Afghan guerrilla leaders say they are disappointed at obtaining only minor gains in return for releasing seven Soviet prisoners this year after delicate negotiations that constituted one of the most important contacts between the insurgents and their Soviet foes.
The resistance leaders said that the International Committee of the Red Cross, which acted as mediator in the deal, has failed to deliver on agreements to obtain information about captured guerrillas and to use the release of the Soviets to provide valuable publicity for the insurgents.
A Red Cross press officer contacted in Geneva said, "High-level negotiations are continuing. We are very hopeful." But the guerrilla leaders here increasingly feel let down by the whole agreement.
It appears likely that the insurgents eventually will refuse to hand over other Soviet prisoners unless they see concrete benefits soon. The guerrillas have released the seven Soviets since May and allowed them to be flown to Switzerland. There the prisoners are to spend two years in an Army disciplinary barracks before being transferred home.
The insurgents had understood that the Moscow-backed Afghan government, in return for the release of the Soviets, would allow Red Cross representatives to return to Afghanistan after an absence of two and a half years. There, they could determine the whereabouts and health of captured guerrillas and rebel sympathizers, who regularly were being executed at least as recently as the autumn, according to two former prisoners.
A four-man Red Cross team was allowed to enter Afghanistan last Aug. 14, where it visited three hospitals, seven clinics and one section of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison just outside the capital of Kabul. The delegation was asked to leave on Oct. 8, however, and the Red Cross has not been permitted to return. The Soviets continue to refuse to consider releasing imprisoned guerrillas, and insurgent leaders in this border town and capital-in-exile for the resistance are frustrated.
"What have we gained?" asked Abdul Haq, a young guerrilla commander who has conducted negotiations with the Red Cross. "We have freed people who have invaded our country without any provocation from our side. The Russians are killing our people every day with their helicopters, but we have let them go free. And what have we got in return? Nothing. No mujaheddin guerrillas have been freed, and the Red Cross can't even visit them in prison."
Some guerrilla leaders and Western diplomats suggest that the Red Cross itself has taken advantage of the insurgents and led them to believe that the release of the prisoners would gain more concessions than actually resulted.
"We are under the impression that the Red Cross is using these prisoners to improve its relations vis-a-vis Moscow," one European diplomat said.
The diplomat added that despite the guerrillas' hopes for information about their captured comrades, the Red Cross delegation that visited Kabul never saw anyone connected with the mujaheddin. The Red Cross declines to give details, but the diplomat's statement was confirmed by the two former prisoners, both Afghans, who were released in October after spending six months inside Pul-i-Charkhi prison on suspicion of being members of the resistance.
"We heard that the Red Cross did visit the prison, but they only got to see one block out of four , and there just one section holding prisoners who are or were members of the Khalq faction," said one of the former prisoners.
The Khalq (Masses) faction is not part of the resistance but is a grouping in the ruling People's Democratic Party that was toppled from power by the rival Parcham (Banner) faction at the time of the Soviet intervention in December 1979.
Fifteen to 25 prisoners were executed each night in Pul-i-Charkhi, according to the two Afghans, who both wished to remain anonymous because they still work in Kabul and fear reprisals by the government. About 10,000 prisoners are believed to be held in the prison, although it was built to hold only 3,200 persons.
During the first 18 months after the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan few Soviet prisoners were taken by the guerrillas. Those that were captured were either killed or turned out to be defectors of Moslem origin from the Central Asian Soviet republics. There are still several such men fighting with the mujaheddin.
In September 1981, however, guerrillas under the command of Zabit Abdul Halim, who recently was killed in action, captured a senior Soviet official, E.R. Okrymyuk, in Kabul. The insurgents shepherded Okrymyuk, a 71-year-old geologist, as quickly as possible away from the area around Kabul and then contacted the Red Cross, asking the international organization to mediate in an exchange. The guerrillas had picked on a bigger fish than they had realized. Okrymyuk, it turned out, was a very senior Communist Party member, with friends in the ruling Politburo.
Despite his high connections, the Red Cross after months of negotiations told the guerrilla party that held the geologist that Moscow had turned down the suggestion of an exchange, which the Kremlin apparently considered an unacceptable precedent. In April Okrymyuk was killed.
By that time, however, reports had reached Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province where the Red Cross has its regional headquarters, of other Soviet soldiers being held prisoner.
The Red Cross decided then to try to arrange for these new prisoners to be released. It took months of negotiations before the guerrilla leaders could be persuaded. The guerrillas blamed the Red Cross for the failure in the Okrymyuk affair and found it difficult to see that it could be in their interests to free soldiers who had invaded their country, while there was no prospect of freedom for the mujaheddin held by the Soviets.
Finally the Red Cross persuaded the mujaheddin that--in addition to winning the Red Cross the right to return to Afghanistan, from which it had been ejected in the summer of 1980--the release of the Soviet soldiers would publicize the war, something the resistance is constantly searching for. Such a release, the Red Cross suggested, would show the guerrillas to be humanitarians and would embarrass the Russians.
Moscow had already told the Red Cross that it was prepared to consider the internment of Soviet soldiers or officers in a neutral country, although it refused even to contemplate the idea of an exchange that would mean an actual deal with the guerrillas, whom Moscow has consistently called bandits and accused of acting as paid mercenaries for the United States and China.
According to the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war remain in internment until the end of the war. But in the case of Afghanistan this was not so simple, since no war has been declared and the Kremlin refutes that it is fighting one. Finally all the parties involved agreed to an internment of two years.
On May 28 the first three Soviet prisoners were handed over by the insurgents to the Red Cross in Pakistan and immediately flown to Switzerland. Two more followed in August and the last two, Nicolai Genadi Nicolavich, 19, and Baurba Rimas Victorvich, 22, arrived on Nov. 23. It is expected that more soldiers will be released in the near future.
The insurgents did not obtain the hoped-for results. Rather than publicizing the case, the Red Cross maintained that the Soviet soldiers were prisoners of war and therefore fell under the regulations of the Geneva Conventions, which state that no contact between the press and prisoners of war is allowed.
On the insistence of the Red Cross this regulation was strictly adhered to. On the three occasions when prisoners were handed over, reporters were not present and publicity was minimal.
Only when the three Russians reached Switzerland did their appearance catch any notice, and then only because of their unorthodox behavior. The men were first held at a low-security prison near Berne, and one tried to escape. The headline read, "The Red Army Hits Berne."