Turn Up Heat Under Afghan Talks

MORE than a year after Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan, the bitter war engulfing that land appears no closer to ending. The Soviet-backed government in Kabul and the mujahideen resistance factions, backed by the United States and Pakistan, remain locked in a military stalemate. The political stalemate goes on, too. Communist President Najibullah insists that he be allowed to participate in settlement negotiations and in any resulting government. But the mujahideen, unforgiving of Najibullah's Soviet ties and his past as head of the secret police, vow they will keep fighting until he is gone.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington keep pouring arms into the country. The US gives the guerrillas $700 million in military aid each year. And the Kabul army's ability to hold off the mujahideen - in defiance of virtually all predictions a year ago - is aided by a nonstop Soviet airlift.

So the killing goes on; an estimated 1.3 million Afghans have died in the 11-year war. Civilians are among the chief targets, as both sides indiscriminately lob missiles into cities and villages.

There has been some stirring on the diplomatic front, though. On Feb. 15, the anniversary of the Soviet pullout, the Soviet Union proposed a 10-point peace plan leading eventually to an end to superpower arms shipments and internationally supervised elections in Afghanistan.

The US rejected that proposal, but Washington appears to be softening its line. It reportedly has dropped its insistence that Najibullah leave immediately, accepting an interim role for him during a settlement process. The US also is contemplating a mutual halt to arms shipments, a step it resisted when proposed by Mikhail Gorbachev a year ago.

Peace still seems remote, because the warring sides inside Afghanistan haven't yielded their basic demands. But the US and the Soviet Union should actively pursue their diplomatic initiatives, both with each other and with their clients. The world has turned upside down in the last 12 months, and a superpower proxy war in Afghanistan seems ever more an anomaly - one that could impede East-West progress on other fronts.

More basic, though, the war must stop to end the slaughter of innocent people in Afghanistan.

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