Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghan Commanders Move to Break Civil War Stalemate US, Soviets Back off Summit Agreements on Winding Down War

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghan Commanders Move to Break Civil War Stalemate US, Soviets Back off Summit Agreements on Winding Down War

Article excerpt

AFGHANISTAN'S rebel commanders are raising hopes of an emerging new force in the deadlocked civil war.

In a backlash against both the Kabul regime of President Najibullah and the bickering politicians of the mujahideen's (guerrillas') interim government based in this Pakistani border town, almost 50 guerrilla commanders formed a fledgling alliance last month that observers say could help break Afghanistan's vicious gridlock.

"We don't want to make the commanders another political party and another headache to the country," says Abdul Haq, a prominent commander who was at the meeting. "The commanders don't want to run the country. They want to help it get out of this stalemate."

The tenuous union, though initially a military alliance, could have political implications, revitalize resistance politics, and eventually lead to elections, observers say.

"The commanders' meeting could potentially be very important," says a Western diplomat.

Since Soviet troops retreated in February 1989, the victorious guerrillas have been torn by infighting, drug trafficking, and defections to the Communist regime in Kabul.

Their interim government, backed by the West, flounders and is widely scorned. Najib, as the Afghan president is known, has survived rebel attacks, coup attempts, and pressure on his fragile Soviet supply line to hold the Afghan capital.

However, analysts say the commanders' union is still more symbolic than substantive, as Afghanistan splinters in the grip of the superpower standoff.

At the Soviet-American summit two weeks ago, George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev failed to move toward an agreement and cut off arms to the Central Asian country.

Just six months ago, in the wake of the two leaders' Malta meeting, an end of this remnant of cold war conflict seemed in sight. The Soviets said Moscow would edge out Najib eventually as the Washington eased its insistence that he first be removed as a prelude to peace.

But differences again hardened. In Soviet eyes, Najib gained staying power by surviving and rebounding from a coup attempt by rivals within his fractious People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.

As ethnic dissent exploded in the Soviet Central Asian republics, the weaker, but determined Kabul regime seemed less dispensable in the face of pledges by Afghan rebels to export their holy war into the Soviet Muslim heartland.

United States policy is in disarray as officials deride the interim government and admit it is "a failure." In recent years, the US has tried to channel aid directly to the commanders inside Afghanistan and away from the six Peshawar political parties, in particular fundamentalist and Pakistani favorite Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Although it is believed to be backing the commanders' effort, the US avoids a public endorsement for fear of dooming it before it gets off the ground. …

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