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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 11:54 GMT
First step for Afghan democracy
A man looks while another offers prayers near Uruzgan town
Afghanistan has traditional institutions for consultation
By the BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul

The first stage in the process to establish democratic government in Afghanistan was launched on Thursday in the capital, Kabul.

The current interim administration was selected at the Bonn conference last December by the United Nations.

The next government will be chosen at a loya jirga or national gathering, due to be held in June.

The aim is to get representative delegates chosen at a local level, a difficult task in a country where armed men still wield great political power.

The commission charged with organising the loya jirga officially began its work on Thursday.

Rules to be set

Twenty one men and women have the task of setting out the ground rules for the loya jirga.

An ethnic Pashtun fighter in Gardez town
Armed factions are still powerful

Their task is to make sure delegates chosen for the loya jirga are as representative and broad-based as possible.

The leader of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, told the commission to take courage.

If they faced any problems from armed men, he said, they should seek help from the United Nations or from his government.

After 20 years of war, the armed factions are very powerful in Afghanistan.

Difficult task

Commanders and landlords are often the same men.

One member of the commission said they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country.

The rhetoric signifies the real difficulties which may lie ahead in making sure the loya jirga in June is independent.

But Afghanistan does have traditional democratic institutions, and the chairman of the commission said he was confident the Afghan people could seize this chance for a more democratic future.

He said they wanted representatives not just from every province but from nomads, internally displaced people and refugee communities in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere.

He promised there would be an unprecedented number of women involved in choosing the next government of Afghanistan.

The commission will begin its work in Kabul before moving out to every province in the country.

See also:

06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Key Afghan warlords reject Bonn deal
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
UN envoy urges larger Afghan force
28 Jan 02 | South Asia
Bush pledges Afghan aid boost
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