TWO points need to be made about Afghanistan. The first is that the pending Soviet withdrawal is not coming about because of new leadership in Moscow, or because the Soviets have suddenly been overtaken by remorse or a wave of reforming liberalism. It is coming about because the Soviets have failed to break the guerrilla resistance; they are in a military mess and have decided it is time to cut their losses.
Soviet withdrawal, if it actually takes place, will be a tribute to the incredible bravery of the resisting Afghan people, and to a consistency and fortitude on the part of the United States, and others, in keeping the guerrillas armed.
The second is that Afghanistan, after the Soviets depart, is not necessarily going to be a land of tranquillity and democracy. This warning has been offered in this column before. The West should have reasonable expectations, but not outlandish ones. The transition from communist dictatorship to Jeffersonian democracy is unlikely to come overnight.
The Afghan resistance hates its country's communist invaders, who have been so brutal, who have taken such terrible toll in human life, and who have sent millions of Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. That does not mean that the various guerilla factions are united or that the ``freedom'' they seek is based on traditional Western democratic concepts.
In other words, don't be surprised if Afghan politics get a little messy after the Soviet departure. The players are tough and sometimes mean, as they have proved in fighting the Soviets. This may not be all to the good, but what follows will likely be substantially better for most Afghans than what has been happening under Soviet occupation.