ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pir Syed Gailani used to be a religious leader in Afghanistan. That was before the Soviets invaded his country in 1979 to impose a regime led by Babrak Karmal. Now Gailani is a leader of one of seven Afghan resistance groups that have been fighting the Soviets for the last six years. Although President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan recently told me that he believes the Soviets may be genuinely interested in reaching a political solution to the war in Afghanistan and withdrawing their troops, Gailani doesn't believe the Soviets have such benign intentions.
He explained: "We consider the rumors of Soviet interest in troop withdrawal from Afghanistan a game to attract U.S. attention, so the U.S. might say, 'OK, why all this assistance, if the Soviets will pull out?' "
Gailani met me in Islamabad, wearing a blue Western suit; his son Hamad sat at his side and helped with translation. His real base is the Pakistani town of Peshawar, where moujahedeen resistance leaders and fighters gather when they are not inside Afghanistan.
Gailani fled to Pakistan before the war, when the pro-Soviet forces began their campaign in advance of the 1979 Soviet invasion. At that point, he took up what he calls the "holy jihad" -- the war to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. "My religious duty," he said, "is to save the nation from the yoke of communism. They are anti-Islam, and we are anti-communists."
The only hope for Afghanistan, according to Gailani, is for the West to increase aid to the moujahedeen. "If military pressure were imposed on a broader scale against the Soviets," Gailani argued, "then they might seriously consider withdrawing. We see signs they are tired. By increasing the aid, the time to a withdrawal might be shortened."
Although Zia has argued against such escalation, some U.S. analysts agree with Gailani. Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R--N.H.) is a leading advocate of increased assistance for the Afghan freedom fighters.
The main military problem for them, Gailani said, is the Soviet mastery of the skies, allowing them to use their air force with devastating effect, killing moujahedeen and bombing near the Pakistani border to prevent supplies from going into Afghanistan. "Their supremacy is in the air," he said, and to counter it, "the West must increase the number of sophisticated weapons it gives to the moujahedeen-- anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons."
'I've decided to stay and fight. I worked hard to become a doctor. I quit because I wanted freedom for my country.'
Gailani doesn't believe Soviet-inspired propaganda claiming that the United States and the Soviet Union will strike a deal on Afghanistan over the heads of the moujahedeen. "We don't believe the Administration would exclude the freedom fighters or isolate them in a regional agreement with the U.S.S.R.," he said.
"If you isolate the moujahedeen today, you compromise Afghanistan. Tomorrow, the Soviets will step in somewhere else like Pakistan or Iran. We are not their final destination. Afghanistan is just a bridge for their achievements," he warned.
"It is our faith and our strong belief that have kept us fighting," Gailani said. He pointed out that the Soviets have used every means to break the will of the resistance--mines, chemical weapons, everything except the atomic bomb. He told of Afghans being buried alive with bulldozers brought in to cover them with dirt. He told of torture, of small children having their intestines torn out.
What political solution would satisfy the resistance? "We won't compromise," the Afghan leader said. "We won't be a second Finland. We were and will remain a nonaligned country. A Soviet-controlled country will not satisfy us."
Gailani's perception is that while the Soviets are talking more softly, they are fighting more brutally and effectively. His view is shared by other moujahedeen leaders, including Dr. Shah Rukh Gran who met me in Peshawar.
Peshawar is the last stop on the way from Pakistan to Afghanistan--the gateway for both men and supplies. It's also the arrival point for Afghan refugees fleeing Soviet terror. Peshawar is the Beirut of the Afghan war--but the war is being fought in another country and there is an absence of a world press corps to cover the battles. Pakistan is remote and Peshawar is particularly remote; in this Islamic city a visitor rarely sees a woman.
Gran, a military commander with the Gailani group, was taking a few weeks off from the war. He said the Soviets have been fighting harder during the last year. "They are able to replace their casualties and get more troops. "They have supplies. We're doing our best, but if they lose one tank, they can bring in two more. If we lose one gun, we may not be able to replace it within a year."