THE Afghan government will be closely watching the visit to Washington of Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto this week. In Pakistan - conduit for foreign aid to Afghan rebels and host to more than 3 million refugees - Ms. Bhutto has called for new efforts to find a political settlement.
``I take as a good omen the utterances of Pakistan's prime minister, and I hope they will be materialized in political actions,'' President Najibullah said in a half-hour interview last week at Kabul's presidential palace.
Even as he charged that Pakistan has launched a ``naked aggression'' against Afghanistan, Najibullah was guardedly optimistic that new efforts may be in the offing to find a political solution to the 10-year Afghan conflict.
So far, Pakistan and the United States continue to endorse and underwrite the military campaign of the Afghan mujahideen to topple the Kabul regime. Heavy fighting in the Afghan cities of Jalalabad and Khost last week brought a new onslaught of rebel rockets on the Afghan capital and sent Afghan fighter aircraft screaming across the skies above Kabul.
In the interview, the Afghan leader called on US and Pakistani officials ``to revise their approach to the political situation in Afghanistan.''
``I think the developments since the completion of the withdrawal of Soviet troops provide good grounds for rethinking the actions of these countries,'' he said.
Soviet arms pouring in since the final Soviet troop withdrawal in February have enabled the Army to hold the major cities.
Last week an armored column of more than 600 tanks, ammunition trucks, and personnel carriers rumbled through Kabul, gunning engines, swirling dust, and stopping traffic. In this mile-high capital surrounded by stark gray crags, the display was not without impact.
``Najibullah is showing his strength,'' a bystander said. While the recent show of force underscores Najibullah's staying power to date, his government is under growing strain.
Soviet leaders, whose economic problems at home gave urgency to the troop pullout, are increasingly worried about the high cost of resupplying ammunition and replacement equipment, sources say. Facing declining influence with Najibullah and in Afghanistan, the Soviets would be willing to let Najibullah fall in exchange for peace, observers here say.
Najibullah, who came to power in 1986, is pushing hard for a negotiated end to the decade-old war between his pro-Soviet government and Islamic guerrillas.
He has called for a cease-fire, urged the drafting of a new constitution, and pledged to step aside for a new coalition government chosen in elections.
Recently, frustrations over the military and political deadlock in Afghanistan and worries that the civil war could ignite a regional conflict have stirred some momentum for a diplomatic solution.
Afghan officials hope Bhutto's recent dismissal of the powerful chief of Pakistan's military intelligence will lead to a softening of Islamabad's attitude toward Afghanistan.
Other backers of the Afghan guerrillas, or mujahideen, also are easing away from past support for a military victory by the rebels. China plans to halt weapons supplies to the guerrillas, while Iran - host to 2 million Afghan refugees - is taking steps to strike its own deal with Kabul, Afghan and foreign officials here say.
``It seems that something is going to move,'' says an informed foreign observer.
Washington's hesitancy to cut aid to the the mujahideen could backfire if Najibullah becomes more entrenched and less willing to compromise, some foreign observers in Kabul say.
``The Americans should be careful and not wait too long,'' said a foreign observer in Kabul. ``If Najibullah fits too well in his shoes, he won't want to negotiate.''
Indeed, Afghan government officials say the President has gained confidence in recent weeks from his Army's successful stand against the mujahideen at Jalalabad. Before the battle, morale was low, and an average of 30 soldiers a day were defecting to the rebels, an aide to the President said.
Both Westerners and the Soviets have been surprised by Najibullah's political mettle. By imposing a state of emergency earlier this year, he has consolidated his power, broadened the role of his People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and contained bitter infighting among rival factions.
He has appealed to Afghan xenophobia by linking the mujahideen to interference by Pakistanis and Muslim fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia. Najibullah also has also appealed to the widespread relief at the Soviet departure.
Still, foreign observers say that the President will not be acceptable to many Afghans who recall with fear and bitterness Najibullah's ruthless tenure as head of the secret police. Despite the government's efforts to portray itself as noncommunist and Islamic, to many Afghans Najibullah is closely linked to the 1978 coup that prompted the Muslim uprising and the 10-year Soviet military intervention. More than 1 million Afghans have been killed in the conflict.
``It is unlikely that Najibullah could stay. Afghans have good memories that he was stuck in by the Soviets, that he was head of the Khad secret police, and what he did to a generation,'' says a foreign official. ``He is not likely to be forgiven.''
Unable to exert control outside Afghanistan's large cities, Najibullah also is scrambling to strike deals with individual rebel commanders in exchange for autonomy in their own regions. In a recent speech, the President called for individual commanders to negotiate and said he is ready to consider ``any new proposal to end the fighting.''
Aides to the President say that the coming weeks will be crucial in determining if the rebel commanders, who have been negotiating with the government, are willing to lay down their arms. Najibullah says he is considering new offers to the commanders, although political observers say Najibullah will have difficulty making a new appeal.
``Time has been working for Najibullah in recent months, but it's not working for him now,'' says a foreign diplomat in Kabul. ``He has put all his cards on the desk. He has nothing left.''
Indeed, many Afghans who face a daily struggle to buy food are indifferent to the political maneuvering and are anxious for peace. At the Khair-Khana cemetery crowded with the green and red flags that mark the graves of soldiers ``martyred'' in the war, two elderly brothers, Faroz and Gulshan were rebuilding the flag-stone graves of their six sons killed fighting for the Afghan Army.
``Only a few years ago this place was empty. Now it is where our sons are buried,'' said Gulshan.
``We cannot give support to this government,'' said Faroz. ``We have already given our sons.''