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Try Again in Afghanistan

Though battling continues among rival factions backed by regional sponsors, stalemate offers an opening for a new UN peace initiative

ALTHOUGH the war in Afghanistan no longer makes headlines in the West, the suffering of the Afghans is still comparable to that of the Somalis and Bosnians.

Heavily armed rival groups have caused much destruction and killing in the past four months. They have looted public and private property on a very large scale and have engaged in mass kidnapping of the residents of Kabul. They have frequently shelled residential areas in the city, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee for safety in other provinces or outside the country. The interim government does not exercise any meaningful authority over Kabul or the rest of the countr y. It is just one of the many armed groups involved in this destruction and killing.

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The main reason for this chaos and violence is that numerous heavily armed groups want to dominate the country but lack the power to prevail over the others. They are also unable to form alliances with other groups to defeat their common opponents. Most of these armed groups are supported by Pakistan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. The intensity of violence between these groups reflects the intensity of rivalries in the Middle East, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The sudden collapse of the communist regime last April created a military and political vacuum that encouraged a struggle for power among the rival armed groups. Some of the leading contenders for power, such as Ahmed Shah Masoud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, believed that controlling Kabul would enable them to establish their authority throughout the country. This explains the ferocity of the fighting, and, consequently, the extreme suffering of the people in Kabul.

Forces loyal to the interim government are incapable of establishing their control over Kabul or the rest of the country, but their opponents cannot defeat these forces either. Most of these armed groups, which had gained legitimacy during the war against the Soviet invaders, have now, because of their utter disregard for human life, pretty much exhausted their legitimacy.

The interim government, unable to provide security, cannot attract international financial assistance. The government is broke. Similarly, in the absence of peace and order, economic reconstruction cannot be promoted. This makes life harder for the people and adds to the financial crisis of the government.

However, this new political and military stalemate has created an environment that may help the United Nations to negotiate a comprehensive political settlement for the conflict. The UN must soon renew its efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

ENDING foreign financial and military aid to the various armed groups is a prerequisite for the success of a political solution. The UN must convince Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan to terminate their financial and military support for their Afghan clients.

Inasmuch as the efforts of each regional power to establish its dominance in Afghanistan have been counteracted by rival powers, it is quite likely that these states will soon realize that no one can achieve quick and lasting victory in Afghanistan and will end their futile rivalry there. The UN had made significant progress in this regard before the collapse of the communist regime last April. Now, once again, the prospects are bright for a successful UN initiative.

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The UN must also pursue its earlier efforts to convene a meeting of some 500 prominent Afghans to elect an interim government. Although the list that the UN has prepared may not be a perfectly representative one, it is certainly more representative than the "decisionmaking" and "consultative" councils that the current powerless government has established. Upon the election of the new interim government, the international community should provide the new government with political and financial support. Th e interim government should promptly build a new defense and security force.

International aid should provide the new defense force with adequate weapons to effectively deal with any challenger. Of course, the defense force should be nonpartisan; but the government should allow former mujahideen to join the defense force on an individual basis.

The intensity of ethnic, sectarian, and regional conflicts in Afghanistan has increased substantially in the past few years. These issues should be addressed after the restoration of peace and the rebuilding of state institutions. The current level of instability promotes extremism and does not allow a lasting resolution of these conflicts. The interim government should prepare a constitution for the country. Controversial issues must be justly resolved, within the framework of national unity, during the

constitutional discussions.

The constitution ought to be based on democracy and the right to political participation for all groups and individuals. After the ratification of the constitution by a constitutional convention, parliamentary elections should be held under UN supervision; teams of observers from international institutions concerned with the fairness of elections, such as the Carter Center, should also be allowed to monitor the elections. The results of the elections should provide the basis for the formation of a popula rly elected permanent government.

The people of Afghanistan are crying out for international help to end the bloodshed. Aided by the new military and political stalemate, the UN must renew its efforts to achieve peace there. The United States, Japan, and the European Community ought to support the UN role - not for strategic considerations, but because of their support for popularly elected governments and concern for life and human rights throughout the world.

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