When the Taleban retreated from Kabul and their other strongholds in Afghanistan at the end of last year many seasoned observers of the local scene said that chaos would follow as the country's many tribal factions jostled to take power. But the interim government led by Hamid Karzai has performed surprisingly well with the backing of the United Nations and the United States and its coalition partners - in which the British-led International Security Force has had a key role. Not everything has gone according to plan but, by and large, the peace has been kept. A major step forward will be taken tomorrow when the Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly, of 1'500 representatives from almost all parts of Afghanistan will gather in Kabul to plan the next step in the country's rehabilitation. The progress towards this Assembly has been impressive. Voting to select the representatives to attend it has taken place in almost 400 districts; although the procedures used may not have passed Western-style electoral standards in every case, the more important fact is the interest of all parties to participate. In addition the UN-sponsored Loya Jirga commission has selected 450 delegates to represent key interest groups such as religious leaders, women and refugees. The gathering will decide over a six-day period who should lead the next government of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai is favourite for this job - and how the various regional and tribal interests should be represented in it. This will be a testing process but the fact that most of the disparate factions in the country have co-operated to reach this point must be seen as encouraging.
RAY FLEMING

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