The Americans, anxious to build up the war-torn country's defences, also want General Muhammad Fahim, the defence minister and vice president to deploy his 100,000-strong army along the Pakistan border in the battle to quell the Taliban resurgence.

The US is understood to have plans to turn General Fahim's militia into the national Afghan Army which in turn will give the US-backed interim leader Hamid Karzai more authority and a stronger grip on power.

Until then, Afghanistan’s presidential elections due in June 2004 are likely to be delayed.

Afghan expert and political analyst Sayyid Hishmat Allah told Aljazeera.net that the reason for the probable delay in voting was that Karzai's winning the presidency could not yet be guaranteed.

“He is not going to push for elections until Kabul is demilitarised - ie Defence Secretary Muhammad Fahim’s troops removed,” said Hishmat Allah on Wednesday.

Militia becomes army

Hishmat Allah also believes that the US plan to turn Fahim’s  army into the National Army and deploy it on the Pakistan border is already underway.

“With Fahim’s troops out of the capital, Karzai’s grip on the presidency will strengthen. Any demilitarisation will be welcomed by the Pashtun nationalists as well as securalists,” added Hishmat Allah.

Rumsfeld and Karzai hope to
lessen Fahim's influence in Kabul

The move comes after the near total failure of recruiting an Afghan National Army since the conventional war ended almost two years ago.

A large number of the US-trained Afghan recruits have gone AWOL with their new weapons.

Tensions are already high at border town Spin Boldak after Afghan troops arrested three Pakistani soldiers last week.

Pakistan responded by deploying thousands of troops and heavy artillery on the border.

Presidential delay

During his visit to Canada on Tuesday, interim President Hamid Karzai said he could not rule out postponing his country's presidential election, currently scheduled for June 2004.

In a television interview with the Canadian Brodcasting Corporation, Karzai said "if we fail for whatever reason [to hold the June 2004 election] … we should go to the Afghan people and say … give us another month or two."
  
Although Karzai is confident the Grand Council will ratify the constitution in December, he highlights technical difficulties for any delay in what will be presidential rather than parliamentary elections.
  
"We don't have a voters list. We don't have the mechanisms in place. We don't have lots of other things", the interim president said.