Not Saussure

October 27, 2006

Talking to the Taleban

Filed under: Afghanistan, BBC — notsaussure @ 4:21 pm

Newsnight recently showed an interview between David Loyn and, somewhat extraordinarily, the Taleban’s official spokesman in Helmand Province.

Well worth watching, at the link above. There’s a fair old ding-dong going on in The Editors about this (to which I contributed a couple of ecus’ worth).

There are plenty of (somewhat predictable) accusations of showing ‘Taleban propaganda’, but I genuinely couldn’t see it. It’s clearly a fact, albeit a somewhat alarming one, that the Taleban can apparently move around the area far more freely than we’ve been led to believe, but surely that’s worth knowing — not least because it appears they enjoy this comparative freedom of movement because the Afghan Army are too busy taking bribes at illegal checkpoints to do much about them.

There were some predictable claims and counterclaims about the circumstances in which some villages had been bombed, but you expect those (well, I do) and I have to say that I rather expect that, when you’re fighting a war, you’re going to hit civilians by mistake now and again. There were also references to how fed up the Afghans are with being invaded and how unhappy they are with some elements in the Northern Alliance, but comes as no particular surprise. Be rather odd if they weren’t.

Certainly there was one clear attempt at propaganda by the Taleban chap, who heated denied allegations that his blokes were deliberately trying to sabotage our attempts at helping with reconstruction by burning down schools; never dream of such a thing, strict orders against it, all the fault of the Northern Alliance and the Afghan Army. Then the very next sequence was a Taleban area commander explaining to David Loyn that they only burned schools that taught secularism and girls to wear uniforms that showed their legs, so that was alright really. I hope for his sake his superiors don’t catch that bit of the programme.

Interestingly the posts from serving or recent soldiers are pretty sympathetic to the programme — for example, this (from an American soldier), this, this and this. ‘Know your enemy,’ seems to be the idea, plus this from someone whose recently left the Royal Marines:

In my opinion, he wasn’t getting the story of the Taliban Central Command but that of the young men, sons, brothers and fathers that are on the ground doing the fighting. These are uneducated and easily influenced men who know only what they have been told by their own propaganda machine.

For some of you to call it ‘treason’ to get these young men’s story is ridiculous. It was an important and insightful look at how the other side thinks from the perspective of the lowly foot soldier.

I do feel that it would be prudent of the BBC to perhaps run a similar story about our own lads. How often is their point of view heard? How often does our government listen to their gripes and groans and get their side of the story? Take it from me, almost never!! Give it 3 months for the guys to start hating the place and for friends bodies’ to start arriving back at Brize Norton and then ask the question; ‘So how do you like it here?’

A lot of people have made comparisons with World War II, asking whether the BBC would have shown an interview with Hitler in the middle of the war (which left me rather wondering how they’d have got one, but there you go); someone commented

Picture if you will a BBC journalist “embedded” with Waffen SS soldiers during WWII, or with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces in the 1970s. Sheer asininity on the part of your news organization. How can you explain such activity to the families of British soldiers killed by the Taliban? Very poor judgement in my book

to which someone else replies

Fine. Let us indeed picture a BBC journalist embedded with Hitler’s SS. Had there been some, we would have learned about Nazi death camps and slave labour several years before we actually did. We would also have understood the enemy better than we sometimes did. All this seems like a good thing, no?

There’s also a lengthy post from an Afghan living in Britain, giving his take on the situation there with particular reference to what some of our Northern Alliance allies are like — generally held about the same low regard as are the Taleban, apparently, so some people who have to live there seem to think there’s little to choose between the two sides.

In some ways, I’m a bit puzzled about the thinking behind some of the complaints. I take it as axiomatic that the Taleban are shooting at British soldiers and our allies so they’re ipso facto the enemy. Even if I felt sympathetic to them, that would still be the case. Doesn’t matter what I thought of the invasion of Afghanistan at the time or what I think about our presence there at the moment; I’m British, the soldiers are British and I hope they win whatever war they’re involved in — whatever I might think of the rights and wrongs of the war. The idea that we have to be the Hollywood good guys and the enemy have to be the Hollywood bad guys — and that anything that might detract from that image is dangerous propaganda — seems completely to miss the point.

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