Two weeks ago, hundreds of commanders, intellectuals, tribal chiefs, Islamic leaders and politicians from Afghanistan's resistance movement gathered here, voicing great hopes for forming a unified, alternative government that could help avert civil war in their country now that the Soviet Union has pulled out its troops.
Now, they talk only of miracles.
An assembly that was to have elected a rebel government in exile has foundered because of squabbling among its rival moderate and fundamentalist members. An urgent attempt to revive it made little progress Monday but will continue this week.
A disinformation campaign Saturday by the fundamentalists, who falsely reported that the assembly had picked a compromise slate to lead a government in exile, succeeded only in alienating most of the few respected rebel commanders and intellectuals who had not already left Islamabad during the first week of bickering.
Moreover, the Pakistan government, which has been both host and unofficial adviser to the assembly, is drawing criticism from influential Afghans.
"This past two weeks has been a sort of blasphemy to the memory of our brave holy war," said Homayoun Shah Assefy, an assembly delegate and former Afghan diplomat who now lives in exile in Paris. "This brave struggle has given our people a very good image--a capital of sympathy, and I see all this being destroyed in a couple of weeks.
"The impression our political leaders have given is that the Afghans are puppets of the Pakistan government. . . . I only hope the world will know that what we see here has nothing to do with the Afghan people."
Assefy was asked if he could foresee any political solution that would avert the danger of a Lebanon-style civil war in Afghanistan, where centuries-old tribal, regional and feudal rivalries are likely to be rekindled in the aftermath of the Soviet troop withdrawal.
'Miracles Are Possible'
"We are Muslim people," he said, "and in our faith, we believe all miracles are possible."
Others were even harsher in their criticism of the foundering shura, as the assembly is called.
Sayed Ibrahim Gailani, an assembly delegate who joined the Afghan resistance two years ago after living 15 years in the United States, said Monday that the entire two weeks had been a sham.
"They are trying to build a house with no foundation," he said. "First they put the roof, then the walls and ground. This cannot stand. The members of the shura do not represent the people of Afghanistan. They represent only the political interests in Pakistan."
Gailani and other delegates criticized the seven main political party leaders in the rebel alliance--those who convened the shura-- as "self-appointed gods who have no support inside Afghanistan." The seven-party alliance, which includes four fundamentalist parties and three moderate groups, was created with Pakistan's help soon after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Its main purpose initially was to work for more efficient distribution of U.S.-financed arms, food and supplies for the rebels fighting the Soviet-backed regime and Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Guns Equal Power
Guns meant power inside Afghanistan, and the party leaders soon acquired influence that went beyond any natural, popular support they had inside their country, diplomats and independent analysts here say.
"What you see happening now," one Western diplomat said, "is a result of the old truism that the instruments of war are not necessarily the instruments of peace. The parties have simply outlived their usefulness. Now that the Afghan people and the moujahedeen (resistance fighters) commanders who have done all the fighting are beginning to think about ways of peace, these institutions of war have become an obstacle."
That truism was illustrated Saturday night, when the Afghan News Agency, controlled by the rebel alliance, announced at a press conference that the assembly had picked a unified, compromise exile government--something that had not happened.
While the shura's fundamentalist spokesman, party leader Abdul Rasul Sayaf, was announcing the rebel's "newly elected" prime minister and president on Pakistan government television, moderate rebel leader Sibghatullah Mojaddidi was holding a press conference giving a more accurate version of the day's events: Two leaders had been nominated by the alliance, but no vote had been taken.
The deliberate deception alienated scores of delegates and polarized the assembly. At least 70 delegates, principally guerrilla commanders and religious leaders, defied the alliance leadership, demanding for themselves the right to select a prime minister and president for the exile government.
Other respected delegates--intellectuals and guerrilla field commanders who had attended the shura despite disagreement with the political leaders--decided to boycott the assembly.
"I would not have minded if they did not try to misuse us like this," said Samad Hamed, a former deputy prime minister of Afghanistan who has been in exile in West Germany. "They should not have used us as scapegoats.
"But still, I am not pessimistic, even if the shura is a failure. We lost perhaps a battle--an important battle--but not the whole war. Let us hope for a miracle."
Hamed, who is apolitical and often mentioned as a possible compromise candidate to head a government in exile, added that an eventual failure of the assembly could even help Afghanistan find a peaceful solution to its crisis elsewhere.
"If such a feeling could lead to a situation where the political leadership will shift (away from the Pakistan-based alliance) to the commanders and leaders inside Afghanistan, it might help. Otherwise, it will be a catastrophe."
According to Hamed and other Afghan academics, a gathering of commanders and tribal elders--either helped by a true consensus government emerging from the shura or by the fact that no such government emerged--would return much of the decision-making power for Afghanistan's future to the Afghans themselves.
They said that during the prolonged guerrilla war, Pakistan, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the rebels' other principal foreign supporters played an increasingly important role.
"We lost our initiative to our friends," Hamed said. "The commanders had the initiative to fight, but no one had the initiative on the political side."
Pakistan, however, is known to have favored the fundamentalist parties in the distribution of arms and munitions--part of a plan by the late President Zia ul-Haq to form an Islamic belt extending from Iran to India. Many critics charge that Islamabad is continuing to press for a fundamentalist-dominated Afghan government .
Most Afghans, Hamed among them, have said that such a government is unacceptable to the majority of the Afghan people.
Freedom of Choice
"In Afghanistan, people now want the necessities of life, and they want the freedom of choice," Hamed said. Any future government that imposes restrictions will find difficulties."
Gailani was more emphatic. After the false report that a fundamentalist-led rebel government was approved, he declared in an interview with The Times: "I ask the whole world, 'Do not recognize this puppet government. Do not cooperate with this government. It is a germ that will go inside Afghanistan and grow into a civil war.
"It is merely the transfer of one puppet regime to another. If any country recognizes this puppet government, he is the enemy of the silent majority of the people of Afghanistan, and that silent majority will not be so silent anymore. We will rise up as we did against the Russians, and it will be a flood that no one can stop.' "
Although Gailani clearly spoke for millions of Afghans who seek only a relief from a decade of war, other rebel leaders such as Hamed still have refused to abandon the shura totally as an instrument of political change.
Hamed insisted that he could still support a government dominated by the fundamentalists, if it were recognized by a number of other nations, and he returned to the shura this week in an effort to find a compromise.
"The real problem facing us," he said, "is . . . a feeling among the moujahedeen that the tree of the revolution is now finally bearing its fruit, and now, everyone--our friends among them--are reaching out and trying to steal the fruit. We must find a way to keep it for ourselves."
Former Afghan diplomat Assefy used a more European analogy.
"Now that the Soviets are gone, everyone is trying to distribute the spoils of war among themselves," he said. "But I suppose there still is hope.
"As a Muslim, I believe in God and in our people. What is needed is a nexus between God and the people. And, yes, I am afraid that is what you in the West call a miracle."