The alienation of ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan and their lack of representation in the political process could end in disaster, a global think-tank has warned.
The report, published by the International Crisis Group (ICG), said the situation is fostering resentment against the government and adding to the threat of regional instability.
US operations are encouraging mistrust of foreign forces, says the ICG report
Furthermore, rivalry between local commanders in neighbouring states are creating conditions "dangerously close" to those prevailing at the time of the Taleban's emergence.
"The risk of destabilisation has been given added weight by the re-emergence of senior Taleban commanders who are ready to capitalise on popular discontent," the report says.
Violence against Pashtuns in the north and west of Afghanistan and heavy-handed missions by US forces in the southern regions have furthered anti-government sentiment.
Herat, in western Afghanistan, is widely seen as a no-go area for Pashtun traders because of local Tajik militias.
The Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, making up about 45% of the population.
They live mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country but Pashtuns communities are also found in the northern and western regions.
The Tajiks comprise up to 25% of the population.
They are mainly from the northern and north-eastern regions of Afghanistan, near the border with modern-day Tajikistan.
Commentators believe that perceptions about life under the Taleban are changing.
"I suspect the Taleban are now being seen as a real guarantor of security despite the anti-Taleban rhetoric since 2001," says writer on Afghanistan, Michael Griffin.
"The Pashtuns are beginning to lean more closely to this social order."
'Make or break' elections
The report adds that Hamid Karzai, the interim president of Afghanistan, has been unable to limit the broad powers of the Tajik faction and its monopoly over the government's security institutions.
Reform of the security apparatus needs to be addressed before elections scheduled for June 2004.
The elections are widely seen as a "make or break" opportunity for Afghanistan's future stability.
Abusive regional authorities need to be replaced by educated professionals who can win back popular confidence in the political process.
Coalition operations are also criticised by the report for alienating local populations through heavy-handed searches and involvement in factional and personal rivalries.
The Afghan army is still seen as an unreliable force
Interference by US forces in local disputes is fomenting distrust of foreign forces and payment to local commanders is encouraging militia membership.
Official sources claim this is undermining the drive to create a national army.
"The US needs to reconcile its short term military objectives with the political goal of rebuilding Afghanistan." says the report.
"Besides conveying the impression of partisanship in local disputes, the heavy-handed tactics used by coalition forces in some of their operations risk alienating sources of support."
"In simple terms the Pashtuns don't like GIs barging in doors and lifting the burqas of their women," adds Mr Griffin.
Afghanistan's future is more uncertain than ever.
Some commentators believe the Taleban have implicit control of several regions of the country.
Former Taleban supporters have found their way into positions of power and are biding their time.
"The Taleban have power without challenging US forces," adds Mr Griffin.
"They could command loyal forces if they called for it. But calling for it would be calling for US bombs."