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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home