How the Press can Destabilize a New Government in Afghanistan
    Date:           Sun, 18 Aug 2002 12:01:24 -0700
   From:           Jim Pivonka <>
     To:           "President George W. Bush" <>,
         Representative Jerry Moran <>,
         Senator Sam Brownback <>,
         "Senator Carl Levin, Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee" <>,
         NY Times International <>
     CC:           "" <>,
         "" <>, Peter Jennings <>,, "" <>

The Press's romantic entrancement with the concept of conflict among ethnic and regional leaders in Afghanistan, fed by a long campaign of dininformation from Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizing "news" outlets based in Pakistan, is playing into the hands of Afghanistan's enemies there, and elsewhere in the region.  Too many Euro-Am reporters and news organizations have bought into this (intrigue sells) and it results in reporting like the first paragraphs of the article quoted below.

In reportage influenced by Pak ISI and Al Quaeda disinformation our press is, for reasons of its own (short sightedness, attachment to preconceptions, selling news), not acting in the best interests of the US, Afghanistan, or truth.

This kind of reporting plays into the hands of what the same press likes to call "radical fundamentalist Islamists", the Taliban remnants, and Al Quaida.  In Pakistan, those elements hope to destabilize and supplant the Moshareff regime, gaining access to nuclear weapons.  Exaggerations, lies, and simple minded interpretations regarding the complex process of restoring governance and civil society in Afghanistan give succor to them.   Our press should try to do better.

It almost makes a die-hard Republican baiting Bush skeptic like me wish that we had an Office of War Information to deal with these things.   Instead, we have to send Zalmay Khalilzad to Afhanistan, to ask them for help in dealing with our runaway press.  Sheesh!

Time and again Afghan leaders, polite to a fault and ever so subtly, point out that it is inappropriate for our press to continue referring to regional, and even national leaders in Afghanistan as "Warlords".  Karzai, Abdullah, Fahim, others all have noted that these leaders are participants in a common enterprise, and dedicated to rebuilding Afghanistan.  (Of course, we have yet to deal with the evil exception, Badshah Khan, and that cannot happen too soon to suit me.)

I believe that, and the other points made by Vice President Fahim in the article below deserve careful attention.  And that the introductory editorial by the writer, and the supposed comments of unidentified "Western diplomats" are best ignored.

Jim Pivonka
PO Box 751
La Crosse, KS  67548

August 18, 2002
Afghan Defense Chief Acts to Counter Talk of a Rift

     ABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 17 Under growing pressure from the United States to heal damaging political rifts in Kabul, the new Afghan government put its military strongman on display at a news conference today to deny vehemently that he has been locked in a power struggle with the country's American-backed president, Hamid Karzai.

The defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Fahim, made a rare appearance before reporters after a visit here in recent days by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born diplomat who is President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan.

Western diplomats said Mr. Khalilzad carried a message that the new government, elected for an 18-month period by a grand council of Afghan leaders in June, had to end ethnic factionalism before it pulled the government apart and undermined the American-led campaign against remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Marshal Fahim, 45, the most powerful of Afghanistan's ethnic Tajik leaders, has been viewed as the principal rival within the government to Mr. Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who owes his position as leader largely to American backing. By arranging for a Kabul administration headed by Mr. Karzai but dominated in its key ministries by ethnic Tajiks, Washington has hoped to suppress tensions between the militarily powerful Tajiks and the Pashtuns, who are the largest population group but who have been deeply divided under rival provincial warlords since the collapse of the mainly Pashtun Taliban.

Marshal Fahim, appearing in the garden of an old royal palace wearing a business suit in place of his normal battle fatigues, described reports in Western newspapers of a deepening power struggle between himself and Mr. Karzai as "propaganda," and said they had sowed an "atmosphere of confusion" that needed clearing up. He said the reality was that the leaders of different groups that had battled the Taliban, especially President Karzai and himself, had "joined hands for national unity and peace" since American bombing led to the collapse of the Taliban's militant form of Islamic rule in November.

"In order to achieve that high objective, we have made a pact; we are a team, President Karzai and Vice President Fahim," Marshal Fahim said.

He added: "I can think of no  issue that could bring misunderstanding between President Karzai and myself, and we will develop our relationship further to bring Afghanistan to where it needs to be."

At the news conference and in an interview later, Marshal Fahim played down many of the concerns gathering around the Karzai government and American military operations here. There is a growing skepticism among Afghans about the government's stability, and its ability to sustain a political climate supportive of the American war effort.

The defense minister said he agreed with remarks by the American military commander for Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who said this week that American troops might need to be in the country for years to completely eradicate resistance by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

"In certain areas of Afghanistan, especially the south, Al Qaeda is still operating," Marshal Fahim said. "Only when we come to the conclusion that the danger of terrorism is completely eliminated, and our own national army has reached the point where it can assume responsibility for our national security, will the Americans step aside."

On another issue that has deeply worried Washington and its Western allies, the power of regional warlords, Marshal Fahim suggested that Westerners had misjudged military strongmen like Ismail Khan in the west, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum in the north, and Gul Agha Shirzai in the south. "All of these men have great affection for our country, and they are committed to its rebirth as a country under law," he said.

But much of Marshal Fahim's emphasis was on denying reports that he had been in a bitter dispute with Mr. Karzai since the president's decision last month, under American pressure, to replace his Defense Ministry bodyguard of mainly Tajik troops with a 70-man detachment of United States Special Forces soldiers trained in the "close protection" of public officials. The move followed the assassination in Kabul six weeks ago of Vice President Hajji Abdul Qadir, a powerful Pashtun leader from the country's strategically important eastern region.

The American bodyguards have become a political touchstone, despite their efforts to be unobtrusive and painstakingly polite.  While many Afghans seem relieved that Mr. Karzai will now be better protected against assassinations and bombings, others say the American force at the palace is an emblem of how much of a "puppet government," under Washington's direction, Mr.  Karzai's has become.

Although some of the criticism has come from Tajik officials who dominate in the upper ranks of the Defense Ministry, Marshal Fahim said the shift to American bodyguards had occurred amid deep concern about security among all of Mr. Karzai's cabinet members. The aviation minister, Abdul Rahman, was stabbed to death in still unexplained circumstances at Kabul airport in February, and Afghan security officials announced last month that they had thwarted a Qaeda-linked car-bomb assassination attempt on Mr. Karzai.

The defense minister said the assassinations, and the bombings that have hit Kabul and other major cities in recent months, were aimed at sabotaging the new government, and with it the American-led campaign. He said that any threat to the life of Mr. Karzai "could put at hazard all our efforts for peace and security," and that this had made the change of the palace guard necessary.

But Marshal Fahim quickly entered a caveat that the Americans would guard Mr. Karzai only as long as it took them to
train Afghans.

Also in the interview today, Marshal Fahim forcefully rebutted suggestions made by some Afghan officials that he himself might have conspired in the killing of Hajji Qadir. Those suggestions had led some Western commentators to warn that the United States could find itself in a similar position to that of the Soviet Union in the 1980's using its military to prop up an unpopular government torn apart by murderous intrigues.

Marshal Fahim said news reports linking him to the Qadir killing were based on "malicious rumors." The reality, he said, was that Hajji Qadir had been a close ally of Afghanistan's Tajik leaders for years.

Marshal Fahim said that investigators still had no leads on the identity of Hajji Qadir's killers. But he said the
"circumstances" of the killing suggested that it had been organized by drug lords and Hajji Qadir's political rivals in Jalalabad, the eastern city where Hajji Qadir, in April, sent 300 troops to raid Afghanistan's largest opium and heroin market in the town of Ghanikhel.

"Nobody had dared to do anything like that for years, and the drugs mafia decided to take their revenge," he said.
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