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There are very few figures in the world of politics who have emerged from 2002 with their reputations intact. One is Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan who took the office exactly one year ago. In one of the most difficult jobs imaginable he has survived with his credibility intact and, equally surprising in the circumstances, with his life. He narrowly escaped an assassination and saw two of his ministers killed.

It would be idle to pretend that Afghanistan's current problems, are anywhere near a comprehensive solution. On the other hand, Hamid Karzai's coalition administration, with the help of international assistance, has made sensible, if limited, progress in a number of difficult areas. Central to this progress has been the growing recognition of the authority of Karzai himself by Afghanistan's notoriously independent-minded regional warlords. At a meeting in Kabul this week to mark the first anniversary of Karzai's presidency one of his strongest opponents, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president, voiced unreserved support for him. Karzai also has the committed support of his defence minister, Muhammad Quasim Fahin considered by some observers to be the most powerful man in the country - who has warned regional commanders that they must be ready to give up some of their power and acknowledge the authority of the central governmnet. Fahin has the tough task of creating the multi–ethnic, regionally diverse national army which will undertake the disarming and demobilisation of the many armed militias still in existence.

All being well, 2003 will see Afghanistan's first democratic elections for two decades another important step forward.
MONITOR