Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister and an Afghan diplomat defected last week and are expected to seek asylum in the United States, State Department officials said Thursday.
Abdul Ghaffar Lakanwal, a former agriculture minister currently serving as deputy foreign minister, is the highest-ranking official to desert the Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah. The other defector was identified as Sayed Kamaluddin, a lower-ranking official.
Both accompanied Afghan Premier Mohammed Hassan Sharq on a visit to the United Nations earlier this month. Sharq returned home Nov. 10, but the two officials stayed behind and are now living with relatives in the United States, a State Department official said.
"We aren't saying anything officially until the two have made up their minds about what they want to do," said one U.S. official, speaking on condition that he not be identified.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman declined to comment, and Fred Negem, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, would say only that "it's a delicate matter." The Afghan Embassy would not comment.
A Pakistani diplomat termed the defections a serious blow to Najibullah's regime and predicted that there would be more. "With Kabul virtually surrounded by the moujahedeen (Islamic guerrillas) now, it's not likely that any other officials who can get out will be returning," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
The rebels are supported by Pakistan and the United States, and the two defecting officials could provide valuable intelligence for the guerrilla campaign.
Kabir Kohistany, a Washington representative of the guerrillas, who have been fighting the Kabul regime for more than eight years, said he heard rumors at the United Nations earlier this month that Lakanwal intended to defect.
"He's a true Marxist," Kohistany said, but apparently concluded that the current situation in his country was untenable.
The Pakistani diplomat said that Lakanwal was staying with a brother-in-law in Minnesota and Kamaluddin was with relatives in the New York area.