brutal vengeance against the outgoing regime. There could be sharply increased narcotics production. There could be abuse of the massive relief and reconstruction program being mounted.
There could also be trouble in neighboring Pakistan. Under General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan strongly supported the Afghan guerrillas. But since General Zia was killed last month, Pakistan's future course has been less certain. There could be political upheaval; post-war aid, much of which must be funneled through Pakistan, may be siphoned off.
Thus developments in the two countries promise challenge to those with interests in the area, and particularly to an incoming US administration.
Perhaps the likeliest development in Afghanistan after the war will be jousting for power among the various guerrilla factions, and perhaps between the guerrillas who have been doing the fighting inside Afghanistan and those Afghan politicians who have been living in relative security in Pakistan.
The Afghan opposition does not meld into a united front. Much of the war has been fought by local military commanders who have set up their own fiefdoms. There are sometimes deep philosophical, ideological, and religious differences between them.
Another problem is likely to be an increase in the illegal cultivation of opium. Afghanistan is a longtime producer of opium poppies for heroin, and the State Department is warning that farmers whose lands have been devastated by the war may grow opium as a quick cash crop. They may be particularly tempted to do so because the authority of a central government in Kabul will likely be limited in outlying areas.
The State Department says there are ``serious uncertainties'' also about Pakistan's commitment to the fight against narcotics following General Zia's death. General Zia is cited as a strong supporter of anti-narcotics activities and, according to the United States, his successors may be less committed. Pakistan is a well-known conduit for illegal drugs.
Finally, Afghanistan will be the recipient of massive amounts of aid. This year, the US alone has budgeted $119 million for humanitarian assistance. Other countries will be directing substantial sums to Afghanistan. There is evidence that some of this aid has been, and will be, diverted to private pockets in Pakistan and Afghanistan before reaching the needy.
With the end of the war, Afghanistan's problems will be far from over.