The top United Nations envoy for Afghanistan told the Security Council today that while impressive gains had been made over the past year, the country still faced tough challenges and the peace process was “far from secure” amid worrying reports that support for the remnants of the Taliban might be growing in some areas. Briefing the Council in an open meeting, Lakhdar Brahimi, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, stressed that while in 2002 the challenge was to shore up the fragile foundations of peace, this year Afghanistan would have to meet the rising expectations of its people, namely “strengthen and build on the foundations of the state, and address the political and security uncertainties.”Reviewing the first year of the Bonn peace process, Mr. Brahimi underscored that major political milestones had been reached on time, including the holding of the Emergency Loya Jirga and the establishment of the Transitional Administration. At the same time, he noted that this year’s agenda for Afghanistan will be every bit as challenging, if not more so.While he was optimistic that the “remarkable progress” made to date could be capitalized on and the challenges ahead could be met, he cautioned that further advancement will require the continued commitment of the Afghan people to the process together with the sustained engagement of the international community. Towards that goal, President Karzai has been discussing the need for the Government to articulate – and for the international community to support – a clear plan of action setting out the main goals for coming year. Going forward, Mr. Brahimi said, the focus would be on solidifying the key institutions of the State, pursuing national reconciliation, and showing tangible results on reconstruction projects to build the economy and increase confidence in the government.Mr. Brahimi told Council members that too many Afghans felt excluded from the government and the political transformation under way. “The door should be open to those who wished to participate in good faith,” he said. “Leaving them outside the fold led to a growing incentive to undermine the peace process.” Despite the relatively calm security situation, incidents continued to occur, as a result of inter-factional tension and sporadic terrorist activity. Today, Mr. Brahimi said, a bus carrying 16 passengers detonated an explosive device as it approached a bridge to the southwest of Kandahar. Investigations were ongoing in that incident, in which 12 people have reportedly died. Across the country, tensions between factions remained. In the west, fighting broke out recently in the province of Badghis, where the authority of Ismael Khan was being challenged by the local Governor, Gul Muhammad. So the overall peace process in Afghanistan needed to progress “much further before we can safely said it is irreversible,” Mr. Brahimi said. With a range of doubts lingering in their own country, Afghans were watching closely developments elsewhere, fearing that they might be forgotten again. “[Afghans] do not clamour for international assistance for the sake of international assistance,” Mr. Brahimi said, “but they understand all too well how vulnerable they still are to forces that, if unchecked, might consume them again and undo the significant progress of the past year.