Propaganda on the Taliban

As a long-time observer and documentor of Western media propaganda on Russia and anything to do with Russia I have been interested to note similar tendancies at work in the media coverage of the situation in Afghanistan. Essentially the problem must be the same. There is a preferred narrative and facts are then selected to support this narrative with facts which don’t support the narrative being ommitted. The selected facts are then massaged into place with careful editorial glossing. Of course there are other techniques. One is to report something (e.g. that the Kremlin poisoned Navalny) as an “allegation” or as “high probability” but after a few weeks drop the “alleged” and simply report it as a 100% fact. Another technqiue is simply to repeat narrative points ad infinitum and as if their truth is so obvious it doesn’t need to be backed up with analysis. E.g. “Russian aggression”. The following is a particularly blatant example of the selective reporting technique.

A lot of media outlets are reporting a briefing from a Norwegian security consultancy which says that they assess that the Talian are targetting people who used to work with NATO/US forces. The consultancy predicts that people will be tortured and killed. This is the BBC’s reporting:

The warning the group were targeting “collaborators” came in a confidential document by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, which provides intelligence to the UN. “There are a high number of individuals that are currently being targeted by the Taliban and the threat is crystal clear,” Christian Nellemann, who heads the group behind the report, told the BBC. It is in writing that, unless they give themselves in, the Taliban will arrest and prosecute, interrogate and punish family members on behalf of those individuals.” He warned that anyone on the Taliban’s blacklist was in severe danger, and that there could be mass executions [1]

The Indpendent reports on the BBC’s report.

It seems that the Norwegian Centre for Global Analyses was preparing a report for the UN on this matter. Based on the above one can get the impression that the Taliban are targetting people who worked for the occupation. That may be true. (I have no way of knowing and I don’t trust the Western media reporting on this). But the way the story is told is such that it supports the narrative of the “brutal Taliban”. Here they are presented as targetting people who worked for the occupation out of revenge. At least no other reason is given and this is the overall narrative line. The quote from this Norwegian consultancy is thus used to support that line. However; it seems that this intelligence report also said:

We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions. This will further jeopardise western intelligence services, their networks, methods and ability to counter both the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist threats ahead,” he added. [2]

That is – this information; that what is at stake is the ability of Western intelligence services to use the network of former staff they have left behind to gather intelligence on the Taliban is not covered by the BBC. (Interestingly Al-Jazeera repeated the news item in their live feed on the situation in Afghanistan a few hours later and in this version they removed this part. Has someone had a quiet word with them?)

It appears that Christian Nellemann, the executive director of the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, spoke to AFP and this is the original source of the briefing to the media. (France 24 [3], Al-Jazeera and EuroNews [3] all reference the original AFP report). The BBC claim that the Christian Nellemann spoke directly to the BBC. I don’t know if this is true. But even if it is and even if in their interview it was Christian Nellemann who censored the information about Western intelligence it is still the case that the BBC would have had access to the AFP report cited by Al-Jazeera.

The same partial reporting of the briefing by the Norwegian consultancy happens on the Guardian where it is specifically used to bolster a story about Taliban brutality.

The reality: the Taliban may be targetting people who worked for the NATO/US occupation. If they are it is likely that they are doing this to counter plans by Western intelligence agencies to use some of these people to establish an anti-Taliban intelligence network in the country. The liberal media version: brutal Taliban (primitive, medieval) carrying out senseless revenge attacks on brave journalists and simple Afghans who helped NATO/US rebuild their country.

For the avoidance of doubt I am not saying that the Taliban have not committed atrocities. I don’t know if they have or haven’t. What is clear though is that the reality is more complex than the simplified ‘brutal Taliban’ narrative presented in some Western media outlets.

And this is how the narratives which people in the West are fed are shaped. And such false narratives in turn shape policy (either because the politicians themselves come to believe them or because they are now pandering to what the masses have been duped into believing). No wonder the actual outcomes of policy are usually such a disaster.

Notes

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58271797
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/19/us-troops-to-stay-in-afghanistan-till-all-americans-out-live
  3. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210819-taliban-intensifying-search-for-afghans-who-helped-us-un-document / https://www.euronews.com/2021/08/20/taliban-say-want-good-relations-with-west-search-for-afghans-who-helped-foreign-powers

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer