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Chaos and Confusion: The Classic Kabul Press Scrum

Inside the Kabul press crush.
CBS News/Mandy Clark
Inside the Kabul press crush.
CBS News/Mandy Clark

KABUL -- Hostile and banging on the hood of our car, an Afghan police officer isn't about to let us through. The road we're on, like almost every other one in the Afghan capital, has been closed.

We have been invited, along with the rest of the Kabul press corps, to attend the opening of parliament, but now we face the classic Kabul problem -- getting there.

When there is any event of note in the city, everything goes into lockdown and scores of frustrated journalists struggle to make it to ceremonies on time. The Kabul Peace Conference in June was particularly challenging. It involved a kilometer hike uphill, and when you are fully laden with camera equipment, it is hardly fun.

My colleague, Fazul, is working hard to negotiate our passage to the parliament. Eventually there is a throng of anxious journalists outnumbering the Afghan police, and after 45 minutes of haggling, the police are worn down enough to let us through.

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It is no small victory, but we all know more roadblocks lay in wait. We are stopped again because we don't have an imaginary vehicle pass that the police swear they issued to journalists. This time, it's an easier win. With two journalists leading the attack, police back off, and a path is cleared to the parliament. Success!

But is it mission complete? Not quite. Now, the Afghan security forces deploy their other weapon of choice, misinformation. Random instructions are given. We can go in. We can't go in. We can all film the ceremony. Only one camera can film. There will be a live feed. No, there won't. OK, two cameras in but not reporters.

It means we all end up confused about exactly what is going on and when. Tempers fray, and the rules of the playground take over. With elbows up and voices raised, scrambling journalists attempt to all plug in to a feed box that doesn't have enough jacks for the news outlets.

It turns out there was no need to panic. The ceremony won't start for another three hours, though no one has thought to tell us. It doesn't have to be this way, but it always is the same fraught battle between the media and the Afghan officials.

After the inauguration is wrapped up, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has left the building, a smiling palace press officer appears and asks me, was I happy with everything? I had two thoughts, one that is not repeatable, the other, where on Earth was he for the past five hours?

I say nothing of what I'm thinking and thank him politely. I know from experience there is no point complaining. This is just Kabul at its chaotic best, and I know it will not be the last time I'll get to experience it.