THE current stalemate at Jalalabad, and the apparent failure of the Afghan resistance to unite behind a coherent political strategy, demands that the United States take a close look at its interests there. Clearly the US would like to see the mujahideen develop a broad-based government acceptable to a large majority of the Afghan people. The US also has an interest in an early return to normalcy in Afghanistan, for only then will it be in a position to play a more direct and constructive role in extending support and cooperation to a stable Afghan government in Kabul.
While the overall situation in Afghanistan remains fluid, several developments since the Soviet withdrawal should cause concern. The interim government, decided upon after protracted deliberation and now recognized by the Organization of Islamic Countries, still falls short of expectations for a broad-based government. By all accounts, it remains divided within itself. Mujahideen commanders have not hailed it with enthusiasm, nor have Afghans in exile, who unanimously supported the armed struggle and who can play a useful role in national reconstruction.
On the other hand, more than a month after the Soviet withdrawal, the Kabul regime remains entrenched in major cities. Its best hope lies in prolonging the conflict, wearing down the resistance, and gaining time and opportunity for political maneuver. At the same time, a protracted conflict with increasing polarization of highly armed political players in Afghanistan will be a recipe for continuing fragmentation and internecine strife among mujahideen groups scrambling for control.
The so-far inconclusive battle for Jalalabad should have a sobering impact on the interim government, as well as on its key supporters - Pakistan, the US, and Saudi Arabia. While mistakes of military planning and tactics cannot be discounted, the fact remains that contrary to expectations, the city did not fall from within, and the Kabul Army fought with resolve instead of crumbling or defecting en masse. There were few apparent political incentives for it to do otherwise. One clear lesson emerging is that political strategy is as vital as military tactics.