AT a busy education institute in central Kabul, more than 300 Afghan government employees study English daily. In the past year - since the Soviet Union announced the end to its decade-long occupation of Afghanistan - enrollment at the school has jumped more than 50 percent. There are plans to expand the program to highschool teachers.
Foreign and Afghan observers here see the trend as a sign that Western influence is making a comeback. ``With English, we know there will be more opportunities now,'' says a young television producer.
``There is a growing interest in English education,'' says Ross Mountain, an official of the United Nations, which now runs the former British-government language center. ``We hope to use the school as the base to expand our education program in the future.''
Despite the continued presence of large numbers of Soviet military advisers and civilians in Afghanistan, foreign and local observers here say Russian influence is receding.
In a move to bolster its international standing, the government of President Najibullah has tried to distance itself from Moscow. For instance, Kabul University is trying to reestablish ties with American and other Western universities which helped develop it. The university is seeking new links, particularly in agriculture and engineering.
Recognizing the role of English in the planned massive reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, university and school students are clamoring to learn English, UN officials say. Although Russian was promoted as a second language for an entire generation of Afghans, Soviet influence is being challenged.
``The Russianization of Afghanistan was a process of trial and error,'' says a Kabul University professor. ``But people remained Afghans and showed much resistance.''
Given this sentiment, the decision earlier this year by Western countries to close their embassies draws criticism from government officials and civilians.
``They could have kept the door to the West open,'' says one Afghan. ``Instead the West has cut itself off.''