PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Afghanistan's Islamic resistance, hailed as a brave anti-Communist crusade in the 10 years that brought billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, has all but given up its holy war against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.
Fourteen months after the last Soviet soldier withdrew from Afghanistan, the rebels, known as the moujahedeen , are hopelessly divided. And, according to Afghan, Pakistani and Western experts, they have in recent weeks killed more of their own than the enemy, the armed forces of Afghan President Najibullah.
Rival resistance commanders have been gunned down gangland-style here in the border town of Peshawar, the staging area for the war. There are persistent reports of large-scale political killings in the refugee camps on the Pakistani side of the border, and many of the 4 million or more Afghans still in the camps say they live in fear of the ragtag force that once fought bravely to protect them.
Many disillusioned rebel commanders who helped to drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan are turning their attention from the battlefield to the poppy field, fueling the multibillion-dollar global heroin trade.
The poppy fields and the laboratories of Pakistan already supply more than one-third of the heroin sold on American streets, and narcotics agents fear that this activity is on the brink of exploding.
A recent execution in Peshawar--the machine-gun slaying of rebel commander Mullah Nasim Akhunzada--had as much to do with drugs as politics. Mullah Nasim, nicknamed by narcotics agents the "heroin king of Helmand province," controlled vast poppy fields that became the arena for a drug war late last year in southern Afghanistan.
Other commanders, in Afghanistan and in the border camps, are simply refusing to fight. They say privately that they prefer Najibullah to the hard-line \o7 moujahedeen\f7 fundamentalists led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Hekmatyar is one of seven leaders in the rebel alliance that has all but disintegrated since Hekmatyar allied himself last month with former Afghan Defense Minister Shahnawaz Tanai, who fled Kabul after mounting an abortive coup.
When the attempted coup began, many of the refugees in the camps, and many rebels--men who had risked their lives to destroy Najibullah--crowded into the mosques and prayed for his survival.
"Now, people are saying that if it is possible to welcome the devils, men like Tanai who have killed so many Afghans, then what have we been fighting for all these many years?" Naim Majrooh, an Afghan intellectual who runs a \o7 moujahedeen\f7 information center here, said to a recent visitor.
These developments have led U.S. analysts to rethink their support for the \o7 moujahedeen\f7 . A diplomat said: "No one wants to be the last Afghan to die for nothing, and America shouldn't be the last country to finance the rebellion. This year is probably the time to cut and run."
Whether to continue the clandestine CIA program that has funneled more than $2 billion in weapons to the rebels over the last six years is a question that is likely to be high on the agenda next month when President Bush meets with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The Soviets are still sending arms to the Najibullah regime.
Diplomats and other authorities on Afghan affairs say that Washington is likely to be more receptive than ever to a proposal that both sides stop providing arms to the Afghans.
"Either way, the whole U.S. assistance package is finished at the end of the year," a diplomat in Islamabad said.
Here in Peshawar, the Afghans explain why.
"It's finished; there is no more \o7 jihad\f7 (holy war)," said Abdullah Ali, an Afghan technocrat who fled to Pakistan a decade ago. "With whom do we make \o7 jihad\f7 ? It is only Afghan fighting Afghan, so no one is willing to lay down his life anymore."
The intellectual Majrooh, whose father was assassinated two years ago after publicly condemning fundamentalist leader Hekmatyar, said, "The motivation for fighting is lost."
He said that Hekmatyar's people, and other fundamentalist factions, are "wearing the mask of Islam on their faces, and yet they are selling the food for widows and orphans for profit."
"They are assassinating and terrorizing people in Pakistan," he added. "These people are more guilty than those in Kabul. It is a very depressing time."
Diplomatic observers in Pakistan, who have been studying the war for years, seem equally depressed.
"A year ago," a European diplomat said, "the situation was a mess. It's still a mess--but now, frankly, it's a shambles."
Another Western diplomat said: "Everybody's sick and tired of Afghanistan now. They're sick of this phase of the war. Either you're going to fight to the last Afghan, or you're going to fix it.
"There's a total fracture of the rebel organization, horizontally and vertically, and there's no way you can turn that around. The whole thing is just so sick the situation is becoming surreal. It is scandalous."