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Anxiety as Terror of the Taliban is Replaced by a New Dread of Ethnic Cleansing

16 November 2001

Despite the euphoria that liberation from the Taliban has brought, a dark cloud of fear and anxiety hangs over the Afghan capital, Kabul.

For men as well as women, the flight of the hated religious police from the city has brought deliverance from countless rules that have governed everything from the length of beards (two fists) to the way trousers are cut.

Yesterday, the people of Kabul were still tentatively enjoying their new freedoms. A small group of men ventured back onto the football pitch used by the Taliban to stage public executions, confident for the first time in five years that their game would not be interrupted by the spectacle of some law-breaker being dragged onto the pitch to face a Taliban firing squad.

Many men have also started to fling off the floppy tunic and trouser suit, the shalwar kameez, which the Taliban ordered men to wear at all times. Soroj, the young man who translates for me, came to the office wearing a pair of beige trousers and a polyester tracksuit top; an outfit that was suddenly the mark of a revolution.

But terror of the Taliban has been replaced by fear of a new round of bloodletting and ethnic cleansing as rival factions lay claim to the capital. The Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of anti-Taliban groups with a brutal record, has stationed troops on every street corner, and General Mohammed Fahim - the Alliance's military commander since the assassination of General Ahmed Shah Masood - has become the city's de facto ruler.

Yesterday, however, the Alliance appeared to be splintering into factions, with the Tajiks leading the grab for power despite earlier assurances that they would not enter Kabul.

The Tajiks, whose political wing is called Jamiat, have taken over the buildings that house the ministries for foreign affairs, defense and security, and the self-styled Northern Alliance foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Tajik figure, has entered the city.

The Tajik advance has dismayed the Hazaras, who make up 30 to 40 per cent of the population of the city.

Ustad Khalili, a Hazara leader, told me: "We're furious. General Fahim [the Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance] gave us a promise that they would not enter Kabul. We have moved 3,000 troops to Ghilraiz [40 minutes from Kabul] and we will enter the city to protect our citizens unless an international force is stationed in Kabul."

The Hazaras and Uzbeks have been deliberately deprived of weaponry by the Tajik leadership, Mr Khalili said. "We are poorly equipped but we have taken guns from the Taliban garrison in Bamiyan," he warned. Kabul has unpleasant memories of the misery caused by factional fighting when the Northern Alliance controlled the city between 1992 and 1995. Already there are signs of abuses and looting.

People would welcome even the sight of British troops. "It is good if the British come - even better if an international force comes. We just want peace, we don't care who brings it. We just want a normal life," one man said. Another was resigned to the joy of post-Taliban normality being shortlived. "I will be happy for a few days. After that I don't know what will happen," he said.

The fear is reflected in the unwillingness to exercise free speech even though the hated ministry of vice and virtue has been driven out. People are talking to reporters and even appearing on camera, but they will not criticize the Jamiat.

Kate Clark.
Published in the Independent.
2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.

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