The time and date of the telephone call are painfully etched in Aman Sulaimani's memory: 5 p.m. New Year's Eve 1981.

When he saw the message to call the State Department, he expected to hear the good news that one of his brothers, who had been living in India, had been granted permission to come to the United States.

Instead, a State Department official informed him that his youngest brother, Hakim, had been killed in the Kunner Valley in Afghanistan.

"I was told an artillery shell hit him in the forehead," says Sulaimani, his voice cracking slightly, "and that after losing much blood he went into a coma for four hours and then died in his sleep."

Hakim, who was 21 when he was killed, had lived with Aman in Arlington for eight years.

After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, Aman said, Hakim became consumed by the desire to return to his homeland.

"I had told him to go to school, get involved with sports and music and enjoy life," Aman Sulaimani said. "I wanted him to go to college. But he always talked about Afghanistan."

Finally, early in 1981, Hakim managed to contact the Mujaheddin, the Afghan freedom fighters who have waged a guerrilla war against the Soviets since the invasion. Hakim agreed to help with a photographic expedition into Afghanistan in an effort to document the alleged use of chemical warfare by the Soviets.

In a two-day walk, Hakim crossed the mountains across the Pakistani-Afghan border, accompanied by members of the Mujaheddin and an English journalist. The small group had just reached the Kunner Valley when it was attacked by artillery fire. Aman says he has never learned who attacked.

The State Department learned of the incident after the English journalist contacted American officials in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Sulaimani, who owns restaurants in Alexandria and Georgetown, says he is still haunted by the feeling that he might have stopped his brother from returning to Afghanistan.

"Even now, late at night after the restaurant's closed, I'll be listening to Afghan music and I'll start to cry," he says. "I will always live with this."

In the growing Afghan community in Northern Virginia, Sulaimani's grief is shared by many of his countrymen--refugees who have fled Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion, often leaving friends and relatives behind. Unlike the new immigrants, however, Sulaimani has been here 14 years and has a good, steady income.

For the newest Afghan immigrants, life in America has brought freedom. At the same time, it has brought an increasing frustration and what they see as neglect by a government they had believed would make every effort to help those fleeing a Communist regime.

Hussain Nadem, 54, and his family came to the United States under the U.S. refugee program. Since their arrival in mid-April, they have lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Alexandria. Before that they lived in India; before India, Pakistan, and before Pakistan, Kabul, where Nadem was a middle-level official in the Afghan Department of Interior.

In Kabul, Nadem, his wife and five children lived in middle-class comfort. But shortly after the invasion, the family fled, Nadem said, "with just the clothes we were wearing."

As indigent refugees, the Nadems qualify for special federal aid and currently are receiving some emergency assistance.

But the prospect of depending on any public assistance, even temporarily, embarrasses Nadem.

"I'd rather scrub floors than get social assistance," Nadem said in his native Farsi, translated through an interpreter. "The thing that bothers me is being told I can't have a job because I don't speak English. I don't want a castle or anthing like that. I just want simple necessities, like toothpaste and soap so we can stay clean. And I'd rather work to earn it."

Although the Afghan Mutual Assistance Association, which helps resettle refugees, has taken Nadem to employment centers, his inability to speak English has hampered his efforts to find work.

For now, two of his sons walk 1 1/2 hours each way every week day to take special English classes in Arlington. Nadem expects to start English classes next month.

Once the battle to learn English has been won, many Afghans face the uncertainty of the U.S. job market. Like the first wave of Indochinese refugees in 1975, many Afghans now arriving here are better educated that most of their countrymen. As a result, few find the kinds of jobs they had at home.

Zemerai Etemadi, 45, who lives in Fairfax County, was an aviation engineer and Air Force officer in Afghanistan.

"Now I drive my own taxi; in Afghanistan, I had my own chauffeur," he notes wryly.

Etemadi, who is cochairman of the Afghan Refugee Assistance Association, believes, like many refugees, that the U.S. government has not done as much as it could to help Afghan exiles, estimated at 3 million people worldwide.

Part of the problem, some groups say, is the lack of political influence of the Afghan community.

John McCarthy, executive director of migration and refugee services for the U.S. Catholic Conference, describes the problem as a "lack of constituency."

"What's the Afghan vote?" he asks.

There are no verified statistics on the size of the Afghan community in Northern Virginia, or in the United States. Statistical information must be pieced together.

Immigration and Naturalization Service figures show that slightly more than 6,000 Afghan refugees were admitted to the United States in the past two years. Almost 400 were granted asylum--there are more than 1,000 applications pending--and 339 have been issued immigrant visas since 1981.

The Afghan Mutual Assistance Association estimates 1,600 Afghans live in Northern Virginia, but members of the local Afghan community believe the figure should be higher. Afghanistan comes under the Near East immigration quota of 5,000 for fiscal 1982. By contrast, the Asian ceiling for fiscal '82 is 100,000, the Eastern European quota is 9,000 and the Soviet Union quota is 20,000.

Zalmi Niayz, of the Afghan Mutual Assistance Association, believes more Afghans should be taken in by the United States for "humanitarian reasons alone."

"We're fighting the battle for America and the world," he says. "This isn't just Afghanistan's war, but shame on those who don't see it that way."

State Department officials say the Near East quota is justified because Pakistan has freely opened its borders to Afghan refugees. Paula Lynch, of the State Department's Bureau for Refugee Programs, says the United States "isn't obligated" in that area of world as it is in Indochina, where refugees have been refused entry by neighboring countries.

"There's not the emergency situation where they'll be sent back to Afghanistan by the Pakistanis," she said.

But many Afghans in Northern Virginia say they are in an emergency situation.

Most have relatives still in Afghanistan or in the huge refugee camps in Pakistan. They say they are wary of what they say and do, fearing reprisals against their families if they allow themselves to be photographed or named in a newspaper story.

Many local refugees also see themselves in a two-pronged race against time. The older ones want to return home before they die. The younger ones, especially those with children, want to go home before the "Americanization" process takes hold.

Already, some families say, they can see changes.

In Afghanistan, for instance, the father's place as chief breadwinner of the family is unquestioned. But here, says Pam Latt, an adviser to the Northern Virginia Refugee Council, it is often easier for the women to find jobs.

"The men aren't happy about it, but they learn quickly that they have to eat," Latt said. "Being head of a family for an Afghan is like being president. It's an important job."

Rahamia Karim Olomi, whose husband, Karim, once governed Bahsood province, 200 miles north of Kabul, has seen the beginnings of assimilation before. The Olomi family spent time in West Germany before coming to this country.

"I remember in Germany, my little daughter came home and asked me, 'How do you say "button my cuff" in Persian?' She said the words in German. I cried all day that she had forgotten the Afghan culture so soon."

Hussain Nadem is more philosophical about the transition.

"I don't want to be alienated from American society," he says. "I want the chance to blend in, to be accepted for what I am."

About the possiblity of living out his days in America, he says, "With God's will, where He wishes is where we'll end up."