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Afghanistan: Return of Warlords

Power struggle degenerates as infighting mujahideen guerrillas and competing factions of the ruling communists assert rival claims

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AFGHANISTAN is sliding into a confused and potentially lengthy period of fratricidal warfare. The power struggle between the Moscow-backed regime in Kabul and Western-supported mujahideen (guerrillas) has fragmented, and competing factions of the ruling communists and infighting mujahideen are asserting claims to power.

Old and new rivalries, political observers here say, will prolong the fighting even if United States and Soviet arms supplies end.

``Afghanistan recalls how China was between the world wars. The warlords prevail,'' says a Western official. ``There are now so many groups which have upgraded their capacity to kill. That is the legacy of this war.''

President Najibullah, meanwhile, is skillfully maneuvering to neutralize his internal communist opponents and coopt guerrilla commandeers in the field with money and supplies of arms.

Before a Marxist coup triggered the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was a tumultuous patchwork of tribal, political, and military fiefdoms which resisted a strong central government.

Najibullah's own ruling party, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), is composed of various clans. Until last month, its tenuous unity had held since the withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces a year ago.

But the latest outbreak of clan warfare came on March 6, when communist dissidents in the PDPA, led by Defense Minister Shahnawaz Tanai, tried unsuccessully to overthrow Najib (as the president is known).

The aborted uprising was rooted in years of rivalry between the urban-based Parchami faction of the PDPA headed by Najib and the Khalqi wing, which has rural support. The coup leader, Mr. Tanai, is a Khalqi. In the coup aftermath, hundreds have been arrested.

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