Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Settling Things in Kabul the Afghan Way

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Settling Things in Kabul the Afghan Way

Article excerpt

Settling Things in Kabul The Afghan Way

On the morning of May 30, 1992, a very knowledgeable Washington source remarked: "Leave it to the Afghans and they will resolve their crisis the Afghan way." In the evening came word that interim President Sibghatullah Mojaddedi's plane had been shot at as it landed at the Kabul airport. Mojaddedi accused Hizb-e-Islami's still irreconciled leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of trying to kill him. Hizb-e-Islami spokesman Abdul Qadir Qaryab denied the charge in typical Afghan style. "If we had done it, we would have used 20 missiles and left no chance for survival," he said.

Political stalemate continues in Kabul, and the Pashtuns under Hekmatyar on one side and the Tajiks and Uzbeks under Ahmed Shah Masoud and Gen. Abdul Rasheed Dostam on the other keep their powder dry sitting in bunkers facing each other in and around the capital city.

Responsibility for the present tension and crisis has to be shared by several powers, groups and individuals, principally the former Soviet Union, which plunged into the affairs of a country inhabited by an almost medieval people strongly given to the religion of Islam and ready to die for the protection of their faith.

Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev had signalled the end of occupation and thus the possible end of the war in Afghanistan around 1988. Early 1989 saw the final withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, the 13 years of fighting had demolished old ways and created a new crop of leaders. These included the Soviet protegé, Najibullah, in Kabul, his Tajik opponent, Ahmed Shah Masoud, in the north, and the Pashtun leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in exile in Peshawar, Pakistan.

It is obvious today that alliances made under wartime conditions do not always hold good under conditions of peace. The problem now is how to introduce accommodation and conciliation among factions that have never had to compromise. No wonder that U.N. representative Benon Sevan is reportedly frustrated at the manner in which the end-game in Kabul has slipped out of his hands. It is apparent that what was conceived with the best of intentions has come to be delivered in great pain.

The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan used Hekmatyar as their point-man to funnel economic aid to the mujahedeen in the refugee camps and military supplies to the infiltrating forces inside Afghanistan. Other Afghan leaders, also in the camps, went along with the arrangement. Hekmatyar, a hard core conservative, grew in stature, at least in the eyes of the freedom fighters.

Ahmad Shah Masoud established himself in the north and ran a parallel government of his own in and around Mazar-e-Sharif and Panj Sher. While continuing his freedom struggle, he tactfully maintained his contacts with Peshawar and later with the disintegrating elements of the Kabul regime. In Kabul, Najibullah, while participating in the U.N. sponsored negotiations, sought to neutralize his potential rivals and ensure his personal survival. He courted Abdul Rasheed Dostam, a fierce Jouzjani who controlled the Uzbek militia in Kunduz, bordering Uzbekistan. Najibullah also befriended Syed Mansur Naderi, an Ismaili tribal chief who controlled the Kayan Valley, also in the north.

As Sevan progressed in his mediation to resolve the problem peacefully, Najibullah's strategy collapsed. Dostam made peace with Masoud and brought with him the support of Momin and Ashak, two military generals who also defected from Najibullah's government. Naderi also struck a deal with Masoud. The stage was thus set to move into Kabul at the right time. Najib, who had previously sent his family to India, sought to join them there. …

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