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Sunday, 17 February, 2002, 17:29 GMT
Afghan governor 'awaits formal appointment'
Ismail Khan
Ismail Khan pledges his loyalty to the government in Kabul
By the BBC's David Loyn in Herat

Ismail Khan, the governor of one of Afghanistan's most significant provinces, Herat in the west, has still not been formally appointed more than a week after the visit of the interim leader of the country, Hamid Karzai.

The province has key strategic importance because of its border with Iran.

Ismail Khan's spokesman has told the BBC that he is still waiting for a letter of appointment, although other governors have already received theirs.

Traditionally, the governor of Herat province was also the head of a group of western provinces and Ismail Khan had that role when he ruled Herat before the Taleban came.

He is locally still known as the Emir, conferring him with more status than as just "governor" of Herat.

But unlike other governors, his position has not been made clear by Kabul.

'Clarify status'

He has not been formally endorsed by Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai.

An Afghan boy at a bookstore in Herat
Herat's border with Iran makes it strategically important

When the interim leader came to Herat for his first visit more than a week ago there were new national flags on the streets, replacing the local flags of the Emirate of the West.

And banners at the government offices proclaimed that Ismail Khan supported the central government.

But now Ismail Khan's spokesman says that he is still waiting for a letter of appointment.

The spokesman, the head of the foreign ministry here, Mohammed Ullah Afzali, says that Ismail Khan does not mind whether he is just the governor of Herat, or Emir of the five provinces, but he wants the position to be clarified.

This is more than just an argument over administration; there has been constant suspicion - fuelled by American briefings - that Ismail Khan wants to split away from central control and ally himself with one of America's greatest enemies, Iran.

The spokesman told me that claims of improper Iranian links have been denied every day, but now the central government has a clear way of testing Ismail Khan's loyalty by appointing him to the job.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | South Asia
Kabul violence threatens fragile peace
10 Feb 02 | South Asia
Vying for power in Herat
10 Feb 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Iran's influence shows in Herat
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan leader warmly welcomed in Herat
27 Jan 02 | South Asia
Herat commander denies Iran arms claims
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