Afghan army recruit Mohammad Sediq is sitting out his class at a military academy on the outskirts of Kabul because his feet became swollen after he wore ill-fitting military boots without socks.

Another former school dropout slumps on a chair at the back of an open-air class on map-reading staring blankly, either unable to comprehend the language or the subject.

From such disparate and unlikely troops, the Afghan National Army (ANA), the key to the nation''s long term stability, is being built from the ground up, as it were.

It lacks guns, tanks, planes. Its troops speak different languages, and its wages lag behind the salaries paid by a resurgent Taliban to their foot soldiers.

But it has fighting spirit. It can move fast in the rugged Afghan terrain and most of all, it is beginning to win respect in a nation with few institutions or contemporary heroes.

"This is our pride. This is our hope for the future," says Major-General Zaher Azimi, a former mujahideen commander and now an adviser and spokesman at the Afghan defense ministry.