Tuesday, June 06, 2006

With Exception of NYT, Press Failing To Adequately Cover Afghanistan

In an excellent lengthy review of three books on Afghanistan in the June 22 issue of the New York Review of Books, the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, by far the world's leading journalistic expert on Afghanistan, raises very directly the inadequate American press coverage of developments there.

Rashid, whose 2000 book "Taliban" foreshadowed the attacks on the U.S. by terrorists based in Afghanistan on 9-11, raises the question of why CNN has no correspondent in Kabul, as a resurgent Taliban expands its attacks, and also dwells on lack of coverage there by the U.S. media in general.

Rashid quotes an unidentified senior reporter at CNN as saying the lack of many resident American correspondents in Kabul has less to do with cost than an unwillingness of many young American journalists to volunteer for Afghan assignments.

He quotes the CNN reporter as explaining, "Americans, especially young Americans, do not want to travel to Asia or the Islamic World, anywhere there may be danger. It's a sad time for American journalism."

By contrast, he reports, British journalists are more than willing to seek such assignments.

It may be that the British, with their colonial tradition, are more intrepid, and more interested, in far off wars. But with modern technology of warfare, far off is not, practially, so far off any more.

Nonetheless, I suspect that where there's a will, there's a way, and if more effort were made by American editors to find correspondents for Afghan assignments, they would be successful.

Right now, as I've pointed out before, the New York Times has a full time Afghan correspondent, Carlotta Gall, while the L.A. Times sometimes sends in Paul Watson.

The issue arises at a time when Taliban attacks are increasing dramatically over what they were a year or two ago. Rashid notes in his review that suicide attacks have risen to 40 in the last nine months in the country, compared to just 5 in the previous 5 years. Taliban forces now number in the hundreds in various areas, while a short time ago, they only had dozens.

At the same time, the U.S. may be planning to reduce its forces, turning their responsibilities over to NATO forces of mixed willingness to fight. The British forces are willing and aggressive, as you might expect, but the Dutch are not. (The Dutch behaved very poorly in Bosnia, where its army did nothing to stop the massacre of thousands in Srebrenica).

Rashid is a careful, balanced reporter. He notes some positive developments in Afghanistan, where 27% of the new parliament is composed of woman, and the parliament has been performing much better than in Iraq and does not have the segregated seating that marks other Muslim countries.

However, Rashid notes, "As in many Muslim countries, there is no specific law against rape in Afghanistan, Women who report rape are often charged with adultery."
Muslim fundamentalists, in Afghanistan as elsewhere, are uncivilized.

Rashid also quotes the various authors being reviewed as determining, the drug trade is increasing, and 87% of the world's heroin now comes from Afghanistan, while NATO and American forces do little or nothing to stop it and the Taliban realizes much revenue from it.

Also, Rashid is unsparing in his description of the failure of Pakistani authorities to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces that are using northern Pakistan as a privileged sanctuary for attacks in Afghanistan. He notes that in these border areas, an army composed of many international jihadists, from such far flung places as China and Chechnya, has grown in numbers and weaponry.

Afghanistan is not getting the attention it needs, either from the press or from the Bush Administration, Rashid warns, repeating the mistakes of inattention made in the pre-Taliban period after the Soviets left the country. As in Iraq, the American effort there has not been sufficient to either build up the country or destroy the fundamentalists.

This is mainly a somber report, and this has been another troubling week in the War on Terror, with Islamic extremist advances in Somalia, where the terrorists are threatening to establish an Islamic state, increased sectarian killings in Iraq and arrests of terrorists in Canada. From every side, the threat of Islamic terrorism is only increasing.

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