Whenever talk turns to Afghanistan and what is happening there, I remember the desolate tranquility of the country and the night I spent in Kabul in 1999. This visit took place during the reign of the Taliban movement that imposed a strict list of prohibitions on the country, resulting in the city being silent and still throughout the night.
I recall this trip whenever I catch up on news from Afghanistan, which recently witnessed only the second presidential election in the country’s history. The silence that I witnessed during my trip to Afghanistan almost a decade ago can now be seen in the international media with regards to its news coverage of the country following the US invasion and the collapse of the Taliban regime.
After the collapse of the Taliban regime, the media was full of scenes of Afghan women removing the Burqa, clean-shaven young men, and music being played in the streets. However after Hamid Karzai was elected as President of Afghanistan, news of Afghanistan in the international media began to decline to the point that it almost disappeared. Women returned to wearing the Burqa, men are growing their beards, and the Taliban movement is once again the major problem in the Afghan equation. However what took place in the country was not insignificant, but this was vigorously imposed [from outside] and the media did not cover the genuine state of affairs, making things seem worse than they are.
The US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said that it is the media that will decide the legitimacy of the Afghan presidential elections. This is true, as the Afghans are under direct threat from the Taliban who printed and distributed leaflets warning against participating in the voting process.
To what extent has the media been successful in presenting a genuine image to the public, raising questions regarding morality over re-electing Hamid Karzai whose government has clearly become mired in corruption?
Karzai did not hesitate to approve a law that entitled [Shia] husbands from depriving their wives of food if they fail to respond to their husband’s wishes.
The media has roused excitement in Afghanistan once again, but will this dissipate following the elections and the election results that will inevitably usher in a new future – a future that not everybody agrees will be a positive one?
Iraq has dominated the news and blinded us to what is going on in Afghanistan.
However Afghanistan is now back at the forefront and the majority of Western news agencies are examining positive and negative scenarios for the outcome of the Afghan elections. The Foreign Affairs journal has again said that there is value in negotiating with the Taliban, and some Western media have called for a separate war on drugs in Afghanistan to compliment the fight against terrorism. The issue of the [lawless] Pak-Afghan border region has also suddenly been pushed to the fore. The upcoming step will be to resume the search for Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, after this search stalled. However, the key to success [in Afghanistan] remains the subject of differences and division.
What is certain is that the media is one of the factors that will contribute to failure and success.