New Start in Kabul

May 03, 1992

The installation of a broad-based interim government in Kabul marks the end of the last hot war fought by Third World surrogates of superpowers in the Cold War. Whatever fighting continues is among the victors.

Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, who took over as president of the interim council for two months, led the least formidable of the seven exiled political parties in Pakistan. He was chosen as a compromise by stronger rivals. Like most Islamic intellectuals of Afghanistan, he studied in Egypt. Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the Jamiat-i-Islami party, who is to succeed Mr. Mojaddidi as ruling council president in two months, comes from the Tajik ethnic minority. Both were theology professors in Kabul.

Poor Afghanistan's greatest needs may be beyond this makeshift council's ability to provide. The first is to avoid anarchy, where the tradition of feud is ingrained and every man has an assault rifle. The next is to restart agriculture, which withered in the 14-year civil war brought on by Soviet invasion. To do that, the fields must be cleared of mines and unexploded shells. To show how difficult that is: In Kuwait, 85 bomb disposal experts have been killed and 4,000 other people injured by mines and shells since the gulf war in February 1991. As Afghan refugees trek home to their villages, the vanished war will claim new victims.

The success of the interim council will rest on its ability to harness Afghanistan's ethnic and Islamic mosaic. The council is more religious politically than most Afghans, because the providers of aid to insurgents favored fundamentalist movements. The large numbers of Shiite refugees who fled to Iran deserve accommodation. So do secular intellectuals dispersed through the world. Party leaders with the larger philosophic and ethnic tents, including Mr. Rabbani, are less likely to breed new insurgency than those of narrower vision.

Whether fighting will continue is largely up to the fundamentalist party leader who spurned the coalition, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. If it can hold together, he cannot hope to prevail. Ill will between him and Mr. Mojaddidi, Mr. Rabbani and the latter's field commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, is well known. The lightning visit to Kabul by Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a welcome support to the interim council, and an implied rebuff to Mr. Hekmatyar.

For all its military aid to insurgents chosen by Pakistan, the U.S. has little influence. What it owes the people of Afghanistan after their ghastly ordeal is food, medicine and good will. Mr. Mojaddidi's interim council starts off worthy of support.

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