Consequences in Kabul

Can Afghan tribal leaders put aside differences to rebuild institutions, disarm warlords, resettle refugees, bring order, and establish an economy?

EXACTLY 14 years after it assumed power, the communist regime in Kabul has collapsed. The sudden disintegration of the regime is surprising. President Najibullah was supposed to transfer power to a 15-member council of "neutral" Afghans. The Afghan resistance agreed to a resolution of the conflict under United Nations auspices. What triggered this outburst of military activities in the midst of optimism about UN efforts to resolve the conflict? How could the Kabul regime defeat much larger military offen sives the past three years, but succumb to the opposition so easily last week? Three factors explain this sudden collapse in Kabul: a financial crisis along with acute shortages; a conflict in the regime; and most important, the demoralizing impact of the UN peace formula on the armed forces.

Before Mikhail Gorbachev's end, the Soviet Union was the major source of revenue for Kabul. The Soviet Union's end destroyed Mr. Najibullah's financial basis. The Soviet Union also supplied most consumer goods, especially food, for Kabul. The cooperation of the new Central Asian republics as sources of supplies only stabilized Najibullah temporarily.

Internal conflict in Kabul destroyed this temporary stability. In February, Najibullah tried to remove General Dostam, leader of the militia forces in the north. Dostam instead rebelled against Najibullah and formed an alliance with other disaffected officers, and a major resistance commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud.

A struggle for power and ethnic considerations played an important role in this alliance between former communists and a leading Islamic fundamentalist. Jointly, these forces cut off Najibullah's transportation links with the Central Asian republics. This development intensified food shortages in Kabul, creating a state of emergency that required UN intervention.

Initially, the UN was to convene a meeting of 150 prominent Afghans in late April to prepare the way for a larger meeting in summer to elect a transitional government. Though Najibullah had agreed to step down after the formation of an interim government, the Kabul regime was supposed to participate in forming the interim government. The new emergency situation in Kabul, however, enabled the UN to persuade Najibullah to agree to relinquish power to a 15-member council of neutral Afghans.

This triggered the end of the Kabul government. Najibullah's departure left the regime without a leader, and an uncertain and dangerous future. Under the new UN formula, the participation of the regime in the formation of the interim government in postwar Afghanistan seemed uncertain. The situation demoralized both military and civilian personnel. Some military officers found it expedient to quickly negotiate terms for defection with the resistance. The resistance, especially commander Massoud, enthusias tically accepted these defectors. Ethnic tension in the military snowballed.

Kabul's collapse killed the UN plan in which an assembly of Afghan notables would elect a transitional government. Ex-king Zahir Shah would have benefited notably from such an outcome.

The assumption of power by the mujahideen has probably killed the Zahir Shah option for good. The ex-king's star rises only when popular support is considered necessary for leadership. Citizen's consent has never been a major principle of the mujahideen government. Similarly, the rise of mujahideen power negates any major political role for democrats, nationalists, and bureaucrats of former Afghan governments. In the past three years, these elements have supported a political, instead of a military, solu tion - and have distanced themselves too much from the mujahideen.

The future does not look bright for the mujahideen either. They are on the brink of a major war with each other. In exile their differences caused a weak and incoherent interim government structure. Their current plan for the division of power and government suffers from the same problems. They are supposed to occupy the offices of the president, prime minister, chief justice, and ministries of foreign affairs, defense, internal affairs, and education as almost equals. This will create a weak government.

While power rivalry between mujahideen leaders does not allow for a strong government, the tasks ahead - rebuilding state institutions, disarming warlords, resolving ethnic conflict, resettling refugees, economic development, and establishing order - require a competent and united leadership. Based on their record, it is highly unlikely that these leaders will be able to overcome their rivalry for power and address these national problems. Hence, they may soon exhaust their limited legitimacy and rule by

naked force.

Many Afghans are concerned about a denial of civil and human rights. Although foreign influence over the mujahideen is declining drastically, some influence can be exerted. Any future Afghan government would need a significant amount of foreign aid for the resettlement of refugees and the reconstruction of the country.

Hopefully, the international community will be generous but link aid to the observance of human rights and progress toward democracy in Afghanistan. I hope that the US, as the leader of the post-cold-war world, will be a major participant in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Furthermore, I hope the US will use its economic leverage to promote the cause of freedom and democracy in Afghanistan.

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