AN Islamabad Foreign Ministry official announced that rival mujahideen factions fighting for control of the Afghan capital reportedly accepted a cease-fire yesterday.
Gunfire and skirmishes between the two main groups - forces loyal to northern mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud and his southern rival, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - were until the cease-fire, reportedly brokered by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr. Hekmatyar's spokesman in Peshawar was not able to confirm the cease-fire.
Until the cease-fire, mujahideen fighters belonging to Mr. Massoud's Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society) and Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) fought sporadically for control of the city. But mujahideen sources and Pakistani officials said Massoud was gradually gaining ground.
"Gulbuddin is trying to gain ground also because by being such a nuisance he can negotiate from strength," one mujahideen source said, adding that Hekmatyar would not seek "to gain control of government because he is in no position to do that."
This assertion, shared by other mujahideen, came amid reports that Massoud was in control of a larger area and had more men.
Even with the cease-fire, Kabul remains without a firm government that could enforce the agreement and return a semblence of stability to Afghanistan.
"There's a power vacuum there and only quick action to form a government could fill that," said a senior Pakistani official who requested anonymity.
In an attempt to end that period of uncertainty, six of the major Pakistan-based guerrilla parties agreed to send an interim ruling council to Kabul after three days of talks.
Sibghatullah Mojadedi, a bearded scholar who has lived in exile for more than 10 years, left for Kabul yesterday to head the council.
The 51-member council was formed last Friday in a Pakistan-inspired attempt to set up a new government in Kabul. Mr. Mojadedi's motorcade left Peshawar yesterday on the journey of more than 275 kilometers (172 miles) to Kabul.
From Peshawar to Torkham Border Post, the last Pakistani frontier checkpost before Afghan territory, the motorcade passed roadside mudhouses belonging to some of the 3 million Afghan refugees who live in Pakistan.
In his first speech after crossing the border, Mojadedi told fellow travelers, "This is the time for us to bid farewell to our dear country Pakistan and time to thank Allah for our return to our beloved country Afghanistan."
Later he told the Monitor that the most important duty for a new government in Kabul would be "to bring security, peace, prosperity, brotherhood, and friendship in Afghanistan."
But he said that "there was no division among the mujahideen," when asked how he planned to deal with the difficult issue of conflict among different factions.
Mojadedi and other council members planned to take power today, a mujahideen source said.
Among other challenges, the new Afghan government will need to deal with the repatriation of at least 5 million refugees who are living in neighboring Iran and Pakistan. As one of the world's poorest countries, Afghanistan has few resources to manage the problem.
As Mojadedi spoke yesterday, one of the refugee families watched from the roadside. Ajab Khan, the head of one family, said he has been away from his home for nine years, during which time he has lost two brothers in the war.
Now, "I want to go home but I don't think Afghanistan will be the same as when I left it."