In Afghanistan it is always a good time for stock-taking. The ten year anniversary of the US-led intervention on 7 October, though, did offer an unmatched opportunity to do so for many commentators. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini had a look at what the Afghan printed press has been saying on the occasion and what attitudes their articles reflects on the part of their authors or of their readers.
Right after the time of the anniversary passed, I noticed that I had been reading mainly foreign reports and commentaries, and that I had overlooked the Afghan articles, storing them for future reading. Without meaning it as an offense to foreign journalist colleagues, I ultimately found it much more interesting and instructive to read the Afghan opinions about what has become by all standards a definite chapter (although not yet a concluded one) in the history of their country. Without aiming at any comprehensive analysis, rather just at the pleasure of reading, I selected ten articles from six different daily newspapers, and singled out some relevant passages.
The newspapers, namely Hasht-e Sobh, Mandegar, Daily Afghanistan, Daily Outlook, Weesa, Sarnewesht and Hewad*, hail from very different political and social backgrounds*. Their different standing could be perceived from the title of the articles already. From the sombre but pragmatic-sounding ‘The second decade and countless challenges’ published in Hasht-e Sobhon 9 October, to the drastic ‘Ten years of international occupation of Afghanistan’ by Weesa the day before, to the laconic ‘Ten years equal to zero’ appeared in Daily Afghanistan also on 9 October.
These three titles could be roughly taken as representative of different positions as to the overall value of the foreign presence in the last ten years: a clearly supportive stance, although not exempt of criticism of foreign policies; an oppositional attitude which sees most if not all of the problems originating from the presence of foreigners, and the positions of those who see no improvements, or no comparatively sufficient improvements, after ten years of the new course.
All ten selected articles highlight the absurd proportion between the amount of money spent in the decade-long intervention and the paucity of results. If all newspapers are ready to acknowledge at least some infrastructural gains, many weigh these unfavourably against the ‘billions of dollars pumped into Afghanistan, the presence of tens of thousands of foreign forces and the widespread support by the international community for Afghanistan and Afghan’s people’s support for the Afghan government’(Daily Afghanistan, 8.10.2011), and figure out that these achievements did not suffice to meet the expectations of the Afghans.
In many articles, this outcome is linked to the divisions existing among the international community, which negatively affected its efforts in Afghanistan – in a way a vision comparable to that foreigners entertain of the Afghan ‘fragmentation’ or ‘tribalism’, often without being aware of the much more macroscopic differences among their governments at home and here.
The Daily Afghanistan adds that, due to lack of capacity and corruption, the country has failed to absorb international contributions. It concludes that‘this has given the pretext to donor countries to spend in Afghanistan on their own.’
The more resolute in condemning the past regime, and optimistic as to the achievements of the last ten years, seems to be the only English-language publication in our selection, Daily Outlook: ‘With all the failures the counter-terrorism [strategy] is facing today, Afghanistan is on its way to developments in almost all fields. The international community has helped Afghanistan generously in the last decade in the areas of economy, democracy, civil society, education, women rights and so on. Achievements are fragile and need to be safeguarded, but Afghanistan is still better off than if it had been under the Taleban.’
On the other hand, Weesa’s and Sarnewesht’s articles are certainly the more strongly critical of foreign presence:
‘7 October marked ten years of the US invasion of Afghanistan.’ (Weesa, 08.10.2011)
‘Now it seems that our main problem is the US and its allies. They are responsible for the weak government and hostile neighbours. … The fact is that they wanted a weak Afghan government to achieve their goals in the region.’ (Sarnewesht, 09.10.2011)
But where Weesa is well-known for its straightforward anti-foreigners stance, the position of a publication like Hewad is more oblique. The newspaper, owned by the state and considered a mouthpiece of the government, criticizes the ISAF troops and the countries behind them through the whole article, but never directly questions their presence in Afghanistan. For example, capsizing the perspective given by Daily Afghanistan on the use of development funds, the article reports that: ‘…the international community has always engaged in arbitrary activities instead of taking into account the Afghan government and the Afghan nation’s demand and priorities’, adding that ‘most of the international community’s contributions went back to foreign countries’, either for donor negligence or even intentionally.
As the title suggests – ‘International community should make up for its mistakes’ -, Hewad’s position seems to be that the presence of the foreigners has been necessary but its impact negative. Foreigners, however, can still compensate for their failures, it suggests, by addressing the problems considered as priorities by the Afghan government, listed as‘ending foreign interferences in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, remove terrorist sanctuaries on the other side of the border, invest in the fundamental projects inside Afghanistan and improving the training and equipment of the Afghan security forces’. Of course, the fact that Hewad is state-owned affects the impartiality of its argumentations, and the lack of any hints at a possible responsibility in the mentioned failures on the part of the Afghan institutions speaks for itself.
This last aspect is raised instead by other newspapers closer to the opposition, like Hasht-e Sobh. It squarely states that ‘the government which was created with America’s support has turned into the most corrupt government in Afghan history.’
Mentioning the failure to bring the war against terror to the Pakistani side of the border, Hewad also condemns arbitrary operations that have left Afghan civilians killed or injured, and argues (with some reason) that the unjust detention of innocent Afghans ‘triggered the anger and the hatred of our nation.’
The topic of the destruction and death brought by the foreign troops was of course present in the pages of Weesa as well. Interestingly the same article also criticises the huge economic gaps among the population stating that: ‘ordinary people who do not have government-provided luxury vehicles and mansions and on whom dollars, provided by the international community, do not fall like rain, argue that they were condemned to death yesterday and they are condemned to death today. … They say that our sons needed to do hard labour yesterday and they need to do the same today.’
Mandegar, an opposition newspaper, also hits on the same note when it observes that ‘whereas a very small number of Afghans have become very rich in the past ten years, according to a UN report more than 7 million Afghans do not have enough food to eat even once per day’.
But the issue that is probably the dearest to the editors of Weesa remains the danger of an impending disintegration of the country under the pressure of foreign schemes: ‘If in the past the Afghans complained against one another, today they cannot tolerate one another’s existence’. …our national unity is threatened by the selfish presence of the international community…’ which, the author observes ‘…is provoking disunity and sense of separation among the Afghans.’
The theme of nation breakup is by no means a prerogative of newspapers with an anti-foreigners’ position. Hasht-e Sobh quotes a former deputy Minister of Interior, Abdul Hadi Khaled, saying that ‘national and ethnic differences, which have never been so strong, have reached their peak and there are no guarantees for the future of Afghanistan’. However, here it is the government ‘sunk in corruption and taken over by mafia networks’ that is mainly held responsible for the dire situation in Afghanistan.
It is dangerous to try and infer clear-cut political identities from single issues, in some instances the newspaper’s positions can surprise the reader. For example, the newspapers that are more damning in their attacks on Pakistan’s role are both the one considered more closely connected to the opposition, Hasht-e Sobh, and state-owned Hewad. If for the first it is a long-term political stance that was exemplified in the rejection – or in caustic commentaries – of the peace talks with the Taleban, for the other it amounts more to following the government’s changes in the relations with the neighbour in the east, which took a rather sour turn after the killing of High Peace Council chairman Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Hewad’s article attacks Pakistan evemore drastically than even Hasht-e Sobh’s, claiming that ‘Pakistan is trying to ensure its personal interests by training the terrorists and insurgents and has started killing the key figures of Afghanistan…’ As a ‘clear example of Pakistan’s evil intentions’ the article mentions the killing of Rabbani and of several other personalities.‘The plans for most of these assassinations have been prepared by the Pakistani intelligence agency…[which] has in fact prepared several plans to ensure its personal interests, one of which was the assassination of President Karzai which has luckily been foiled.’
Specific and quite to-the-point criticism is sometimes addressed at policies which, pursued or endorsed by the foreigners, have proven harmful.Sarnewesht rightly asks: ‘Why did they support anti-Afghan circles, human rights violators and inefficient and corrupt senior officials?’
Summing it up, Daily Afghanistan on 8 October points at the‘variegated traditional tools that have been used to reach democracy, which have not proved successful for Afghanistan nor for the world.’ Also, Hasht-e Sobharticle of 9 October blames the ‘excessive attention to military issues’ to the detriment of other aspects.
Several newspapers reject notions of an US military victory in the ten years struggle, like Daily Afghanistan: ‘Nobody thought that the war would last several years and that the American and NATO forces, the proud and undefeatable winners of war against the Taleban and Terrorism, would leave the mission incomplete like this’ while the Taleban ‘have had the initiative of the war and have challenged the capabilities of the Afghan government and the NATO forces in the country.’
The same article had previously pointed out that one of the first factors to have prevented the achievement of the stated objectives was ‘the lack of a clear definition of this war’.
Another article which appeared on 9 October in Hasht-e Sobh even notes that this ‘battlefield of the USA’s longest war’ (which is also the article’s title) has brought ‘Americans down to their knees’. In what sounds like a reversal of the situation ten years ago, when the Americans promised to rescue the people of Afghanistan oppressed by the Taleban regime, ‘now, they are trying to rescue themselves.’
As for the future, views in the Afghan press seem split between those who maintain that the war ‘can also be fought without foreign forces’ (Hasht-e Sobh, quoting former army general and governor-general of Kandahar during the last years of communist rule, Nur ul-Haq Ulumi), although advocating reforms toward meritocracy and transparency inside the government are a priority, and those who believe, like Weesa, that the hearts of the Afghans‘need to be mended and this is not possible through war’.
However, this gloomy reflection by the Mandegar article – which also provides the line used as a title for this blog – seems to sum up what is becoming a common point of view among Afghans of very different backgrounds: ‘People in Afghanistan no longer believe the government, the United States and other countries when they say they will not abandon the people of Afghanistan again. Many promises have not been kept in the past ten years and not a single explanation has been given to the afflicted people.’
* Hasht-e Sobh and Mandegar are privately-owned newspapers close to the opposition and to secular positions, both are mainly published in Dari but also feature articles in Pashto; Daily Afghanistan is a Dari language newspaper sometimes considered close to Mohaqqeq’s political party, Hezb-e Wahdat-e Melli-ye Mardom (although this is explicitly refuted by the editor), while Daily Outlook is an English language publication connected to the previous, and mainly meant for embassies and foreign companies;Weesa usually exposes religiously conservative ideas also tinged with nationalism; Sarnewesht reflects the views of a group with a former connection to Hezb-e Wahdat and a presently more fundamentalist religious stance (both these two newspapers are published in mixed Pashto/Dari); finally, Hewad is the only state-owned among these, and is published mainly in Pashto (another state-owned newspaper, Anis, is in turn mainly in Dari).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020