Karzai cannot move more forcefully against the militias because his police and military have little authority outside Kabul.
"The army is still weak and the police are worse," said Shuhei Ogawa, who serves as liaison to the U.N. disarmament program from Japan, its leading donor. "Until the government can provide security, no one will feel secure enough to turn over their weapons. It's very frustrating."
The U.N. program has collected 57,000 light and medium weapons and 12,000 heavy weapons since 2003. It has disarmed 63,000 former militiamen. About 1,200 warlords and commanders have handed over weapons.
"But that doesn't mean they handed over all of them. Most kept a lot of their weapons," said Ahmad Jan Nawzadi, an official with the U.N. program.
There are still 5 million to 10 million weapons in Afghanistan, according to estimates by international study groups. U.S. and NATO forces regularly uncover large caches of weapons, not all of them belonging to the Taliban.
A recent U.N. attempt to disarm militias in five provinces, including Herat, failed dismally. Only a few old weapons were collected. Local government officials and police refused to help. When U.N. directors asked for assistance, a U.N. official said, Karzai's office answered: "We can't help you. Do it yourself."
Khalili, like Khan, says he is committed to public service but is hamstrung by the legacy of more than two decades of war, and by the Taliban's resurgence in the country's south and east. Unlike Khan, Khalili concedes that corruption and bribery permeate the warlord-dominated government.
"I agree that people are mistrustful of the government," Khalili, 56, said in an interview in the stately Gulkhana Palace in downtown Kabul, dressed in a silver turban, a tailored blue blazer and white shalwar kameez -- a loose-fitting tunic and pants. "The expectations of the people are high, but the fight against terrorism means the government has not been able to do much for them so far."
Afghanistan's history of tribal wars requires vigilance, Khalili said. Afghans are unwilling to give up their weapons and militias unless they are convinced that rival groups are disarmed.
"Insecurity means people feel they need their weapons, and they refuse to turn them over to a government that cannot protect them," he said. "Afghans have had bitter experiences in the past."
Khalili was referring, in part, to his own Hazara group, who are Shiite Muslims and considered apostate by many of Afghanistan's dominant Sunnis. Under Taliban rule, Hazaras were massacred and their villages razed.
He said illegal weapons in Bamian had been gathered up and locked away in depots controlled by "ex-commanders." However, diplomats say those commanders still report to Khalili.
Khalili acknowledged the limits of his new role as public servant. In Bamian, he said, "I was able to take fast action." But as a top national government official, he says, his authority has limits. Like Ismail Khan, he has found that the transformation from warlord to government official can be frustrating.
"Unfortunately," he said with a small sigh, "I cannot implement decisions as easily as before."
13 years, no electricity
For two years, Ajab Khan has trudged down the darkened hallways at the Ministry of Energy and Water, papers in hand, seeking permission to hook up electricity to his home. Short and sturdy, with a stringy black beard, Khan is a remarkably patient man.
But now, after spending the equivalent of $320 from his meager government salary, Khan, who is no relation to the minister, is livid. The money went for \o7rishwat\f7 -- bribes. Each time he needed a signature, he said, a ministry functionary demanded \o7shereniy\f7 -- sweets, or slang for a bribe.
And yet, he still has no electricity. He hasn't had any for 13 years, since electric lines in his west Kabul neighborhood were destroyed by civil war.
Standing outside a ministry office with dozens of angry men who had lined up for official signatures, Khan tenderly withdrew a folded piece of paper, its worn folds secured with tape. Each official signature on it came at a cost: $4 for low-level employees, $10 for midlevel officials and $20 for deputy ministers.
"The first thing they ask is not: 'How can I help you?' It's: 'How much will you pay?' " Khan said. He says his problem is also America's.
"The Americans promised us a modern country, but now everyone is disappointed in them," Khan said. "All the American money has gone to the top people in the government, and to the warlords. There's nothing for the people."
Ismail Khan, the warlord-turned-minister, professed to be shocked at reports of bribes.
That very morning, he said, he had toured a ministry complex where bribes were said to be demanded. He talked to people waiting in lines there, but not one complained of bribery.
"So these are baseless claims spread by people frustrated by years of war," Khan said. "They have unrealistic expectations that we cannot fulfill."