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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2006

April 3, 2006

The public is getting distorted news from Afghanistan because the North American media has substituted jingoism and flag-waving for reporting of hard news.

Afghanistan’s complexity and lethal tribal politics have been marketed to the public by government and media as a selfless crusade to defeat the `terrorist’ Taliban, implant democracy, and liberate Afghan women. Afghanistan is part of the `world-wide struggle against terrorism,’ we are told.

None of this is true. In 1989, at the end of the Soviet occupation, Afghanistan fell into anarchy and civil war. An epidemic of banditry and rape ensued.

A village prayer leader, Mullah Omar, who lost an eye in the anti-Soviet jihad, armed a group of `talibs,’ (religious students) and set about defending women from rape. Aided by Pakistan, Taliban stopped the epidemic of rape and drug-dealing that had engulfed Afghanistan and imposed order based on harsh tribal and Sharia religious law.

Taliban was a religious, anti-communist movement that drew its power from Afghanistan’s Pushtun (or Pathan) ethnic majority, the world’s largest tribal group (Kurds are the second largest).

Most of Taliban’s energies were spent battling the remaining Afghan communists, united with various Tajik groups under the banner of the Northern Alliance, whose leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was a long-time Soviet KGB collaborator, and its military chief, Gen. Fahim, the former director of the notorious Afghan secret police which executed and horribly tortured tens of thousands of victims.

Production of opium and heroin was stopped by Taliban, except in the North Alliance-controlled zones.

Taliban’s rule was extremely harsh; its leaders were backwards hillbillies. Because the communists had infiltrated the nation in the 1970’s through the education system – particularly female education – Taliban shut down many schools for girls, oppressed minority Hazaras, whom Taliban considered heretics, and, in an act of supreme idiocy, blew up Buddhist idols.

However, the US government viewed Taliban as a potential ally and gave it millions in aid until four months before 9/11. Washington was considering using Taliban and al-Qaida’s 300 members to stir trouble in China’s western Muslim regions, and in Russian-dominated Central Asia. But US aid was cut off after Taliban refused a contract from the US oil firm Unocal to build a strategic pipeline south from the Caspian Basin to Pakistan.

Taliban’s leaders knew nothing of the 9/11 plans to attack the US, which was mounted in Germany. When the US demanded Kabul hand over bin Laden, Taliban refused. Bin Laden was a guest and national hero wounded six times in the anti-Soviet struggle. Taliban leaders refused to violate their honor by failing to defend an honored guest.

Taliban promised to deliver him to an international tribunal once the US submitted evidence of his guilt. The US refused, and promptly invaded Afghanistan.

Unable to withstand US power, Mullah Omar ordered his fighters to blend back into the Pushtun population and wage guerilla war against the invaders. Taliban has been joined by the Hizbi-Islami movement of Gulbadin Hekmatyar and other tribal groups or individuals opposed to foreign occupation.

After Taliban’s overthrow, Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the old Communist Party and war criminals, now allied with Russia, Iran and India, and drug warlords who control much of the chaotic nation. The US-installed `democratic’ Karzai puppet regime in Kabul rules only the capital.

The Talibs represented the most backwards sector of Afghan society. But they brought law and order, ended drug dealing, and fought the communists who killed 1.5 million Afghans.

Today, women in post-Taliban Afghanistan are just as repressed as they were under Taliban, save for a few schools in Kabul. Women are equally repressed in Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia. Many Afghans share Taliban’s social views, if not politics. The Uzbeks in the north – now US and Canadian allies - are in even more vicious and brutal than Taliban, and up to their turbans in drug dealing. The US and NATO are running a nation that supplies 80-90% of the world’s heroin.

Most foreign journalists see none of this. They get the Cook’s tour, led around by their noses by government or military P.R. specialists, and fed handouts. Call this blinkered news. At least the old Soviet media did a better job, occasionally criticizing Moscow’s claims that it was implanting democracy, freedom and human rights in Afghanistan. The North American media has no such professional reservations.

Few reporters get away from the military and go see the reality beyond. Even fewer know about Afghanistan’s tortured history. That’s why we have been getting so much disinformation and so little honest reporting about Afghanistan.

Taliban is neither a terrorist group, like al-Qaida, nor an enemy of the United States. Washington should be talking to its moderate elements as part of a strategy to stabilize that nation, foster a genuinely popular national government that excludes terrorist groups, and ends Afghanistan’s role as the world’s premier narco-state.


  • Mon dieu! The riots in France continue. It’s not revolution, but a combination of spring fever and counter-revolution designed to protect the perks of those who have cushy lifetime jobs and lavish pensions. It’s a `cri du coeur’ of anguish from all those sociology and cultural anthropology students who are discovering that they may not have jobs when they graduate.

  • The new torpedo test-fired 2 April by Iran was described by Tehran as sonar-evading and having a speed of 225 mph underwater. If true, this torpedo is likely based on a remarkable former Soviet design that attains very high speed by encasing itself in an oblong bubble of pressurized air, thereby reducing drag in the water. Such a weapon launched by submarine or aircraft would poses a major threat to US naval forces threatening Iran from the Gulf or Arabian Sea.

  • The US Supreme Court’s decision not to challenge the White House in the Jose Padillo case shows how the court has been tilted to the right. It is deeply dismaying that the Court did not challenge the president’s self-appointed right to declare anyone an `enemy combatant,’ thus excluding a US citizen from all constitutional protection. Welcome the beginning of `enemies of the people,’ something we have not seen since communist-era show trials. Now we seem to have a Supreme Court that is as gutless and pandering as Congress.

  • Italy needs a new prime minister. Let’s hope next weekend’s elections get rid of the shady Silvio Berlusconi and his odious neo-fascist supporters. Italy deserves better.

  • I am disturbed by the tumult at Japan Airlines. Its second CEO in as many years was just replaced after persistent reports of safety violations and maintenance problems. JAL used to be a premier airlines which I often flew with pleasure and a sense of security. Today, it would not be my first choice, I’m sorry to say. How can Japanese who do so much so well do so poorly with the national flag carrier?

    By contrast, I have been flying British Airways a lot of late and am most pleased by its Business and First Class. Heathrow Airport, however, remains a mess – which it has been since I was a boy. The Brits make great pilots and fighting men, but they are not so good at organizing things. Too bad Heathrow is not run by the Germans or Swiss……

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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