Sydney Morning Herald
By Christopher Kremmer, Herald Correspondent in Kabul
Taxi driver Mohammed Younis knew something was wrong the moment we entered
the Afghan capital.
"You speak Pashto?" said the incredulous local from whom we sought
In Kabul, now in the hands of the Persian-speaking Northern Alliance,
speaking Afghanistan's other main language is asking for trouble.
Hours later in the hotel car park, Mr Younis was detained for questioning by
plain clothes intelligence officials of the Alliance regime.
"The black leather jackets" are back, said a local shopkeeper, referring to
the shadowy image and dress preference of Afghanistan's secret police since
Under the Taliban, Pakistanis like Mr Younis could travel freely to and from
Afghanistan without passports or visas. Many had joined the student
militia's battle to defeat the Alliance in the civil war.
Now, to be a Pakistani in Kabul is life-threatening.
"Any Pakistani who shows his face here will be lynched by the mob," said
Hashmatullah Mosleh, an adviser at the Alliance's Foreign Ministry.
Officials of the ministry yesterday told journalists that they would need to
apply for visas if they wanted to remain in the country.
Foreign ministry? Visas? Suddenly, the Alliance is acting like a government,
tightening its grip on the levers of power.
In doing so, it is pre-empting a process by which the United Nations hopes
to establish a broad-based government representing Afghans from all groups,
and having friendly relations with its neighbours.
And it's not just Afghans the Alliance is pushing around.
Britain has announced that it will delay indefinitely the deployment of
thousands of its troops to Afghanistan because of Alliance objections.
The 100 commandos of the Special Boat Service deployed to secure the Bagram
air base, 15 kilometres north of Kabul, will be the last if the Alliance has
any say about foreign troops entering the country.
The UN secured a rare success in its tortured diplomacy on Monday when the
Alliance foreign minister, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to send a
representative to a meeting of all Afghan factions to be held outside the
The Alliance had been insisting that the meeting take place in a city under
its control. But wherever it is held, the hard men of the Alliance will be
entrenched in Kabul.
The militia's interior minister, Younis Qanooni, is back in the office at
the ministry he vacated when the Taliban seized the city five years ago.
Asked if his presence made him the de facto minister, he replied: "No. I
just found this place suitable for myself because there is furniture and
carpets and everything here."
If the Alliance gets any more comfortable, it will take a jackhammer to
release its grip.
It seem to have forgotten how it got there, courtesy of relentless United
States-led bombing of Taliban forces.
The Alliance senses that the West - having crippled and demonised the
Taliban, and unwilling to send troops into this wildly unpredictable country
- has no-one else to turn to.
The presence in the capital of Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the largest
constituent member of the Alliance, the Jamiat-e Islami, has alarmed leaders
of the Pashtun tribes, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.
"This man Rabbani is going to be an obstacle," says Professor Rasoul Amin, a
prominent Pashtun intellectual in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Rabbani is a life-long Islamist who supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War
and had close ties with the Arab fighters grouped around Osama bin Laden.
In an interview yesterday, the US National Security Adviser, Condaleeza
Rice, described him as a "complicated figure", but Washington is determined
to look on the bright side, at least until it succeeds in its main objective
of catching bin Laden.
"We don't expect there to be a pre-emptive government set up in Kabul ...
this is for the UN," Dr Rice said. "We believe that the Northern Alliance