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How and Why the Media Misses the Af-Pak Story

Two experts explain how the media has reported — and misreported — the ongoing story of the "AfPak war" during the past three decades.

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It wasn’t really academic at all. It was a flat out bogus propaganda operation intended to win support from foreign audiences through the Voice of America. Of course some of it eventually fed back into the American media and was aired as legitimate news stories. The narrative was framed as black and white while focused on hurting the communists as much as possible. So the whole project was grounded in ideology and not journalism from the start. It was important to train Afghans and get the word out about what was going on. It was extremely dangerous to arm a whole cadre of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s radical followers in the nuances of political disinformation. This flawed approach helped embed a deliriously false narrative during the Reagan years and it refuses to go away.

The University of Nebraska also took part in training Afghans for Jihad under a USAID contract reportedly worth about $60 million. Although run by USAID, the CIA helped to design and implement the program.

Q: Why was the American press so fawning in its coverage of Hekmatyar?

A: Hekmatyar was the go-to guy for the U.S. beginning in 1973 when Mohammed Daoud and Marxist Babrak Karmal overthrew King Zahir Shah. Hekmatyar won friends in the Pakistani military and Saudi elite for his radical religious views and continues to find support within their ranks. As we remarked before, the American press seems to fall in line when it comes to accepting the official line on Afghanistan. When it comes to Hekmatyar they simply don’t challenge the rhetoric — we assume because the CIA and Pakistan continue to see a role for him to play in a post-Karzai era. Much to our amazement he has a PR guy in Los Angeles that goes around challenging anything bad said about him.

The U.S. media won’t touch the fact that Hekmatyar, (who’s been officially labeled a terrorist), has free access to threaten people who challenge him. We saw this kind of thing back in the 1980s when the U.S. was actively funding Islamic extremists to kill Russians, bringing them to the U.S. and putting them on shows like Nightline to espouse their cause. But now we’re supposed to be on the other side of that issue. So why is the U.S. still letting them roam free?

Q: Do you agree with people like Tom Johnson and Chris Mason that the MSM’s reporting is “no longer just misinformed or misguided” but “has crossed the line into being completely out of touch with reality?”

A: Johnson and Mason have done a lot of fieldwork to back up their opinions and have seen the narrative grow ever more delusional over the years. We’ve seen it as well in pieces written by some of Washington’s instant experts who know nothing of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but get front page and top billing regurgitating pro-Pakistani or anti-Afghan opinions that were baked in a Washington think-tank and paid for by lobbyists.

So much of what the U.S. consumes on the AfPak war is invented in Washington for Washington and has absolutely nothing to do with what is really going on, on the ground. This is a result of a process that has been broken for a very long time and cannot reform itself. But the moment has arrived where the drawbacks to this approach outweigh the benefits. In crossing zero line the U.S. has fed itself its own policy and may just now be realizing that its efforts over the last ten years add up to nothing more than zero. Not to realize that this moment has arrived and adjust to the new realities can only result in catastrophe.

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