Rebel Disunity Aids Kabul Regime


TO the surprise of Westerners and even some Soviets, Afghan President Najibullah still holds Kabul one year after Soviet troops left the country. Despite strong prospects of an early victory by resistance fighters, the regime headed by Najib (as the Afghan leader is often called) has survived through political finesse and a steady flow of aid from Moscow. The squabbling rebel coalition government based in this Pakistani border town is making him appear even stronger.

The rebels' year-old Afghan Interim Government (AIG) here is a power-sharing flop, according to Western and Afghan analysts. A new plan to reshape the seven-party resistance government, which refuses to negotiate with Najibullah, is an attempt to turn fractious mujahideen into political leaders, diplomats and Afghan observers say.

``The AIG seems to be prolonging the life of the regime in Kabul,'' says Naim Majrooh, an Afghan analyst in Peshawar. ``We feel the Afghan holy war will be lost because of this political vacuum.''

Preoccupied with shifts in eastern Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union are looking for a way out of the costly Afghan tangle. Moscow is reportedly channeling more than $300 million a month in military and other aid to the Kabul regime.

The US has pledged to maintain an arms flow to the mujahideen although they have yet to budge Najib's men from any of their urban strongholds.

At talks in Moscow this month between US Secretary of State James Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, the US dropped its demand that Najib resign before peace talks start.

However, the diplomatic initiative hit snags. A group of US congressmen cautioned the Bush administration against abandoning the mujahideen. The US brushed aside a Soviet peace proposal which called for an international peace conference on Afghanistan and a halt to all foreign arms supplies, saying there was nothing new in it.

After an outbreak of ethnic violence in the central Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan this month, a Soviet official accused the US and its ally, Pakistan, of feeding the protests by encouraging meddling by Afghan rebels, who have ethnic ties in these regions.

``The political reality is that people on both sides just want to be finished with Afghanistan,'' says a Western diplomat in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. ``But piecing together the right formula will take time.''

Meanwhile, the US and Pakistan hope to refashion the Afghan interim government into a more popular and broadly based government to challenge Najib.

The Pakistan-based parties have been discredited by an outburst of internecine fighting fed by longstanding ethnic, tribal, and religious rivalries. Many Afghans in Peshawar, as well as commanders in the field, view the leaders with deep cynicism.

``We are in Afghanistan fighting while they are in Peshawar eating and getting fat,'' says Muhammad Qazar, a mujahideen fighter.

Pushed by the US and Pakistan which shaped the interim government a year ago, the party leaders plan to hold a shura or Afghan assembly, drawing representatives from 217 parliamentary districts in Afghanistan as well as those from the seven Peshawar parties and eight political parties based in Iran.

The idea will be difficult to implement, observers say, because the assembly must be held inside Afghanistan to be credible.

In addition, there are many who don't like the plan. One is Najib, who is pushing restoration of the former king, Zahir Shah, exiled in Rome since a 1973 coup.

The king's return also is supported by more moderate mujahideen groups in Peshawar but is bitterly opposed by fundamentalist leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

``If a shura takes place on the resistance side and a more representative government emerges, then the Soviets could get rid of Najib and set up a more representative government in Kabul,'' explains the Western diplomat. ``That way you could have a transitional government without either side having to give away the store.''

However, an agreement would not quiet rivalries or end the politicians' tussle for influence in Afghanistan, analysts say.

Indeed, that turf battle has fueled a wave of dealmaking even as the war continues. Some guerrilla commanders in the southern city of Kandahar, for example, struck a truce with the Kabul regime in exchange for autonomy in their own area.

Other guerrilla groups have become deeply involved in drug smuggling and soured Western views of the rebels, diplomats and Afghan observers say.

Afghan analysts and diplomats fear such deals could doom the effort to form a more representative government. ``There are dark undercurrents of drugs, guns, and money,'' says the Western diplomat. ``There are many Afghan leaders who will blow their whole bankroll to influence this process.''

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