Afghan Coup Signals Rift With Hard-Line Communists
NEW DELHI — AFGHANISTAN President Najibullah appears to have survived Tuesday's coup attempt in Kabul, although fighting continues elsewhere, diplomats and analysts here say. Afghan officials in Kabul and in India say the capital remains firmly in government hands. There are reports that the coup leader, former Defense Minister Shahnawaz Tanai, and more than 20 Afghan Army officers may have escaped to neighboring Pakistan.
Although Najib (as the president is widely known) may have held Kabul, the coup may thrust Afghanistan into new turmoil, analysts say. The rebellion signals renewed infighting between two rival factions within the ruling communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.
Mr. Tanai is a hard-line communist who, in the past, has challenged Najib and questioned his peace overtures to moderate Afghan guerrillas.
The group of mujahideen, as the guerrillas are known, based in Iran and Pakistan have been torn by rivalries between fundamentalists and middle-of-the-road groups since the pullout of more than 100,000 Soviet troops one year ago.
Tanai has been suspected in two earlier coup attempts against the Najibullah government. This week, 124 Army officers were put on trial for allegedly planning an uprising last December. Many diplomats suggest legal action against the military may have triggered the latest coup attempt.
Najib is also facing problems in outlying strongholds where rebellious troops reportedly linked up with mujahideen fighters against the governments. News reports from Pakistan say fighting is heavy around the key eastern cities of Jalalabad and Khost. Communications in Afghanistan are cut off.
``What has happened in Kabul shows this government is a house divided against itself,'' says a Western diplomat in New Delhi. ``If they can hold out for some time, this may signal new uncertainties for Afghanistan.''
News and diplomats' reports filtering out of Kabul say the center of the Afghan capital was heavily damaged, raising fears of extensive civilian casualties.
Kabul was reportedly bombed for 24 hours by mutinous fighter pilots based at the Baghram air force base, about 30 miles north of Kabul. Pakistan officials said mujahideen groups had been involved in the Baghram attack, although the current status of the military installation is not known.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Tanai remain a mystery after rumors he came to Pakistan with a large contingent of military officers. Pakistan and mujahideen officials say Tanai may be inside Afghanistan.
Officials in the Najibullah government charge that the mutineers are linked to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of one of the fundamentalist mujahideen groups based in Pakistan, and the Pakistan military intelligence called Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which oversees aid to the guerrillas.
``There is no doubt about it. It was ISI,'' says Ahmed Sarwar, Afghan ambassador to India, an ally of the Najib government.