Twenty-three years of war have created in Afghanistan an entire generation that knows nothing but battle and bloodshed, said Robert P. Finn, who served as U.S. ambassador there from March 2002 to August 2003. That is just one of the difficulties Finn listed in a talk about Afghanistan’s progress toward elections, which was sponsored by the Student Lecture Board.

Finn said the Taliban remains a threat, as do Al Qaeda forces. The government can’t build enough schools to accommodate all the children needing even basic instruction. The biggest immediate problem, he said, is opium, which is now Afghanistan’s most lucrative export. “Without change,” Finn warned, “Afghanistan could easily turn into a narco-mafia state.”

Hospitals, utilities, and banks are slowly being erected, but the most dramatic development has been the drafting of the country’s first-ever constitution last December; elections are slated for June. “There will be serious problems with voting and registration,” Finn predicted. “Afghans will do things their own way.” But just holding an election will help. “Up to this point they’ve done it by fighting and killing, but now to get them in a room arguing together is a big improvement.”