Propaganda in the Guardian on the Taliban

It is amazing that anyone actually reads the Guardian. On significant stories on the international arena they just print fairy-tales. I imagine that some people pick up a newspaper not to be informed but to have their fears and prejudices confirmed. If so – the Guardian is a good choice for you.

This is from an article on the exit of the US army from Afghanistan:

There was no flourishing of Afghanistan under foreign occupation. More than 47,000 Afghan civilians died in the conflict; millions have fled as refugees to other countries. Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of heroin; the country has consistently been ranked among the world’s least peaceful and most corrupt.

Perhaps we should be grateful that the author at least admits that “there was no flourishing of Afghanistan under foreign occupation”. But this line is a major factual distortion: “Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of heroin”. The implication is that Afghanistan heroin was produced in Afghanistan (by the Taliban) before the US invasion in 2001 and that despite US efforts it “remains” a problem. This is 100% the opposite of the truth. In 2000 the Taliban banned opium production and production fell significantly. A UN report states: “In November/December 2000, reports from Afghanistan suggested vigorous implementation of the ban by the authorities”. [1] After the US invasion in 2001 production restarted – the Taliban were interested in the revenues which they could use to fund their fightback and, apparently, the US did little to stop production and the production of opium flourished under their occupation [2] (I’ve read that one reason for this was that they didn’t want to alienate local farmers). That Taliban have just declared that they will again ban opium production. [3] There are a flood of articles in the press of the occupier saying that this won’t happen. [4] We will see; but we can say that they did succeed last time, according to the UN.

Continue reading “Propaganda in the Guardian on the Taliban”

The horror, the horror

There has been a bombing attack at Kabul airport. News reports are that civilians have died. An Islamic State affliate operating in Iraq is thought to be the likely culprit though as of now no group has claimed responsibility for the carnage. (Update: Islamic State have claimed it on their Telegam channel apparently. Which leads me to wonder why they haven’t been kicked off Telegram)

Tom Tugendhat who is chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs is reported by the Independent as saying (on ‘Twitter’):

The attack on innocent people at Kabul airport simply trying to escape the horror of Taliban rule shows exactly who the group has brought with them. The pattern is well established – from Nigeria and Mali to Syria and Iraq whenever Islamist extremists take power, terror follows.

I wanted to comment on this because it points to a particular outlook – one which I would say is profoundly delusional. I suspect that even if this is an usually direct statement of the belief system the basic ideas here are those shared by at least part of the UK’s military and political ruling factions.

Islamic State has been active in Afghanistan for some years and have carried out dozens of terror attacks. For example here is a BBC report about an attack in August 2020. [1] These attacks took place while the UK was occupying Afghanistan. It cannot be said that the Taliban “brought this group with them”.

The Taliban are a local Afghan movement. I don’t know what evidence links them to Nigeria, Mail and Syria. The purport of these remarks is to try to use this attack on Kabul airport to heap opprobrium on the Taliban. But the reality is that the Taliban are an enemy of Islamic State who regard them as apostates. The actual story here would be that, amazingly enough, both the UK and the Taliban have a common enemy in Islamic State.

It is offensive and ignorant to dismiss the Taliban as “extremists” – as much of the Western media and political classes do. There are many different interpretations of Islam. The Taliban follow a particular branch (which also manifests in parts of India and Pakistan [2]). Of course – their treatment of women is not based on a notion of “equal rights”, they don’t belive in parliamentary democracy (which I imagine they might see as some kind of blasphemous attempt to replace the law stemming from God and the Koran), their judicial system metes out harsh punishments. Not Western values, certainly. But a coherent religious philosophy.

As for “terror follows”, like many Western elites, the author of these remarks seems to think that the tens of thousands of civilian deaths which followed from the US/UK invasion of Afganistan – including many which didn’t simply “follow from” but were directly caused by UK/US actions – are not terror but the hundreds caused by groups such as ISIS (an enemy of the Taliban again) are. That takes some doing. I don’t know – but the toddler who was blown up by this US Hellfire missile (for example) probably felt some terror. [3] These kinds of actions were related to a “relaxation of conditions” for airstrikes which, according to a US monitoring group “resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties”. [4] In all 71,000 civilians died in Afghanistan. [4] The UN breaks down responsibility for civilian deaths in the first half of 2021 like this: Taliban 39%, Islamic State 9%, 16% other anti-government of undetermined elements, 25% by pro-government forces, remainder crossfire. [5] It is a very approximate extrapolation but if we combine the two sources and assume the proportions were approximately the same throughout the war we get approximately 18,000 civilian deaths caused directly by pro-government forces (the US and allies and their trained and supplied Afghan National army). “Following from” the illegal US/UK invasion of Iraq an absolute minimum tally of dead civilians as a result of violence is 180,000 (but we know for example from Wikileaks that the US tried to downplay civilian deaths they caused so this figure will be higher – no wonder the British government is letting Assange languish in a terrorist prison). [6] Thousands of these were killed directly by the US in direct fire. This was an illegal war which the UK joined on false pretences.

The fact is that death “follows from” UK military adventurism far more than it does from the Taliban.

Update

I would concur with the analysis expressed by the head of National Security for Pakistan expressed in this interview in the Guardian. If the West does not engage with the Taliban and instead isolates them (sanctions, blocking aid programmes etc.) that is likely to lead to the very problems we claim to be concerned about.

Update 2

This is the US military confirming that the Taliban has cooperated with them to prevent terror attacks around the airport:

Gen McKenzie said that cooperation with the Taliban has probably thwarted other planned attacks on the airport:

“We share versions of our information with the Taliban, so that they can actually do some searching out there for us and we believe that some attacks have been thwarted by them,” the general said. “They don’t get the full range of information we have, but we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks.” [7]

This is a refutation it would seem of the view that the Taliban are somehow responsible for the Islamic State attack on the airport. On the contrary this appears to show that they have worked with the US and prevented other attacks.

Notes

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53633450
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/23/hold-the-taliban-and-sharia-law-in-afghanistan
  3. https://www.rt.com/usa/533035-us-drone-pilots-afghanistan-leak-footage/
  4. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians/afghan
  5. https://unama.unmissions.org/civilian-casualties-set-hit-unprecedented-highs-2021-unless-urgent-action-stem-violence-%E2%80%93-un-report
  6. https://www.iraqbodycount.org/
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2021/aug/26/afghanistan-live-news-updates-evacuation-refugees-taliban-kabul-airport-latest?page=with:block-6127eb9a8f08b1506f20fdab#block-6127eb9a8f08b1506f20fdab

Propaganda on the Taliban (2)

This follows on from my post on this topic the other day.

They really can’t help themselves. The world is as they see it and when they apprehend the world they will make the world fit into their congitive map rather than adjust that map to accurately (as possible) reflect the world. In media studies it is called confirmation bias.

This is the Guardian blaming the Taliban for the chaos around Kabul airport.

The headline itself sets the line: “Taliban seek to assert control around Kabul airport as death toll rises to 20”. Which already associates the claimed death toll with the Taliban. In fact at least some of these deaths have occurred within the airport perimeter – which is, apparently, “American soil”.

It was not clear, however, whether the Taliban’s increasingly organised presence around the airport would also result in it controlling who is able to enter the airport and leave the country as the group’s spokesmen used the situation at the airport to criticise the US.

Well. Since the evacuation operation is a US operation and since it is chaos it doesn’t seem unreasonable for a Taliban spokesman to “use the situation at the airport to criticise the US”.

In an audio clip posted online, Amir Khan Motaqi, the chief of the Taliban’s guidance council, described US actions as “tyranny” – though it is Taliban fighters who have beaten and shot at those trying to access the airport over the last week

This is the sort of liberal twisting we expect in the Guardian. The text itself just a few lines above this refers to the Taliban firing in the air to get people to form orderly queues. Now Peter Beaumont claims that they have been firing at people. Perhaps he is now referring to a different and new claim but it isn’t very clear and the claim is not substantiated. There are multiple media reports (and videos) of US troops firing in the air to deter crowds. For example this on Reuters. Early on in the chaos US troops shot and killed two men near the airport who were apparently armed. (Some reports suggest that the US troops mistakenly killed Taliban fighters who were firing into the air to control the crowds). I have seen a video report on Al Jazeera where reporters on the ground interviewed local Afghans near the airport and they said that both the US and Afghans had been shooting at people. (It isn’t clear to me whether this meant aiming at them or firing over their heads).

At least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around Kabul airport during the evacuation effort that was triggered when Taliban insurgents took over the Afghan capital last week, a Nato official said on Sunday

Well. Yes and no. The evacuation chaos could of course be said to be the result of twenty years of occupation and a disastrous lack of planning in terms of the exit. But this text manages to blame it on the Taliban who took over Kabul.

Interestingly the article does concede that a major problem around the airport is the thousands of people who have come to the airport who are not on any official evacuation lists. The presence of these people is hindering the evacuation effort. In which case surely the author should be aknowledging the efforts by the Taliban to control these crowds and bring order to the situation?

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