There are some 200 British Royal Marines in Afghanistan's capital city Kabul. They are the advance guard for a much larger multinational peacekeeping force that could begin deploying within the next few days.
For most Afghans, the foreign soldiers cannot arrive too soon.
A welcoming ceremony Thursday for Abdel Karim Khalili, one of the principle leaders of the Hezbi-wahdat, the political party of the minority Hazara community in Afghanistan, drew thousands of supporters. During his arrival at the Mohammadiya mosque they crammed the auditorium and spilled out into the street where they sat on the piles of rubble that are all that remain of this part of Kabul.
Mr. Khalili's rally is in support of the new government, and, to mark an end to what the rally organizers call the culture of the Kalashnikov.
There are many in Afghanistan who long for that to happen. But there are also many who remain skeptical that the new rulers in Kabul will keep their promise to put factional fighting behind them and build a new, peaceful future.
Mirajan is an engineer trained in Poland. He says the situation in Kabul is still unstable. "We are waiting," he adds, "to see if the interim government can bring stability. Right now it is too early to say."
Such skepticism is understandable, because many of the positions in the new interim government are held by the same people who were in power from 1992-1996. And they are still held responsible for four years of warfare that claimed more than 35,000 lives and reduced huge areas of the city - like the vast cratered ruins that surround the Mohammadiya mosque - to little more than dust.
One resident of the Microyan neighborhood in Kabul, who asked not to be identified, expresses a view held by many. His father and one of his brothers were killed by factional fighting within the Northern Alliance, the group that is again playing a major role in the new government in Afghanistan. He hopes for a peaceful future but he has his doubts. "They might be able to maintain the peace in some places but not everywhere," he says. "People suffered very much under these people, they saw a lot of fighting, looting and destruction." He adds, "it will be better to have international peace keepers here."
Gulsha, who like many in Afghanistan goes by only one name, is a tailor. He too lived through the violence that characterized the four years when the Northern Alliance was in power. He lost everything he owns, his house, his shop, everything. Now his "tailor shop" is a hand cart that he wheels through the neighborhoods of the city. He says without international forces in Kabul will not know real security. "I believe that we must give the peacekeeping role to the United Nations," he says. "And it's not just me, all Afghans want it. We saw what happened," he says, "when the Mujahedin were in power the last time, we will never, ever forget what they did."
Haji Bariolay, a Northern Alliance commander, says he understands why some people in Kabul do not believe that Afghans themselves can maintain peace and stability in the country. Commander Bariolay, however, says the blame should really go to Gulbadin Hekmatyar, a fundamentalist warlord who has no fighters in Afghanistan any longer. "The war was not confined to just one place it was fought all over the country, everyone was touched in some way," he says.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said Wednesday he expects final agreement soon on the details of how international peacekeepers will operate. Some officials here say they could deploy as early as Saturday.