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Afghans Try to Forge Alliances to Avert Chaos


The scene at Kabul's international airport was illustrative. Under a protective umbrella that included national guardsmen and army and air force troops, once-rebellious tribal militiamen and rebel followers of commander Masoud were flown in throughout the day.

Standing on a tranquil Tarmac that has been a frequent target of rebel rockets during the past decade, the second in command of the Afghan air force explained that the airport, like a strategic air force base just north of Kabul, is being run smoothly by a "joint military and civilian council of regular army and rebel militia."

Gen. Abdul Jamil, a veteran combat pilot and the air force chief of staff who helped engineer Najibullah's overthrow, told The Times that, for the moment, the generals who moved against Najibullah are supporting the hastily installed civilian government, consisting of the nation's four serving vice presidents.

Jamil, who said he was at the airport when Najibullah attempted to flee the capital at about 2 a.m. Thursday, provided the first details of the incident. He said the 44-year-old leader arrived at the VIP lounge in a U.N. car with an escort vehicle carrying his brother, who was his chief of security, and a trusted lieutenant general.

Najibullah planned to fly out aboard a civilian aircraft of the state-run national airline, Afghan Ariana, Jamil said, but he was turned back by a senior national guard officer and later took refuge in the office of U.N. official Benon Sevan, a special envoy of Boutros-Ghali. U.N. officials in New York have consistently denied this last detail.

Afghan diplomats abroad tried to minimize the changes in their country. "There was no coup in Afghanistan," Mohammed Daoud Razmyar, the Afghan ambassador to Russia, told a news conference in Moscow on Friday.

"Nobody removed Najibullah from power; he did it himself by attempting to leave the country secretly," the ambassador said.

He added that there is no threat to foreigners in the capital. According to the Russian Information Agency, however, the Russian government--which has about 300 nationals in Kabul--was making contingency evacuation plans.

In Washington, the Bush Administration renewed its call on both sides to avoid bloodshed and violence. Officials admitted, however, that the United States has very little leverage.

Robert Neumann, director of Middle East Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Washington lost most of its influence on the guerrillas by funneling aid through Pakistan and, in effect, permitting the Pakistani authorities to select the recipients.

"The fact is that we acquiesced, to say the least, in the Pakistani domination of the way in which the resistance was treated--that is, the favoring of the extreme factions, which are the ones now that may and probably will . . . upset the apple cart," Neumann, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan 20 years ago, said in an interview with CNN.

Neumann said there is little hope of averting chaos as the Afghan war plays itself out.

" Orderly and Afghan are two contradictory concepts," he said. "It will be messy. The question is, how messy?"

Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this article.

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