United Nations mediator Diego Cordovez yesterday ended a round of intense shuttle diplomacy between Islamabad and Kabul on an upbeat note that was shared by Pakistani officials. Mr. Cordovez said the next round of indirect talks between the Soviet-backed Kabul government and Pakistan, to begin March 2, could result in settlement of the Afghan war. ``The gap has been closed to a point where a specific agreement ... is clearly foreseeable,'' he said.
The optimism followed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's announcement Monday that the first of 115,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan could begin to leave on May 15 if an agreement is reached by March 15. Mr. Gorbachev also shortened the pullout period to 10 months from one year - which Pakistani officials found encouraging.
But political observers warned that deep differences between Moscow and the Afghan resistance over who will govern the country could still scuttle an agreement.
Pakistan has proposed that a coalition include the Afghan resistance and some members of the existing Kabul regime. But the seven Afghan guerrilla groups based in Pakistan bitterly oppose the current Kabul leadership. Only some moderate resistance leaders are ready to accept the return of Zahir Shah, the Afghan king who was deposed in 1973.
A resistance spokesman repeated the refusal and also expressed distrust of the Soviet pledges.
The guerrillas' intransigence has put war-weary Pakistan on the spot. The country shelters some 3 million Afghan refugees at a cost of about $1 million a day. Random bombings, blamed on the Afghan secret police, have killed 500 people in Pakistan in the past six months.