- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

NEW YORK Afghanistan's transition from feudal patchwork to modern democracy is hitting some snags, the chief U.N. political analyst says.

Sir Kieran Prendergast told members of the U.N. Security Council yesterday that lawlessness and corruption were still widespread outside the capital of Kabul.

He also warned that the organization had learned of efforts by warlords to influence the composition of the loya jirga, the traditional council charged with selecting members of the next Afghan government.

"Those elements who have the most to lose from a stable and democratic order in Afghanistan have begun to react," said Mr. Prendergast, the U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs.

The United Nations is charged with building a modern democracy in Afghanistan, a mountainous and impoverished country that has been racked by war for more than two decades.

The world body has provided emergency humanitarian aid, coordinated a donor conference that has raised some $4.5 billion, and authorized an international peacekeeping force for Kabul that many think should be expanded to secure other cities.

Mr. Prendergast said yesterday that challenges to the U.N.-sponsored interim administration are political, financial and military.

He urged an expansion of the international force, which currently is led by the British. The 4,500 peacekeeping soldiers are deployed in Kabul, where they make 30 patrols a day and largely have quelled banditry and crime in the capital.

But, he said, the force "remains limited to Kabul, while the main threats to the interim authority emanate from the provinces. There is a continuing danger, therefore, that the existing apparatus, both Afghan and international, does not adequately address the security threats that are currently discernable."

For example, Mr. Prendergast said, the governor of Helmand province has said he will defy the international ban on opium poppies because Kabul does not have the power to enforce it.

He also said the threat of fighting still looms in Gardez, even though interim leader Hamid Karzai has replaced the governor there.

Mr. Prendergast warned that the fighting and interference were likely to increase as the loya jirga approached.

He said his office had received reports of "widespread lobbying and distribution of money by powerful figures" trying to get their own supporters into the traditional council.

Despite the presence of foreign soldiers, a new government and U.N. assistance, Mr. Prendergast said, thousands of refugees still are fleeing to Pakistan. That, he said, illustrates "a chronic lack of stability."

Since early February, 20,000 Afghan refugees have attempted to get into Pakistan through the Chaman border crossing, often traveling for weeks, he said.

The U.N. refugee agency has characterized the refugees as ethnic Pashtuns fleeing human rights abuses.

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