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Conflicts Continue In Afghanistan

Prague, May 30 (RFE/RL) - Alliances are once again shifting in Afghanistan. But last week's accord between embattled President Burhanuddin Rabbani and rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are not likely to bring a quick end to the country's civil war.

Last Friday, Rabbani and Hekmatyar signed a formal peace pact. The agreement calls for the two former rivals to establish a joint security force and interim government in Kabul. Hekmatyar would get the prime ministership and several key cabinet posts. In exchange, Rabbani would remain in office for the next six months until new elections are held.

After the agreement was signed, Hekmatyar pledged to send 30,000 fighters to defend Kabul, currently under siege by the Taleban militia.

The pact has symbolic significance, since it was Hekmatyar's split with Rabbani four years ago which precipitated Afghanistan's civil war. But the fact that the new alliance does not include the ultra-orthodox Taleban militia, which now controls half of the country, means no end to the fighting is in sight. On the contrary, a United States government expert predicts that fighting may actually intensify.

John Moore, an analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, told a congressional committee this month that Afghanistan was likely to remain divided into several faction-ruled territories. He predicted the Taleban would not be able to storm Kabul.

Government forces are also not likely to recapture much territory. General Rashid Dostam, whose forces control northern Afghanistan, has so far refused to ally himself with either side.

Increased diplomatic activity among Afghan factions is already apparent following the Hekmatyar-Rabbani alliance. The Taleban, for the first time, has invited other militias fighting the government to coalition talks.

Observers say the Taleban will now attempt to bolster its camp of home-grown "traditionalist" Muslims by forming alliances to counter the government's own, newly-broadened "fundamentalist" camp.

Meanwhile, outside powers continue to try to retain influence in Afghanistan, by actively supporting rival factions. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has called the region the "strategic underbelly" of Russia.

Western reports say Russian military technicians have recently returned to Afghanistan , six years after the Soviet army withdrew from the country. Intelligence reports say Russia has been supplying the government of President Rabbani with fuel, arms and ammunition - to help it resist the Taleban miltia - which many suspect of having been supplied at critical times by Pakistan.

The United States recently indicated its interest in the region by sending Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphael to Afghanistan to talk to leaders of the main factions. The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Rabbani, but U.S. officials recently received rebel leader Rashid Dostam on a visit to Washington.

For now, however, though the lines of division may be shifiting in Afghanistan's civil war, no side has the power to settle the conflict. And with everyone fighting for a centralized state, peace remains as elusive as ever.