ASIDE from worries about protracted bloodshed, the possibility that Afghanistan could split into two or three states along tribal or ethnic lines is the most profound concern among analysts here.
India and Pakistan are both trying to keep their nations intact, so a breakup of Afghanistan is seen as a potentially dangerous precedent. A "dismembered" Afghan nation, to use the word of a former foreign minister, would also dampen efforts to expand ties with the central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union.
"I'm not nervous," says S. K. Singh, a former Indian ambassador to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, about the immediate impact of the fighting under way in Kabul and other parts of the country. "But we have to be mindful of one thing: the long-term destabilization of Afghanistan."
Although Indian analysts suggest that Pakistan would be hit harder if Afghanistan fractured, they do not deny that India would also suffer. And New Delhi's consistent support for ousted Afghan President Najibullah, a policy that won India substantial favor from the Soviet Union, might make good relations with Afghanistan impossible even if stability were to prevail.
The emergence of the more moderate mujahideen leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, has caused some relief in New Delhi, where the rise of the hard-line, fundamentalist rebel Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was viewed with dread.
The new Afghan government, says Muchkund Dubey, a former Indian Foreign Ministry official, "will be an Islamic republic whatever it is, but it should not be of a fundamentalist type." Mr. Hekmatyar's hostility to India "is well known," he notes.
But drawn-out fighting between rebel groups, says Mr. Singh, "will fracture the country," possibly into two regions: the eastern and southern part of the country, now dominated by the Pushtun tribe, and the western and northern region, which is home to Tajik and Uzbeki peoples, as well as to Iranian-backed rebels faithful to the Shia sect of Islam. Other analysts envision the Shias breaking off to merge with Iran.
ANY split would immediately affect Pakistan's national integrity, since the creation of a "Pushtunistan" might well include parts of Pakistan where Pushtuns live. Economically, Singh says, a bifurcated Afghanistan will force "Pakistan's plans with Central Asia [to] go for the high-jump."
"The chances for dismemberment or sustained civil war are there and one can't possibly avoid them," says Inder Gujral, a former Indian foreign minister and ambassador to the Soviet Union. Most troubling, he predicts, is that a civil war will be fought along ethnic lines - a trend that may influence Tajiks and Uzbekis in the central Asian republics. Concurring with Singh and other analysts, he says that any drive for an independent Pushtunistan is "not likely to be contained within Afghanistan."
Mr. Gujral faults Afghanistan's neighbors, including India, and the superpowers for failing to anticipate a power vacuum in Mr. Najibullah's absence. "How did they fail to work out some sort of a central theme between [the rebel groups?]" he asks.
Bhabani Sen Gupta, a political scientist at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, is certain India "has absolutely no role to play" in Afghanistan's future.
During their rule of India, the British fought wars to ensure that no other imperial powers controlled Afghanistan, a strategical part of South Asia, says Mr. Gupta. Independent India then "built friendly relations and supported Afghanistan in its little quarrels with Pakistan."
But now, he says, after years of India's ceding Afghanistan to Soviet influence, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Central Asian republics are vying for positions of power, but "nowhere is India in a position to intervene." Of course, he adds, "nobody calculated that the Soviet Union [would] collapse."