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Afghanistan has suffered from ongoing and intense conflict for over a quarter of a century. Internal coups and factional power struggles supported or opposed by neighbouring states, Soviet invasion, international isolation, and most recently a US-led bombing campaign and invasion have left the country bereft of basic infrastructure, a functioning economy, civil society and a stable government with a monopoly of military power. The Islamic state suffers from a divisive ethnic mix, with Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and lesser minorities concentrated in separate areas. Regional chieftains protect ethnic interests and operate significant militias, while a multinational NATO-based force (the International Security Assistance Force: ISAF) is able to provide security only in the capital, Kabul.
Remnants of the previous Taliban regime continue to wage an insurgency against the government and US forces, while US troops are engaged in pursuit of supposed Al-Qaeda adherents in the southern and eastern areas. Much insurgency is attributable to the Afghans' historic antipathy to foreigners of any sort, and many attacks on US troops automatically attributed to Al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban have been no more than normal tribal reaction to invasion of their lands. A massive and expanding trade in narcotics is fuelling instability, and the country remains dangerously near the brink of civil war or state collapse. President Hamed Karzai's Transitional Authority of Afghanistan (TAA) is unstable and weak, in spite of October 2004's largely successful presidential elections.
Ethnic divisions, a perceived over-representation of Tajiks, and a pro-US policy have greatly reduced the government's legitimacy. A lack of military power means the TAA lacks any authority beyond Kabul, while underfunding and an inability to enforce taxation collection further reduce the ability of the government to function. Parliamentary and presidential elections, initially scheduled for June 2004, were postponed owing to administrative difficulties and the pervading lack of security, reflecting the impotence of the central government.
Parliamentary elections are expected to take place in April 2005. The re-emergence of warlords, some of whom were for varying periods supported by bribes and other inducements by US agencies following the invasion of the country in October 2001, has become a major factor in weakening the government. Local chieftains are independent rulers with almost complete loyalty from their tribes and/or clans. They accept the authority of central government only when accompanied by guarantees of non-interference in their regional affairs (including blatent illegality) and by grants of money.
Conflict between the warlords has once again become common as they vie for influence and territory. The fact that warlord militias are far superior in number, training and motivation to government forces means such violence often goes unchecked. In August 2004 three local chieftains launched a simultaneous offensive on the western Herat province under the control of Ismail Khan, although the fighting was short lived. The following month Karzai 'promoted' Ismail Khan to a cabinet appointment, thus automatically relieving him of his provincial governorship. The consequences of this bold action may be severe.

Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Susan Whelan, Minister for International Cooperation, today congratulated Afghanistan on completing its ratification of the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines. Afghanistan has become the 126th state to complete ratification, and, for the first time, attended the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Convention, which took place from September 16 to 20 in Geneva.
"I am pleased that Afghanistan has joined the majority of states that accept the Ottawa Convention as the means to effectively address the terrible legacy of landmines," said Minister Graham. "Afghanistan's formal commitment to the ban on anti-personnel mines is a significant step toward building lasting peace and security in the region."
On September 11, 2002, Afghanistan completed the final step in the process to formally join the Ottawa Convention, when it deposited its instrument of ratification with the UN Secretary-General.
"In Afghanistan, some 737 square kilometres are affected by mines and pose a clear danger for returning refugees and the local population," Minister Whelan said. "I have seen the devastation caused by landmines in Afghanistan and am impressed with the effective mine action programs undertaken by Afghan organizations. Removing mines and supporting the rehabilitation of those injured by landmine explosions are key for the country's recovery. I am proud of Canada's long record of support for mine action in Afghanistan."
Canada supported the launch of the Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA) in 1990 and provided more than $12 million for demining and victim assistance between 1990 and 2001. Canada has recently stepped up its support for mine action as part of the $100-million package of support for Afghan reconstruction announced in the December 2001 federal budget. CIDA will be contributing a total of $8.5 million to MAPA, the Comprehensive Disabled Afghan Program and the rehabilitation program of the Guardians Institute of Orthopaedics.
The Ottawa Convention is officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. It was opened for signature in Ottawa in December 1997 and entered into force on March 1, 1999, making it the most rapidly ratified multilateral disarmament treaty in history.