Rebels offer Kabul leaders brief respite

AFGHAN rebels who have been pounding Kabul relentlessly with artillery and rocket fire over the past two weeks promised to lift the siege of the Afghan capital.

But a spokesman for the rebel chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said today's truce will last for only 72 hours and may end sooner if the battered Kabul government tries to rush in extra militia.

A delegation from three eastern Afghan provinces has been trying for more than a week to reach a settlement between the Islamic leadership and Mr Hekmatyar's Hizbe Islami, which was expelled from the government earlier this month. The head of the delegation, Commander Shomali, said he was confident that the group was on the verge of reaching a truce between President Burhanuddin Rabbini's government and Mr Hekmatyar. Pakistan was also sending a delegation to Kabul to try to negotiate a ceasefire.

Many Afghans doubt that this truce will survive the weekend, even though there is less of Kabul with each passing day to quarrel over. After uniting to topple the pro-Soviet regime four months ago, the mujahedin victors are now engaged in a murderous power struggle. More citizens of Kabul have died since the mujahedin took power than during the 14 years of civil war.

Afghanistan is on the verge of extinguishing itself. Some diplomats warn that this instability, unchecked, could spill into neighbouring Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian republics.

The latest peace mission faces a difficult task. Mr Hekmatyar possesses a huge stockpile of arms supplied by the CIA. He is trying to rally the Pathan tribesmen from south and central Afghanistan against their traditional enemies, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks and the Hazaras, who now control Kabul. Mr Hekmatyar said that no cease- fire can hold unless President Rabbani pulls out the 75,000 Uzbek fighters guarding Kabul.

Mr Rabbani cannot comply. Without the Uzbeks, Kabul's defences could easily be pierced by Mr Hekmatyar's tanks. Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are also reportedly arming various fighters for their own religious and strategic purposes, adding to the chaos in Afghanistan.

In Kabul, entire neighbourhoods have been flattened during Mr Hekmatyar's siege, and the death toll has passed 2,000, according to relief workers. The rebels reportedly have more than 40 tanks and cannons aimed on Kabul from the mountains.

So far, more than 150,000 Afghans have fled the capital; roads heading north and east from Kabul are clogged with families escaping the bombardment. 'From a hill, I watched all day as the shells and rockets fell on Kabul,' said Reinout Wanrooy, an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 'It stopped at sunset for just 15 minutes - prayertime for the rebels.'

Under the rebel siege, law and order has collapsed in Kabul. Rival militias man roadblocks, robbing citizens from other ethnic groups. 'They're all doing it - the Uzbeks, the Hazaras, the Tajiks, the Pashtuns (Pathans). Nobody can stop them,' said an expatriate worker.

There are also reports that militias belonging to the Hazara tribe are refusing to let Pathans flee, according to foreign aid workers.

Electricity, water and telephone lines have been cut for two weeks in Kabul, and food grows scarce. Three days ago a rocket hit the Red Cross hospital's pharmacy, destroying most of its medical supplies. Most diplomats have been evacuated, depriving Mr Rabbani's shattered government of any international support or credibility.

A deadly stalemate now reigns. Mr Rabbani's forces lack the strength to dislodge the rebel forces from the mountains. But Mr Hekmatyar does not have the power to capture Kabul. Even if he did, some observers say, he could not stop Afghanistan from shattering into a mosaic of ethnic and religious fragments.

Mr Hekmatyar's support among the Pathans, the dominant tribe which has ruled Afghanistan for more than 250 years, is not solid; the country's other powerful ethnic groups hate and fear him. His fierce brand of Sunni fundamentalism made him enemies among Afghanistan's many Shias and also those ruling in neighbouring Iran.

KABUL - Rebel fighters fired 14 rockets at the Russian embassy yesterday, wounding two people, AP reports. Moscow reversed an earlier decision and said it would close its mission in Kabul, diplomats said.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on Scotland's oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
News
news

Sport
footballThe latest scores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Man City and Chelsea vs Schalke
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
i100
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week