Men in black jackets slip into seats of power

War on Terrorism: Media
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The Independent Online

"You're not allowed in," a Jamiat-i Islami soldier told Soroj, my translator in Kabul, forcibly preventing him from entering the Intercontinental Hotel where the international press corps is based.

He threatened Soroj with imprisonment and Soroj eventually had to wait outside for me. His crime was not to be registered with the Jamiat-controlled Foreign Ministry. It is insisting that all translators and drivers employed by journalists are Jamiat-approved.

Jamiat-i Islami, an ethnic Tajik faction of the Northern Alliance, seized Kabul last week after the US helped them to break through Taliban front lines. Officials had insisted they would not enter the Afghan capital, but in the end said they were forced to step in to maintain law and order. Since then, Jamiat officials, clad in black leather-jackets, seem to have slipped into state offices all over Kabul.

Jamiat leaders have installed themselves in many of the ministries, including the foreign, defence and interior. Their leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who styles himself as the president of Afghanistan, arrived on Saturday. Troops and police patrol the streets and man checkposts throughout the capital.

Jamiat-i Islami was an Islamist political party which after the 1978 Communist revolution became a mujahedin faction. Apart from its leader, Mr Rabbani, all the commanders who have entered Kabul are from the Panjshir Valley.

Abdullah Abdullah, the Jamiat spokesman – also known as the foreign minister – says the group is not presenting itself as the government of Afghanistan, but virtually every Afghan I have spoken to is unhappy about what they regard as the usurping of power by Jamiat.

The group is trying to extend its influence using American- and Russian-supplied dollars intended to help get rid of the Taliban. It is buying commanders in areas where it is not strong on the ground. "They bought, appointed and sent a well-known thief to us as governor,' an Afghan told me by telephone from Logar, a province south of Kabul. "He arrived with a letter signed by Burhanuddin Rabbani expecting to take office."

In Logar, local people had already selected a post-Taliban governor, a softly spoken, white-bearded former mujahedin leader who had been working as a clerk in a school in the Taliban era. He was appointed by consensus by tribal elders and Islamic clerics who had held daily meetings after local people threw the Taliban out immediately after they fled Kabul.

Many aid workers are uneasy that the United Nations is already starting to work with the Jamiat authorities in Kabul. Trying to leave Afghanistan from Bagram airport on a UN plane, I was almost prevented by a UN official who insisted I should have obtained an exit visa issued by the Jamiat-controlled passport office.

When I asked two heads of humanitarian agencies why they were co-operating with Jamiat ministries, one said the UN always worked with the government of the day.

Kate Clark is a BBC correspondent.

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