The Slaughter Goes On

Does this sound like a country yearning for peace?

Najibullah, the man Moscow left in charge of Afghanistan when Soviet troops pulled out after 10 years of bloody occupation, proposed a cease-fire last week to celebrate the first anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal. By way of a reply, anti-government guerrillas lobbed five rockets at the capital city of Kabul. Western relief agencies estimate that such rocket attacks killed at least 1,000 civilians in and near Kabul last year.

So the very malevolence of the mood in Afghanistan, the absence among leaders of a yearning for peace, makes it all the more urgent that Washington try to get a cease-fire accepted there as the first step toward ending the war and organizing a coalition government.

One reason for urgency in Washington is that the United States shares responsibility with the Soviet Union for the fact that the war drags on in the parched and rugged land. Both ship arms to their surrogates, the United States to the guerrillas and the Soviet Union to government forces.

There was a time while Soviet troops were packing their trucks and preparing to leave that the superpowers might have struck a deal to stop arms shipments to both sides. But back then it looked to Washington as if the guerrillas, the moujahedeen , might be strong enough to clear Najibullah and his forces out of Kabul. So the United States said "nothing doing." Washington guessed wrong. Government troops shrugged off one guerrilla attack after another, lost not a single city, and, in fact, expanded their area of influence.

That may account for a partial change of mind in Washington. The White House, which had been insisting that Najibullah must step down before peace talks could begin, now says he could stay on until the talks are concluded.

At the same time, Moscow proposed a conference aimed at ending the fighting and demilitarizing Afghanistan. It made no mention of Washington's change in position on Najibullah, but the Soviets seem to be in an agreeable mood these days, often accepting propositions that Washington is sure they will reject. That may happen this time. If not, Washington must do whatever else it takes to help stop the slaughter.

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