Rebel violence in Afghanistan may drag on for at least another two years unless the international community does more to stop it, the top UN envoy to the country warns.
In an interview with reporters, Jean Arnault urged neighboring Pakistan to do more to prevent aid being channeled to the insurgents. He warned of possible large-scale attacks during landmark legislative elections in a week, although he said he was still optimistic the vote would be a success.
"We need certainly to take all the steps we can take to make sure the elections will not be derailed by the violence," Arnault said Friday. "Spectacular incidents in Kabul or elsewhere are absolutely not ruled out ... It would be unrealistic to think we can prevent them from happening."
The Taliban have vowed to try to subvert the polls and have stepped up attacks, leaving more than 1,200 dead in the past six months and much of the country off-limits to aid workers.
Arnault said each of the 6,000 polling stations would be guarded by up to seven police officers, backed up by Afghan soldiers and roving police commando units. The 21,000-strong US-led coalition and a separate force of 11,000 NATO-led peacekeepers would also be scattered throughout the country, ready to respond to any assaults, he said.
A huge amount of preparations has gone into safeguarding the elections, but the envoy urged the international community to look beyond the polls to find ways to ensure the rebellion doesn't drag on indefinitely.
"We must use all our resources .... to deny the extremists the opportunity to make 2006 and 2007 again years of violence," he said. "Those who have an extremist agenda, dragging Afghanistan back into the Taliban years, they will not stop just because of the parliamentary elections have taken place."
Arnault said a driving force behind the rebellion was assistance that the rebels were receiving from supporters in Pakistan and elsewhere.
"More will have to be done to control this problem of external support ... by the Pakistani government," he said.
Asked to comment on allegations by Afghan officials that the militants are receiving help by some sections of Pakistan's government and military, Arnault said, "You hear a lot of information or reports by people who know better than us."
Pakistan vehemently denies the allegation and points to the deployment of some 80,000 of its troops along the rugged mountainous frontier that divides the two countries.
Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf, in a separate interview with reporters on Friday, said his government has proposed building a barbed-wire fence along the border to help keep Islamic insurgents from crossing the area freely.
But he cautioned that curtailing the violence in Afghanistan would be difficult.
"Afghanistan is a tribal society. ... converting a tribal, feudal society into a homogenous body under a democratic set up is not that easy. It will take some time," he said. "We will remain supportive to all that they are doing."
Looking to the long-term, Arnault predicted that Afghanistan would need assistance from the international community for at least a decade.
The US and other countries are pumping hundreds of millions of US dollars into Afghanistan to help rebuild roads and schools, recruit and train new security forces, and reconstruct other infrastructure.