The present situation in Afghanistan is far from what many international observers would have expected last February after the Soviet military withdrawal.
The Marxist regime, which appeared to need the support of 100,000 Red Army troops in order to maintain nominal political authority in the country during the previous decade, has so far managed to preserve itself. Najibullah, the leader installed by the Soviets, has (for the moment) managed to strengthen his position both in Afghanistan and internationally by offering conciliatory gestures to the leaders of the moujahedeen and to local military commanders.
Meanwhile, the seven groups of the moujahedeen, who were considered to be brave and noble freedom-fighters during their long and successful struggle against regional Soviet expansionism, today appear impotent as a military force capable of dislodging the Kabul government. And even more significantly, the moujahedeen leaders have been discredited as the nucleus of a viable representative government in a future Afghanistan: Recent revelations show them to be essentially the pawns of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.
The chaotic situation that now exists can be explained with reference to the momentous impact that the Soviet withdrawal has had on internal, regional and global political forces acting in Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion and occupation of the country created an unlikely coalition of regional and global actors that had a shared interest in halting and, if possible, reversing Moscow's aggression in the region. The partners of this de facto alliance included the United States, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China. Now, this unlikely coalition has violently ruptured, and each former member has quickly developed an independent policy to attempt to secure its own limited interests in the region.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in an escalating struggle for religious influence. The Saudis are supporting the obscure Wahabbi sect of Sunni Muslims. The Iranians are supporting various Shiite groups. The Pakistanis, who have spent the entire war developing a dependent network of self-interested moujahedeen factions, are now attempting to exploit this structure to impose a government in Afghanistan that they can continue to control. And Washington, although it announced this month that it is now interested in seeking a "political solution," continues to allow its policy to be led by Pakistan. The policy shift announced by President Bush and Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto appears to be only tactical in nature as U.S. officials revealed that the moujahedeen will launch a major military offensive in the weeks ahead aimed at forcing the government to defend more of the nation's rugged countryside.
Additionally, a second coalition that existed to resist the Soviet invasion is starting to break apart.
Such interest by outside forces seeking the breakdown of a cohesive national opposition has left Afghanistan weak and vulnerable. At the same time, it has made it unnecessary for the Soviets to desist from delivering extensive aid to the Najibullah regime. The Soviet Union can divert attention from the damages that it inflicted on Afghanistan and blame the United States and Pakistan for continuing the "civil war" in Afghanistan. Likewise, the Soviets can play on the frustration and exhaustion of the long-suffering Afghan population by creating the impression that they are on the side of conciliation.
Washington and Pakistan, by continuing in their attempts to impose a government, are playing into the hands of the Soviets and other regional interests. Given the situation, it is important to consider possible solutions to bring peace, stability and representative government to Afghanistan.
The eventual objective should be to create the conditions under which the Afghans could carry out their traditional tribal election process, the loya jirga , which is implemented to set up an acceptable and representative tribal democracy. In order for this to occur, the superpowers and key regional actors would have to agree to desist from power struggles inside Afghanistan. A neutral interim government, presumably under the supervision of the United Nations, could be created to repatriate refugees and work out the logistics of the loya jirga . One possible key player in such an interim government would be the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who steadfastly maintained his independence during the war. He would bring stability because he commands the respect of the diverse ethno-linguistic, cultural and tribal groups.
A strong, representative government in Afghanistan that could begin the monumental task of rebuilding the economy and society would serve international interests. Regional and global stability would be enhanced as various external actors would not be tempted to advance limited interests in Afghanistan. And more importantly, the devastated nation could begin to reconstitute itself and return to a normal state of existence. History has shown that Afghans will reject any government that appears to be under the influence of outside powers.