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New Afghan Pullout Plan Reported : Soviets to Leave in Year if Aid to Rebels Ends, Kabul Says

December 01, 1987|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a new offer that appeared to be timed for next week's Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting, Afghan President Najibullah said Monday that all Soviet troops will withdraw from Afghanistan in 12 months if the United States and Pakistan cut off aid to anti-government moujahedeen rebels.

Najibullah, 41, said the withdrawal proposal "has already been negotiated with the Soviet side." He made the announcement in a speech after his confirmation as president under a new, Islamized constitution approved Monday by a meeting of Afghan tribal and political leaders in a loyah jirgah (grand assembly).

Rockets Pound City

As he spoke, rebel surface-to-surface rockets pounded the western half of the Afghan capital near the meeting site. Earlier in the day, gun battles between security forces and a renegade tribal leader and his bodyguards left at least 12 people dead in the city.

(United Press International quoted government spokesman Hasmat Kahani as saying the fighting erupted when Gen. Esmat Muslim, a convention delegate, and his armed bodyguards defied a ban on carrying weapons into a mile-wide security zone of Soviet and Afghan tanks, armored cars and troops around the convention site at Kabul's Polytechnical University.)

With sputtering gunfire and the constant drone of Soviet aircraft in the overcast mountain skies, Najibullah's plaintive words of peace seemed remote from this violent, war-torn country where as many as 1 million people have died in seven years of fighting.

The Najibullah troop proposal cuts four months off an earlier Afghan proposal made in United Nations-sponsored peace negotiations with Pakistan, where most of the rebel groups are based and supplied.

Pakistan's Demands

For its part, Pakistan has demanded that the estimated 115,000 Soviet troops leave Afghanistan in eight months. In exchange, the Pakistanis would halt the supply of weapons to the rebels. Also, the 4 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran would then return home.

The two sides are expected to meet again in February or March.

(In Moscow, the report on the proceedings in Kabul by the official news agency Tass also indicated that Najibullah hinted at a proposal for an international conference that could help stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

("We are interested in conducting a high-level, international conference on the normalization of the political situation around Afghanistan, with the participation of the Soviet Union and the United States," Najibullah was quoted as saying.)

'Their New Timetable'

The Afghan leader tied the withdrawal proposal and the major political reforms of recent days to the upcoming summit, including a personal appeal to President Reagan in the text of his speech.

"This is the Soviet summit position on Afghanistan," a Western diplomat here said of the Najibullah offer. "That is why he said it. This is their new timetable."

In recent weeks, Soviet officials have said that the original 16-month timetable could be substantially reduced. Gennady I. Gerasimov, chief spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, said Soviet forces could be removed in "seven to 12 months," although his statements were later contradicted in Moscow newspapers.

Some Western diplomats based in Kabul were skeptical Monday about the significance of Najibullah's speech.

Date Not Mentioned

"He doesn't mention a starting date for the withdrawal period, and his offer is still tied to the Americans cutting off supplies to the resistance," one of the diplomats said.

For the last several years, the United States and its allies, principally Saudi Arabia and Britain, have paid nearly $600 million annually to arm the Afghan resistence against the Soviets and Soviet-backed Afghan troops. The supply of weaponry to the moujahedeen rebels is the largest covert operation by the CIA since the Vietnam War.

Another diplomat commented that the offer was a "plot to lock the Russians into staying for another 12 months."

Under Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who has referred to his nation's involvement in Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound," the Soviets have become increasingly unhappy with the costly military quagmire and dependent political situation, including the factional, ineffective political leadership of Najibullah and his predecessor, Babrak Karmal.

Soviet troops have been in this Texas-sized central Asian country for eight years, ever since the Kremlin installed Karmal to save a foundering Communist government.

The residual of that government is still here in the form of Najibullah and his ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. However, the former socialist revolutionary party was barely recognizable this week as it accepted a new constitution stripped of all socialist rhetoric and brimming with references to Islam and the holy Koran.

'Do Not Want Communism'

"This is not a socialist, revolutionary country," Najibullah said in his speech. "We do not want to build a Communist society."

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