Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, will head the guest list on Monday at a ceremony to take place under tight security amid fears of attacks from Taliban loyalists now waging an insurgency against the new US-backed government.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan presiden, has declared Monday a national holiday for the event.

Officials have proclaimed the inaugural session a "glorious" occasion that shows that Afghanistan's progress cannot be held back by an insurgency that has killed more than 1,500 people this year.

But analysts say the make-up of the parliament elected in September, in the first general legislative vote since 1969, is a disappointment because of the dominance of warlords, some of them accused of rights abuses.

Soviet occupation

The mujahedin (holy warriors) led the resistance to a 1979 Soviet invasion that ended when Moscow withdrew a decade later.

"Lots of Afghans are disappointed because they feel like people who perpetrated serious human rights abuses have been allowed back in the parliament"

Sam Zarifi, Human Rights Watch Asia 

They then turned on each other in an ethnically charged battle for power that killed around 50,000 people in the capital Kabul.

The extremist Taliban took power in 1996, imposing harsh Islamic law on the war-weary population before being toppled in a US-led campaign launched when they did not surrender Osama bin Laden for the attacks on the United States in September 2001.

About two-thirds of the new parliamentarians are mujahedin or have links to them, analysts have said. A handful of former Taliban have also won seats.

Human rights complaints

Sam Zarifi, research director for Human Rights Watch Asia, said: "Lots of Afghans are disappointed and cynical because they feel like people who perpetrated serious human rights abuses have been allowed back in the parliament.

"There's a very clear sense in Afghan people that they want to get rid of the figures from the past." 

President Karzai will preside
over the opening ceremony

But among the new MPs are several progressives, including many of the women who were reserved 25% of seats in the House of Representatives, a turnaround from the days of the Taliban's ban on women taking part in politics or even taking jobs.

Monday's session of parliament is the final step in the transition to democracy for Afghanistan agreed at an international conference in Bonn, Germany, weeks after the Taliban fell in November 2001.

Milestones

Milestones along the way have included the adoption of a new constitution in 2003 and the election that confirmed Karzai, who was then the interim leader, as president in October 2004.

The central Asian country still faces considerable challenges, besides the insurgency.

And there are nearly 30,000 foreign troops, most of them American, and hundreds of international aid organisations in the country trying to help it stabilise and rebuild.