Dozens of relief agencies have urged the United Nations to expand peacekeeping operations across Afghanistan amid growing concerns that rampant insecurity is jeopardising the country's recovery.
Only 4,000 of a proposed 70,000 Afghan troops have been trained
As the UN Security Council gathered for a meeting on Afghanistan, 80 agencies warned in an open letter that the situation outside the capital Kabul was so bad that many civilians had started to reminisce about the "better days" under the Islamic fundamentalist Taleban regime.
The rule of the Taleban, which had sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and members of his network, ended after the US launched military action against the country in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.
An interim government was subsequently installed and democratic elections promised, but the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping said that poor security was now so prevalent it threatened "the gains made so far and the tasks that lie ahead".
"The process has entered into its most critical and sensitive stage - the constitutional and electoral processes - but prevailing insecurity poses a serious risk of derailing it," said Jean-Marie Guehenno.
Vast swathes of the country remained out of bounds to UN workers and in these places many civilians are subject to daily harassment from other ethnic groups and tribal leaders, the Security Council was told.
Nearly 12,000 US-led troops are still in the country hunting members of al-Qaeda and the Taleban - whom many believe are regrouping and resurgent - while a separate UN-approved peacekeeping force, Isaf, comprising some 4,600, patrols the Kabul region.
Aid agencies are asking UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to lobby the Security Council for a much broader mandate for Nato, which is due to take over from Isaf in August.
Afghan's opium supplies the global heroin trade
The BBC's Greg Barrow at the UN says that while many nations support this idea, few have been willing to offer the troops or money to make it happen.
The US in particular is said to be opposed to any expansion of the security force as this might interfere with its ongoing efforts to capture or destroy the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taleban.
As for the suggestion that an Afghan army could soon take over the role of providing security, our correspondent says it is overly optimistic.
Only 4,000 troops of a proposed 70,000 have actually been trained.
The Security Council was also told that Afghanistan was set to produce a bumper crop of opium poppies for the second consecutive year.
Before being ousted by the US, the Taleban had succeeded in significantly reducing production, but under the warlords who are the de facto rulers of many areas in Afghanistan, it has risen sharply.
"War and lawlessness have been the forces that have driven opium production to present levels, and not the other way round," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN office of drugs and crime.
"Despite current efforts by the transitional administration, in the coming years Afghanistan will continue to be the world's largest opium producer."