Afghans Fight More Among Themselves Than Against Soviets

KABUL, Afghanistan -- When the last Soviet soldier marched out of Afghanistan, the world and most Afghans hoped peace would return to allow the rebuilding of the war-ravaged country.

Their hopes were dashed. The Afghans are still fighting, now among themselves, with no apparent solution in sight to a political settlement.

The West, which backed the Islamic mujahedin who fought the Soviet occupation, celebrated the completion of the withdrawal of more than 100,000 Soviet troops under UN-mediated Geneva accords of 1988 and promised to help rebuild the country. Much of the West now seems to have washed its hands of Afghanistan after fighting the last battle of the Cold War here, and the Afghans have fought more among themselves than against their former Soviet occupiers.

Soviet pledges to contribute to a special United Nations fund to rebuild Afghanistan fizzled out with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The mujahedin groups - who won fame for their exploits against the Red Army - were marginalized by their own internecine fighting while jockeying for power after the Communist government collapsed in early 1992, three years after the Soviet pullout.

Most Afghans blame the Afghan factions, the majority of which are formed on ethnic lines, and alleged foreign interference for the protracted conflict. Different accusers point fingers in different directions.

The Taliban Islamic militia, which now controls most of Afghanistan, lays responsibility on a "puppet regime" that Moscow left intact while withdrawing. It also blames the mujahedin groups that fought the Soviet forces and then themselves for power after the Communist president Najibullah was toppled in 1992. The sudden overthrow of Najibullah, executed by the Taliban when they captured Kabul in September 1996, killed the UN-mediated plan for a peaceful transition through an interim government to which Najibullah had agreed.

"After driving out the Soviets, the Afghans also defeated a puppet regime they left behind," said a Taliban official. "Then some people who were agents of internal elements and foreign countries who did not want peace in Afghanistan were used to bring more desolation to the country," said Mohammad Yaqub Kaney, the head of Taliban's Bakhtar news agency.

The Taliban complain of interference by neighboring Iran, Russia and the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But an opposition alliance puts most of the blame on neighboring Pakistan, which played host to most Afghan guerrilla groups and more than 3 million Afghan refugees as well as serving as a conduit for Western arms for the anti-Soviet guerrilla war.

"Pakistan has been in the lead of all this disaster that has engulfed Afghanistan since the [Soviet] withdrawal," said opposition military commander Ahmad Shah Masood. He accuses Pakistan of having sought a government of its choice in Kabul, first by provoking a major former guerrilla leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to fight the mujahedin government in Kabul, where he also served as prime minister. "After failing to achieve its aims through Hekmatyar due to his lack of success, Pakistan opted to create another force, the Taliban," he said.

Both Islamabad and the Taliban deny that the militia was a creation of Pakistan, though many recruits of the movement, which emerged as a new political force in 1994, were drawn from Islamic schools of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

All the countries accused are in a UN-sponsored "Six-Plus-Two" group seeking a broad-based Afghan government, representing all ethnic groups. The group comprises the six countries with common borders with Afghanistan - China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - as well as the United States and Russia. The United States, which led in the Western aid to the mujahedin, gets most of the blame for the present lack of world attention to Afghanistan. "We know we were used against the Russians, and now the United States and the West ... don't give a damn about what goes on here," says Mohammad Gul, a Kabul resident.

The current U.S. focus in Afghanistan is more on the presence in the country of terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden. The United States launched missiles last August on suspected bin Laden camps in Afghanistan, and offered a record $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction on charges of masterminding U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 263 people. The Taliban refuse to hand over bin Laden and one of its judges has cleared him of the charges.