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Afghan Rebels Face New Problem--Seat for Interim Government

From Reuters

Now that they have formed a government, Afghanistan’s fractious moujahedeen rebels are faced with the major problem of where to put it.

Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, elected Feb. 23 as president of what the moujahedeen call an interim government, said it would be installed in Afghanistan within a month.

Moujahedeen officials and Western diplomats say it is important that the promise be honored, but choosing a seat for a government now based in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan is difficult.

“We have been discussing it for a week, but we haven’t made much progress,” one rebel official said.

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Getting the government installed inside Afghanistan quickly is important politically for the Muslim rebels fighting the Kabul government, now bereft of Soviet military support.

Last year, leaders of seven rebel groups based in Peshawar formed a government under Muslim fundamentalist Ahmad Shah.

“Ahmad Shah sat in Peshawar and became a joke. Mojaddidi’s (government) has to demonstrate as soon as possible that it is not Peshawar-bound,” one Western diplomat said.

“Putting it inside will demonstrate that it is an Afghan creation and Afghan-run,” he said.

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“Once it’s inside, people can’t influence it. Afghans will see it as theirs and start to rally round it, I think,” he added.

Finding a place sufficiently safe from which the interim government can also communicate to the outside world is the problem.

The moujahedeen have captured five of 30 provincial capitals.

They are reluctant to launch all-out assaults on other main Afghan cities they are besieging, mostly because guerrilla families are still inside them.

The rebel-held cities are either too far from Pakistan to ensure easy communications with the outside world, or are vulnerable to government air strikes and the Scud missiles Moscow gave Kabul.

Moujahedeen officials say they are under pressure from the Pakistani military, eager to keep up the political momentum provided by the election of the government, to take an eastern Afghan city as the government seat.

Jalalabad, a three-hour drive east of Kabul, is a possibility, but it has been heavily reinforced by Kabul and its flat terrain makes attack difficult.

Western diplomats said the southern city of Kandahar is likely to fall sooner than Jalalabad. But some factions oppose Kandahar, an area that supports former King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

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Diplomats said the most logical site is Khost, near the border about 80 miles south of Jalalabad.


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