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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December 2004, 10:01 GMT
Challenges ahead for Afghan leader
By Pam O'Toole
BBC News

Afghanistan's first directly-elected president, Hamid Karzai, has identified two issues - warlordism and Afghanistan's booming drugs trade - as targets for change.

Afghan poppy farmer
Opium cultivation is well under way throughout the nation
In a nation struggling to recover from more than two decades of war and still dogged by security problems, Mr Karzai has said warlords are the biggest challenge threatening stability in Afghanistan.

Many Afghans are hoping their leader will fulfil an election promise to rein in the country's powerful warlords.

In a recent open letter to the Afghan leader, the US-based Human Rights Watch organisation urged Mr Karzai to reduce the role of warlords and their proxies in his new government.

"We're basically asking President Karzai to do what the Afghan people want him to do, which is to limit the power of the warlords and attempt to implement the rule of law in Afghanistan," says John Sifton, Human Rights Watch's Afghanistan researcher.

"Right now, Afghanistan is still suffering from a crisis of impunity where warlords, militia leaders, and police officials can do whatever they want and get away with it. President Karzai has to work harder to make that come to an end."

'Uphill battle'

However, Mr Karzai's most immediate challenge will be forming a cabinet.

Warlords or their allies have been strongly represented in his interim administrations.
Afghan weapons
There is a risk of a backlash among the country's warlords

Mr Karzai will realise that if he tries to exclude them from power completely, he could face a backlash.

He has also promised to crack down on Afghanistan's booming drugs production, worth an estimated $2.8bn.

Opium cultivation is now under way in all 32 Afghan provinces and allegedly involves people from all walks of society, including commanders and officials.

Much may depend on just how tough Mr Karzai is prepared to get on this issue and how much international support he receives.

"It's an unbelievable crisis that President Karzai will have an immense uphill battle in facing," Mr Swift says.

"But if he has the international community's support and the international community is serious about helping him create a police system and use international troops to target the traffickers - many of whom are government officials and police officials and army officials - they may be able to make a dent in this," he says.

Security issues - including the need to disarm Afghanistan's private militias and reduce violent attacks by the Taleban and other radical Islamist groups - will also remain high on the agenda as Kabul begins preparations for more complex parliamentary elections next spring.

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