Soviet general downbeat on Afghan government prospects
In one of the gloomiest public assessment yet of the Afghan situation, a senior Soviet officer has warned that the Kabul government may not last long after a Soviet pullout. The warning was contained in a long interview with Maj. Gen. Kim Tsagolov, published in the Soviet weekly Ogonyok over the weekend. It bore a strong resemblance to briefings given Soviet official visitors to Kabul at the beginning of this year by senior members of the ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).
Asked by the weekly Ogonyok if the Afghan Army could hold out after Soviet troops complete their withdrawal early next year, General Tsagolov answered that, ``Judging from the present state of the Afghan Army, I do not have confidence'' in this. Tsagolov, Ogonyok says, served as a senior military adviser in Afghanistan from 1981-84 and again in 1987. Accompanying the interview were two photographs of the bearded general disguised in one case as an Afghan officer, in the other as a beturbaned Afghan civilian.
But this weekend's interview carried one semi-positive message for the government of Afghan head of state Najibullah: Stop political infighting; form a government in which other left-leaning parties have an equal share of power; and open up negotiations with guerrilla leaders based inside Afghanistan.
The general's prescription recalled what Soviet visitors were told in January by ranking PDPA officials. When the Soviet pullout began, two officials told a visitor, ``We will have to move fast'' to build firm contacts with the internally-based guerrilla forces and other political groupings.
Najibullah, they said, would probably have to go, as he does not have the full backing of the party. And Soviet civilian advisers would have to leave with the troops - presumably to reduce chances of the new government being branded as a Soviet creation. If advisers did not leave, an Afghan official cautioned his Soviet visitor, ``they'll be shot - by us, not the dushmans [enemy guerrillas].''
The present government's hold on the country is tenuous, Tsagolov said. There is ``not a single province or district'' in the country where the Kabul government has unquestioned power. This contrasts sharply to public claims just a few months ago that things were so quiet in many provinces that Soviet troops had been pulled out of them well before any talks of a Soviet departure.
Without criticizing Najibullah by name (the Afghan leader goes by only his last name), Tsagolov had harsh words for the present government's policies. Until now Soviet observers had described Najibullah as much more skillful than his inept predecessors.
The general agreed with his interviewer, Artem Borovik, that the PDPA was in a state of ``deep crisis.'' The party's energies had been expended on factionalism - including the physical elimination of rivals - and maneuvering for comfortable positions. It had neglected political work with the Afghan people. The result was a ``gradual decline'' in the Afghan party's standing among the population. Tsagolov was not optimistic that the party could recover lost ground.
``I fear that the sickness of factional fighting and clannishness inside the PDPA has already gone too far'' to be remedied, he said.
The only way to save the situation, Tsagolov indicated, was by the immediate formation of a broad-based coalition government. The PDPA's present policy of national reconciliation was a ``half-measure,'' Tsagolov said.
Kabul should also open up negotiations immediately with the internally-based Afghan guerrillas, Tsagolov stressed. He mentioned three leaders, incuding Ahmad Shah Massoud, who operates in the Panjshair Valley. Soviet accounts of the war often betray admiration for Mr. Massoud's military skills.
Tsagolov's comments come, ironically, at a time when Afghan guerrillas and their supporters have been modifying their enthusiasm about the chances of an early defeat of the Najibullah government. Soviet officials stress the deep divisions inside the Afghan guerrilla leadership, and frequently complain that the PDPA has not done enough to exploit these divisions.
Tsagolov did not exclude the possibility of an upsurge in fundamentalist Islamic fervor in Afghanistan in the not-too-distant future. The possible spread of fundamentalism across the border into the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union is one of Moscow's abiding nightmares.
A comment by the general, however, also suggested a Soviet line of action in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. He noted the rising demands of a number of ``oppressed national minorities'' in Afghanistan, and named three: Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmens. Large populations of all three groups live just across the border in Soviet central Asia. Moscow might conceivably view sympathetically any activities by the three groups in Afghanistan if an anti-Soviet government is formed one day in Kabul. The estimated 120,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan are scheduled to complete pulling out in February 1989.