Afghanistan is at a crossroads and there is no guarantee that it won't slide into a broader conflict again, the head of a recent UN Security Council mission to the country said.
Japan's UN Ambassador Kenzo Oshima told the council Thursday that security was the dominant concern during the November 11-16 mission, with many Afghans apprehensive about the rise in violence.
While the Afghan economy is growing and there are promises of reconstruction and development and strengthening of democratic institutions, he said the country faces a growing Taliban-led insurgency, widespread insecurity in the south and east, an upsurge in illegal drug production and trafficking, and pervasive corruption.
"The spread of insurgent and terrorist activity by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, coupled with corruption and failures of governance, collectively pose a grave threat to nation-building," he said.
Oshima said the mission had two messages — that international support for the government and people of Afghanistan "was unwavering" and that the Afghanistan Compact remains the blueprint for cooperation between the government and the international community.
But he warned that "few can deny that Afghanistan now is at a crossroads."
The compact is a successor to the deal reached at a December 2001 meeting in Bonn, Germany, which established a political process for Afghanistan after US and allied Afghan forces drove out the country's Taliban rulers for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The political process culminated in last December's inauguration of the new Afghan National Assembly -- the final step to bring representative government to Afghanistan after nearly a quarter century of war that claimed more than 1 million lives.
In the new compact, Afghanistan pledged to build a functioning justice system in all its provinces by 2010 and reduce the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 3 per cent per year.
It promised to build a professional army and police force, shut down all armed militias by the end of 2007 and teach its officials about human rights. Afghanistan also vowed to provide electricity to 25 per cent of rural homes and 65 per cent of urban ones by 2010.
Oshima said the Afghan government should take action to meet the benchmarks in the compact and the international community should provide additional support "both for quick gains and for sustained progress."
"No one can guarantee that without determined efforts on the part of Afghanistan and sustained support over the long haul from the international community, the country will not slide towards broader conflict again," he warned.
But Oshima said "the mission is convinced that the government of Afghanistan and the international community have established a sound strategy to overcome these challenges."
The Japanese ambassador said the challenges were widespread and difficult.
In his formal report to the council, Oshima said Afghans "cited corruption and the perpetuation of a culture of impunity as the root causes of popular Afghan disaffection and unease."
"Perceptions, however inaccurate, that the Taliban was less corrupt were undercutting government authority in some rural areas where access to formal justice remained limited," he said.
Afghan leaders acknowledged that the continued presence of warlords in government bodies contributed to insecurity, Oshima said.
"Afghanistan's burgeoning narco-economy was identified ... as a primary threat to stability" by the vast majority of Afghans the council met, he said.
"It was described as a `cancer' which would spread and kill Afghan society over the long term," Oshima said, noting that "the mission was informed that in 2006 opium poppy cultivation represented 60 percent of GDP."
The mission called for greater Afghan and international efforts to help farmers move away from poppy cultivation and arrest and prosecute major drug traffickers "regardless of their position or status."