Ever since the Americans left Afghanistan, in August 2022 after a 20-year occupation, the country has become something of a black hole, information-wise. Sporadically wire services report that gunmen had targeted a hotel in Kabul popular with the Chinese. Earlier Russian journalists were searching for details on a blast in the Russian Embassy. The embassy has never been so targeted.
Shia places of worship have been frequently attacked, a sacrilege that must distract neighbouring Iran which has been in the grip of protests which do not seem to end.
The Sunday Story
Am I cherry-picking by mentioning China, Russia, and Iran, all countries which the West has lined up on the other side for the new Cold War? You will notice that the incidents mentioned above are short on details. Isn’t it strange that for the entire 20 years when the Americans occupied that wonderful country there was considerable media presence, mostly from the US and the UK?
At the outset, when the US signaled comprehensive global dominance with fireworks on an unprecedented scale, the stars of the western media were paraded from Kabul to Tora Bora caves. The journalist who remained etched on my mind – and I have written about him often – was Geraldo Rivera who would flourish a gun in front of the camera. “This is to shoot dead Osama bin, Laden.”
As the initial triumphalism of which the Rivera exuberance was a part, gave way to a sense of being bogged down, the Anglo-Saxon media did not quite feel up to reporting stories of diminishing US popularity. As Green on Blue picked up in frequency, the US military appeared to have put a blanket on all negative stories. Green on Blue was a term used to describe Afghan soldiers, trained by the NATO alliance, who open fire and kill western soldiers.
By any yardstick, this was a story to be analyzed: Afghan self-respect and pride and the incapacity of the Americans to strike any rapport with the local population except with middlemen and touts. In other words, stories that glorified the West were amplified, and the ones that embarrassed were toned down and killed. Against the backdrop of the high moral ground the West occupies as the sole protectors and promoters of democracy, western hypocrisy stood out.
Most international news since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been about western military action – incursions, invasions, and air strikes. These stories automatically become a western monopoly. If the US is waging war against a third-world country, western military protection becomes an essential precondition for a western journalist to function.
Dick Cheney regularized a system of embedded journalists to cover the April 3, 2001 invasion of Iraq. It did not affect, say, Indian journalists because there was no Indian journalist covering foreign affairs. He mechanically extended his hand to seek alms by way of news from any western source – AP, Reuters, AFP, BBC, VOA, New York Times, etcetera. Did not the great editors spot an almighty gap, the singular absence of an Indian perspective in the coverage of foreign affairs? Is it not a shame that the Indian media has no bureaus in any SAARC country which includes Afghanistan?
It is the black hole of Kabul that I find so frustrating that I have meandered all over the place throwing mud on the western media which has failed us in a crucial story.
The other day I was introduced to a “diplomat from Afghanistan”. Who do you report to? The Taliban is not recognized by any state. So, who does the diplomat do his diplomacy with, and on whose behalf? The diplomat finally spoke, “we represent Afghanistan.”
YouTube the next day was quite startling. The Afghan Ambassador to New Delhi was being interviewed by a reporter in the Chanakyapuri embassy premises. The Afghan flag fluttered behind him. The Taliban do not recognize this flag. More incongruous was the photograph of President Ashraf Ghani mounted behind him. But Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan with a helicopter full of dollars? What on earth was going on?
The mystery gets deeper when you are told that 70 such ambassadors are floating around. The Afghan seat occupied at the UN has not been vacated by the Ambassador of the defunct regime.
Who pays for their upkeep? The other day, the US representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, Zalmay Khalilzad’s replacement, was conferring with the Ambassador at the UN. According to my UN source, he was travelling to New Delhi and then to Japan which he visits often. There is considerable pressure on Japan to make investments in Afghan infrastructure, a field in which the Chinese are running away with the show.
Conjecture comes in when facts are absent or vague. There is, after all, Quad to be activated. The purpose of the Quad was to neutralize China. India too is in Quad.
Meanwhile, diplomats are mulling over the talks in Moscow last month between India, Russia, and Iran. Why was Iran not so pampered when the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval invited other Central Asian states to discuss Afghanistan?
It turns out, then, that news from Afghanistan is percolating through very slowly. At the same time, reasonable diplomacy is afoot but without any tangible outcome. The Taliban has not incorporated other ethnicities into the Kabul apparatus. This, ostensibly, is the reason why Kabul under the Talib government has not been recognized by other states. Not for the first time, Indian representatives have been meeting the Taliban but no movement promises the emergence of a multi-ethnic entity in Kabul.
In essence Russia, China, India, Iran, and other central Asian republics are trying to stabilize Kabul. The US and its NATO allies are touching bases towards their strategic ends to deftly neutralize Russia and China. What was the outcome of Xi Jinping’s meeting with Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida? Does that neutralize US initiatives or is Japan playing both sides of the street? Why have regional diplomats been mentioning the Durand line ominously?