Who Lost Afghanistan?


….jeez… it was here a minute ago…..

There are several great advantages to living a trans-Atlantic life:

You get to rack up endless frequent flier miles.

You get to really understand your body clock.

You get to see the very same news stories from two totally different perspectives.

In the UK I read The Guardian and watch The BBC. In the US, I read The New York Times and watch CBS News.

Sometimes, even though they are covering exactly the same story, I feel as if I am looking at things from two totally different worlds.

How is that possible? Isn’t ‘news’ supposed to be ‘objective’?

Take Afghanistan:

On Friday, The Guardian ran an excellent analysis piece on Afghanistan by Jonathan Steele, their correspondent in Kabul. Steele lives in Kabul and is the Senior Foreign Correspondent for The Guardian. (as reader Peter Ralph writes, ‘it is important because it underlines the fact that he is in Afghanistan by choice’) The essence of Steele’s piece was that Southern Afghanistan is effectively already lost and the best the west can now do is to concentrate their efforts on Kabul and parts of the north.

For someone whose news diet consisted solely of The New York Times and CBS News, the loss of half of Afghanistan to the Taliban would come as something of a surprise.. but not to the regular Guardian reader.

To be sure, CBS News and its fellow network news departments do pay attention to Afghanistan, but only in a very superficial way. They will give you the ‘news’ (ie, bomb goes off, assasination attempt against Karzai, etc..), but what they cannot do is any kind of intelligent analysis.

This is, alas, because the great majority of people who are ‘covering’ Afghanistan (and indeed Iraq) don’t have too much of an idea of what is going on there themselves. They can’t (and it’s not their fault) – they have been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan (although that one is on the back burner these days), to have their reporting tickets punched. Bob Woodruff, nice man that he is, to be sure, was no more qualified to report from Iraq than my elevator operator (maybe less, as Rana speaks both fluent Arabic and Pashtu). Woodruff to China, for sure. Woodruff to Afghanistan? What for?

Now, let’s take a look at Jonathan Steele, if only for a moment: here is his most recent blog, appropriately entitled “Lost in Translation”, from The Guardian. You will note, if you read the piece, which I urge you to do, that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never actually called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the face of the map’, as had been endlessly reported in the US Press. It turns out that the ‘quote’ was in fact the result of a mistranslation.

But observe the work, the care, the excellence that Steele takes in tracking down the exact translation of the Farsi. That is why when a journalist like Steele tells me that Southern Afghanistan is lost, I believe it.

The shocking thing here is that if Steele is right, and I tend to think he is, then almost all the reporting and coverage out of Afghanistan being done by the US looks like it is missing the story entirely. A bit like ‘weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, we are going to look back on this in wonder.

We will wonder how we, the media, ‘missed’ the story.

Who lost Afghanistan?

How is is possible we didn’t know.

We didn’t know because for the most part, the people we sent there to cover the story more often than not, did not know what they were covering and so simply gave us the ‘breaking news’ of the moment – car bomb, assassination attempt.

Without intelligent context, that kind of news is almost worthless.

If we learn nothing else from the debacle in Iraq, perhaps we wil learn this – the quality of coverage and the information we deliver to the public is paramount.


2 responses to “Who Lost Afghanistan?

  1. Michael – I am not sure that link is the most effective for demonstrating the undoubted excellence of the Guardian and its hacks.

    The difference between “The State of Israel must be wiped from the face of the map” and “The regime in Jerusalem must be eliminated from the pages of history” is kind of subtle.

    Perhaps this piece – detailing “serious irregularities at the heart of the process the world is relying on to control global warming” might be more effective?


    FWIW – few Brit journos consider the reading week complete without flipping through the pages of Private Eye. If you do pick up a copy be sure to check out pseuds corner for names you might be familiar with.

    pip pip

  2. I blog on Afghanistan, and was impressed with this summary of the intent of the our efforts there.

    What is the biggest obstacle in front of Trans-Afghan Project?
    Journal of Turkish Weekly
    Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL is a senior researcher and Head of Central Asian Studies at

    Questions posed:
    “Why has the Trans-Afghan project not been realized yet?”
    “Why has Afghanistan’s security and stabiliy not been achieved?”
    “How long this situation will last?”

    Success in Afghanistan (from a Russian perspective) means an important blow to the US’s Central Asia adventure and a competitive advantage in the energy wars. Russia with the support of General Dostum, Fahim and groups once related to Northern Alliance, may try to regain previously lost opportunities.

    The US is aware if this and is leading the region in to new instabilities.

    Foremost sources of instability are the disputes between Afghanistan-Pakistan, Pakistan-Iran. Consequently by stirring up “controlled crises”, US is continuing its existence in the region and showing her intention of taking initiatives in the regional sense.

    Within this framework, and under US initiative, the realisation of a Trans-Afghan Project is less probable, with some experts claiming that the whole project is “dead”.

    It is almost apparent that the US has been trying to freeze the project for some time. So to achieve this goal, the US is acting in a manner that is helping to inflate of problems between Pakistan and its neighbours Afghanistan, Iran and India.

    Some of the possible reasons for US’s wish to suspend the project (through instability) are as follows:
    1- governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan are risky countries for US energy security
    2- instability is the “justification” of US existence in the region
    3- instability impedes regional cooperation projects
    4- instability will continue regional “energy security” problems and maintain Indian and regional dependence on US
    5- instability will sustain the high energy costs and so, slow development in the region
    6- the Iran problem has not been solved yet

    Until US achieves success in its own plans for the political and geographical framework of the region – , the future of the “Afghan problem” and Trans-Afghan Pipeline Project will not improve in the foreseeable future.

    The countries participating in both the pipeline project and those dealing with “the Afghan problem” are well aware of this situation.

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