In June, Afghanistan will convene a special kind of grand council to choose an new interim government, which will in turn pave the way for elections. The rules and criteria for the council are due to be announced in two weeks time. However, suspicions have arisen that some of Afghanistan's neighbors may be trying to meddle in the fledgling process.
A retired senior U.S. diplomat warns that old games are afoot for political leverage in Afghanistan.
In a VOA interview, Ed McWilliams who once served as the number two U.S. diplomat in Kabul and later as the Islamabad-based U.S. Special Envoy on Afghanistan said Iran and Pakistan are trying to get a favorable result out of the upcoming Loya Jirga, or grand council.
"It appears that both Pakistan and Iran are trying to influence the outcome of the Loya Jirga. What I can tell talking to sources that I developed years ago and have re-located here in the city of Kabul is that we have three factions forming up. And it appears that Iran and Pakistan are working with a lot of the old mujehedin commanders and also the mujehedin party leaders to constitute one faction that would be working against the Northern Alliance faction which is of course very strong right now in Kabul and then the king's faction," he said.
The Loya Jirga is to convene in June, with the exiled king, Zahir Shah, opening the first session and commanding what Mr. McWilliams says is the broadest support.
The mujehedin are the self-proclaimed "holy warriors" who backed by the United States and Pakistan - fought for nearly 13 years against the occupying Soviet army and its client government in Kabul. But after finally succeeding in taking Kabul in 1992, they immediately embarked on a civil war. Their lawless rule and bandit ways eventually paved the way for the rise of the Taleban. As a result, the designation of "mujahedin" has now become something of a reviled term among many Afghans.
Mr. McWilliams points out that the mujehedin Afghan Interim Government formed in exile and coming to power in Kabul in 1992 quickly crumbled, and warns that another mujahedin-led government would not last.
"In fact, even if they were able to able to succeed in the Loya Jirga and actually establish dominance over the new government, that government would be inherently unstable, just as it was back in 1988-89, when they sought then to also form a government based on the mujahedin parties. This is inherently unstable and would be, I think, a disaster for Afghanistan," Mr. McWilliams said.
One of the most feared mujahedin leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar may be preparing for a political comeback with the backing of his old patrons in Islamabad. Mr. Hekmatyar an ethnic Pashtun - had been in Iran but disappeared recently, and some reports suggest he is in Pakistan.
According to Mr. McWilliam, now working as a freelance author, that possibility is very disturbing. "It is particularly disconcerting because he [Mr. Hekmatyar] has a very bad reputation, particularly here in Kabul, his troops having rocketed Kabul back in the internecine mujahedin fighting to a great extent. But, even more broadly, I think Gulbuddin would be a man many Afghanis would fear. Not simply the people who are non-Pashtun, but even Pashtuns themselves, I think, would fear a return of Gulbuddin," Mr. McWilliam said.
Mr. McWilliams said Afghans want an Afghan process, controlled by Afghans without a repeat of past outside interference. He said his former employer, the U.S. government, needs to be vigilant for any signs of Pakistani or Iranian attempts to meddle in Afghan politics.