Six different organizations claiming to represent Afghan freedom fighters make their headquarters here. Thousands of Afghan refugees cram the camps set up on the fringes of town. No day goes by without some new arrivals, fresh from the struggle against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
So Peshawar -- the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan and only 30 miles from the Khyber Pass on the border -- offers perhaps the best outside vantage point for assessing what is happening inside Afghanistan. The picture emerges in bits and pieces, and not only because the view is through a glass darkly. Many signs indicate that the struggle is intrinsically chaotic. g
Sazli Huq, the governor of the province and a professional soldier who rose to the rank of lieutenant general in the Pakistani army, provides perhaps the deepest perspective. He likens the present conflict to the indecisive border wars the British fought against Afghan tribes in the last century. He has confirmed reports of anti-Soviet incidents in every part of Afghanistan. He says the Afghans are natural fighters, used to guns -- "crazy Pathans like me."
As for the Russians, he believes they have conceded the countryside, and are mainly concerned to hold bases and towns and roads. Occasionally they make sweeps, but chiefly to search and destroy, not to clear and hold. They have lost some tanks and a few helicopters, and the toll would be much more severe if ground-to-air missiles were made available to the Afghans.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar presents a very different picture. He is the leader of the largest and best known of the outside resistance organizations -- the Herzb-i-Islam, or Islamic Party. He is a Moslem fundamentalist who has been fighting the central authorities in Kabul since his student days under the Afghan monarchy. For a while, he worked as a Pakistani agent inside Afghanistan. He got out when the first communist coup took place in April 1978. Ever since, he has been holding himself out here in Peshawar as the leader of a coordinated resistance movement.
According to Hekmatyar, about 70 percent of the freedom fighters inside Afghanistan work in cooperation with his organization. They are doing well in the war, and can eventually drive out the Russians. He claims that they don't need any help in weapons, particularly from the United States. During an interview in his heavily guarded headquarters, he said: "We are winning because our cause is just. We can beat one of the superpowers. But if we associate with the other superpower, we lose our cause. We lose the support of the Third World. We lose the support of Islam."
Another viewpoint emerges from an Afghan who calls himself Dr. Rassaul and claims to have been a member of a former government in Kabul. Rassoul runs a hospitality center and receives new batches of refugees from Afghanistan all the time.
According to him, the resistance is highly localized. He says the major tribes, particularly the Pathans who are located close to the border, tend to cross into Pakistan for refuge. Most of the fighting is done by smaller tribes in more remote parts of Afghanistan. He cited the northwest corner, the southwest corner and the easternmost edge of the country high up in the Hindu Kush.
He says the tribesmen could use ground-to-air missiles against Russian helicopters. He says the helicopters -- and the helicopters only -- frighten and demoralize the tribesmen. But he doubts it would be useful to try to coordinate the resistance effort.
In his view, the tribesmen are mainly fighting for tribal independence. They are suspicious of the organizations that seek to manage the war from Peshawar. In particular, he says, they do not want to have anything to do with political leaders. They will work with Peshawar only on the understanding that there be no political arrangements regarding the future.
What all this says to me is that the Afghan resistance serves chiefly to bloody the Russian military and to give Moscow a diplomatic black eye. Better supplies to the tribesmen could probably take an even heavier toll. Since the tribesmen are going to fight anyhow, outsiders don't have to worry about leading them into a losing cause.
But there is almost no probability the resistance effort can be coordinated to the point of military victory. The anti-Russian forces have almost no chance to take Kabul. Even if they did, they would probably prove unable to form an effective government.
So while maintaining the military effort, it makes sense to hold the door open for negotiation. There is an off chance that the Russians might eventually grow tired of fighting and elect to withdraw their troops in return for an Afghan regime that is technically nonaligned but heavily tilted toward Moscow.