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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 00:14 GMT
Can an Afghan army deliver peace?
Afghan soldiers at their graduation ceremony in Kabul pledge allegiance
Training the soldiers will prove a massive task

The announcement by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, which bans private militias in favour of the creation of a national army, is a brave political act in a country where what people fear most is a return to insecurity.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Karzai must persuade the warlords to give up their profitable lifestyles
But does he have the power to do it?

There are still thousands of Afghan men who carry arms and raise revenue for local commanders by collecting duties at roadblocks, looting property and levying taxes in return for protection.

Some are aided by neighbouring states keen to buy influence inside Afghanistan.

But Mr Karzai says these people must now recognise that the only real authority in the country is the central government.

Massive task

He made the announcement at the conference in Bonn, the same day that a delegation rushed to western Afghanistan to quell fighting between the warlord, Ismail Khan, and his Pashtun rival, Amanullah Khan.

Afghan soldiers marching at their graduation ceremony in Kabul
Afghanistan's future depends on its stability

In order to enforce his ban on private militias, Mr Karzai needs a national army, something he does not yet have.

But at least there are now working plans. Already as many as 2,000 soldiers have been trained by the United States and France, but there will need to be 70,000 before the force is complete.

It is a massive task, fraught with difficulties. How to create an army that is multi-ethnic and does not favour one group over another?

Powers of persuasion

Or how to ensure loyalty when the payment of wages has been sporadic at best?

And how to convince those armed Afghans who fought against the former Soviet Union - the mujahideen - that their interests are better served by a national army.

The warlords who have profited so much from conflict in the past will find it hard to let go of their lifestyles.

But Afghanistan's future will depend on the powers of its president to persuade them to do so.


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01 Dec 02 | South Asia
05 Nov 02 | South Asia
15 Aug 02 | South Asia
02 Dec 02 | South Asia
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