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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
Afghan militias agree to unity

By Catherine Davis
BBC correspondent in Kabul

Afghan national army recruits training
The national army is only in its infancy
Afghanistan's senior military commanders have agreed to work with the central government for the good of the country's security - and to build a multi-ethnic national army.

The pledge came in a statement from the defence ministry as a two-day conference on the future of the Afghan army ended in the capital, Kabul.

Its aim was to discuss how to disarm and demobilise thousands of fighters and replace them with a national army.

This was the first national military meeting since the fall of the Taleban regime 18 months ago.

Government ministers and regional commanders were present, as was the commander of the American-led coalition force in Afghanistan.

The sentence in the statement that many will see as crucial is the one concerning relations between military commanders and Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
President Hamid Karzai is struggling to impose his rule beyond Kabul

It said all commanders agreed to work closely with the ministry of defence in taking direction from the central government.

The question is: Will the rhetoric become reality?

Peace and stability in Afghanistan remain fragile.

There are still private militias - regional commanders or warlords are powerful figures, and clashes between rival factions are not unusual.

A campaign to disarm and demobilize an estimated 100,000 fighters has yet to begin.

Most ordinary Afghans are tired of war. They want a neutral force to keep commanders in check, but efforts to form a national army have been hampered by a lack of non-partisan volunteers.

There have also been divisions over how much representation different ethnic factions should have.

The Tajik-led ministry of defence said the conference had agreed that the Afghan national army must include all ethnic groups, and that a strong central core should be based in Kabul.

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