THE communist regime in Afghanistan has gained initiative by holding out longer than some predicted, admit United States supporters of the Afghan resistance. The mujahideen have to start playing a more sophisticated political game, while shifting their military pressure on the Kabul regime into higher gear, a senior US official says.
Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R) of New Hampshire says he had ``an extra mission'' on his recent trip to Pakistan ``to impress on the government of Pakistan and the interim [resistance] government the importance of the political element, of public diplomacy, as well as the military struggle.''
Senator Humphrey says he was trying to ``get our team back on the court'' in light of Western press coverage highlighting the ``stalemate'' around the Afghan government stronghold of Jalalabad and the evident psychological letdown in the US when the Kabul regime did not fall as quickly as predicted.
Humphrey and others argue it is far too early to talk of stalemate. ``Let's remember it took two years for Saigon to fall after US troops left,'' says Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser.
But the negative perception has already created some fissures in congressional backing for the resistance. Even previously staunch supporters, such as Stephen Solarz (D) of New York, are saying the situation calls for a review of policy. There were also some doubts about the way Pakistan, which provides a safe haven for the resistance, wanted to move.
Last week's Washington visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, however, resulted in a full meeting of the minds on Afghan strategy and a ``clearer understanding about which way we want to go,'' the senior official says.
Ms. Bhutto and President Bush agreed to continue full support for the resistance. While the military struggle continues, they also agreed to actively look for possible political solutions. For a political settlement to win guerrilla support the current regime in Kabul would have to step down.
``The people doing the fighting just will not accept the PDPA [People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan],'' though they might be able to accept ``some people in the regime'' at some point, the senior official says. Since the Kabul regime and the Soviets are now only willing to accept a coalition government that includes the communists ``a meeting of the minds'' anytime soon is unlikely, he and others say.
In the meantime, the mujahideen plan to increase military activities across Afghanistan, US officials say. New supplies, for example, could only recently be delivered to key commanders in the north because of one of the worst winters in 15 years, they say. Only by late summer will one be able accurately to assess the military situation, the senior official argues.
At the same time, the mujahideen ``need to get their political act together,'' says Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghanistan specialist at the Rand Corporation think tank in Washington. The current interim government is still too narrowly based, and this has distracted commanders in the field because many felt their views were not considered, he says.
US officials admit this is a serious problem politically and militarily. In the wake of the Bhutto visit, US officials say they believe there will be full coordination in funneling more resources through the interim government. They cite progress in handing over more administrative and aid functions to recently created Afghan ministries, but admit the government is far from fully functioning.
Bhutto seems clearly committed to not favoring any individuals or groups in the distribution of arms, despite earlier political bias toward certain factions by Pakistan's military intelligence service, they say.
Moscow continues to seek US agreement to a mutual cutoff of arms supplies. But Washington is not interested, in part, because of massive Soviet shipments this year. The Soviets sent in more military aid since Feb. 15 than during all of 1988, says the senior US official. Soviets provided about 500 Scud missiles, flew more than 1,200 heavy transport flights, supplied bomber aircraft, fighters, and helicopters.
Only if Moscow is willing to withdraw this equipment and equalize fire-power on both sides would an accord be conceivable, says Mr. Khalilzad. And that is very unlikely, he adds.