AFGHANISTAN'S bitterly divided resistance politicians and commanders are groping for a united strategy to deal with and ultimately overturn the communist Kabul regime once Soviet troops leave. Without agreement, say commanders and other resistance sources, the battle for Kabul and other government-held cities could prove long and difficult with high casualties all around.
``We want to avoid what happened in Kunar,'' says Abdul Qadir, a guerrilla commander operating in the Jalalabad region. Speaking over a curry lunch in a restaurant near Peshawar, he referred to looting and killing by tribal guerrillas when Soviet-backed Afghan forces pulled out from Kunar Province late last year. ``What is now in the hands of the government belongs to the resistance, so we should be careful not to destroy it.''
Mr. Qadir and other commanders now make a point of leaving mujahideen to protect facilities, such as several recently captured government farms near Jalalabad. Some commanders worry that if the mujahideen are perceived as behaving badly, they might not gain the cooperation of the local population.
Few commanders believe that Kabul or any other major city will fall immediately after the last Soviet soldiers have left by Feb. 15. In fact, they are increasingly concerned that pro-Moscow Afghan forces will withdraw to the north, to bases such as Mazar-i-Sharif, where they could benefit from Soviet aerial support.
Already, say Western diplomats and resistance sources in Pakistan, the Soviets have carried out aerial bombardments - some launched from bases inside the Soviet Union - of resistance-held areas. Some analysts believe that Moscow, which says it will leave behind a small contingent of military advisers, will continue providing the Afghan government aerial support from inside the Soviet Union even after the pullout.
Leading guerrilla strategists, such as Abdul Haq, whose forces operate in Kabul Province, say that a program incorporating all guerrilla fronts is needed against the capital and other cities. ``But there is no need for an all-out attack,'' he stresses. ``We don't need more destruction.''
Mr. Haq has a detailed plan that he has proposed to other commanders. With thousands of mujahideen from various groups reportedly poised around Kabul, the resistance would seek to encourage coups within the armed forces and police, Haq says.
In this way, he continues, a law-and-order force would remain relatively intact thus preventing the destruction of facilities. Resistance forces are pushing for a similar strategy against Jalalabad, Herat, and Kandahar.
Meanwhile, in an effort to forge political unity, Pakistan is pressuring the seven-party Afghan resistance alliance to put together a traditional decision-making shura (council) by Feb. 10. The proposed 519-member shura, slated to include members of the political parties, guerrillas, and ``good Muslims'' from Kabul, would appoint a transitional government to replace the Najibullah regime.
Western diplomats and foreign aid officials are skeptical that the shura will succeed in time. ``It may simply confirm the formation of yet another split in the resistance,'' says a diplomat here.
Some analysts also question whether a shura appointed largely by the exile parties will truly represent Afghans. It is unclear how the council plans to represent distant areas, some of which are cut off by snow.
``It is a very difficult time,'' says an Iranian-educated Afghan aid worker. ``Nobody knows what is going to happen. Right now we are like a river with many streams. Soon perhaps they will join up in one strong current.''
Problems have also arisen with regard to the inclusion of Shiite Muslim representatives from Iran-based parties. The Shiite minority - about 15-20 percent of Afghans - initially demanded 120 seats. They have been offered 80.
Another obstacle is gaining acceptance for the shura among the commanders and civilians inside Afghanistan. Many of them believe the shura is a last-ditch attempt by the Peshawar politicians to maintain their posts and control over the resistance.
Various commanders and representatives from councils inside Afghanistan have protested the legitimacy of the shura. They resent the corruption and political bickering that for years has characterized the political parties based in Pakistan. They also see little reason for now supporting those, who, for almost a decade, failed to create unity.
``They do not care about the people, only themselves. They make money, have big cars and are not hungry. They have never fight the war. Only the people [have fought],'' says Muhammad Gul, a refugee and former civil servant, in halting English.
In addition, the shura is widely seen as a creation of the Pakistani government, particularly the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as the military intelligence organization is known. According to Western diplomats, international aid and resistance sources, Pakistan is intent on retaining influence over the resistance through the shura.
``It is quite clear that the Afghans will never be able to choose their own independent shura or government as long as it is done on foreign soil,'' says a West European aid coordinator.
Many commanders say they will not be able to speak freely in the shura. ``We will go,'' says one commander from Kabul Province. ``If we do, and they do not listen us, then we will leave.''
Another issue affecting the shura is the role of deposed Afghan King Zahir Shah, who lives in exile in Rome. While not necessarily favoring the ex-monarch as an individual, Afghans often nostalgically recall his reign as one of relative peace and tranquillity.
Despite opposition by some fundamentalist politicians, Zahir Shah is seen as a figurehead capable of leading a relatively unified transition government. The Pakistanis, apparently, have threatened Afghan politicians that if their bickering is not put aside, the ex-king will be brought in.
``If the King returns, you would have hundreds of thousands of Afghans out to greet him. He is the last hope for many,'' admits an Afghan whose party has opposed the ex-monarch's return.