Monday, March 22, 2010

Context of a War

While looking for articles on the war in Afghanistan I wanted to see how the foreign press reported on the war and in what fundamental ways it would differ from the American media's message we are so used to. I decided to look in my country of study, Egypt. I thought it would offer a unique middle eastern perspective on the conflict while still remaining sympathetic to certain core goals of the American fight. I was right.

In reading my foreign media, the Al Ahram Weekly – a weekly English language version of the most popular Egyptian paper, I came across an extremely interesting article pertaining to Afghanistan. The article, titled “Surging over the brink” is written by M Shahid Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University. The article discusses Alam's views as to where the future of this conflict is going while offering a concise history of the conflict as a whole and even includes important historical background information, comparing the Taliban of today with the Mujahideen of the past.

The article makes some very important points about the war. Why were the Taliban able to come back after they were removed from power in 2001 and almost nearly destroyed? If we were familiar with the history of the Pashtun people, Alam claims, this would come as no surprise. They have defied all of the odds, and with a remarkable lack of ties or support from Muslim countries, they have made advantages out of their handicaps and mounted an unprecedented comeback to such a formidable opponent. Because the Taliban acts entirely independently of outside help, “they have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away”. The U.S. has pressured Pakistan to take military action against the support network in Pakistan, and as Pakistan “caves” more and more, “escalating their wars against their own population”, the backlash amongst the people grows, causing more and more to join the fight with the Taliban.

Corruption and bribes are abundant in the conflict. The Afghanistan government is very corrupt, “battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism”. President Karzai has worsened the situation by placing the blame of this corruption on the U.S.
I was particularly impressed by Alam's careful wording. At one point he asks, “Can the US defeat these calls terrorists?” This very simple distinction evokes a world of difference in viewpoints that I don't believe I've ever been offered by the American press. Later on in the article Alam offers another revelation that I may never have considered,

"No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late 18th century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal — barring certain overlooked exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the mujahideen whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.
The West celebrated the mujahideen’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the US into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?"

While reading this article I was almost shocked at the wealth of information pertaining to the war that I had never heard before and I wondered, why doesn't the American media provide us with similar journalism? The reasons why I've never read something as critical of the U.S. are not that surprising. Although I'm sure many would find it refreshingly honest and would welcome differing views from the ones recycled again and again, many would find it alienating and would no doubt it attribute it to liberal “blame America first” sensibilities. But why aren't we offered the pertinent background information that would often shed much needed context on hard to understand situations.

I wanted to quickly compare the article to a similar American one, so I found an article by The New York Times that deals with some similar topics. The Al Ahram article reflects heavily on the influx of troops and what affect it will have on the escalating conflict, so I found an article from back in November announcing Obama's troop surge. The article, titled “Obama Issues Order for More Troops in Afghanistan” is exactly what one might think. In comparison it is an extremely narrowly focused article dealing with Obama's recent decision to send more troops into Afghanistan. It offers plenty of numbers, troop numbers before Obama, after Obama and after the surge, commitments from other countries around the world, and of course makes reference to support polls. But sadly, I couldn't find mention of why a surge was necessary, how it may affect the fight, or even the state of the current conflict. I feel that staying informed is extremely essential in this day and age, but from what I have seen, the American press may be failing at giving us all the information we need.

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