Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thugs and theocrats - our nasty allies

While Canadian and NATO officials claim that our mission in Afghanistan is intended to support democracy in that country, pesky facts have a habit of putting the lie to such claims. Some recent events illustrate:

Afghan police arrest blasphemer
Reuters reports that a man who has been a spokesperson for the Afghan Attorney General was arrested by Afghan police after he published an unofficial translation of the Koran (link). Ghaus Zalmai who has also served as director of the Afghanistan National Journalists' Association, was nabbed at the border with Pakistan.

The arrested man is said to be charged with publishing the translation without permission from an authorized Koranic scholar (see this link). As Reuters notes, the Afghan constitution is based on Islamic Sharia law.

Reporters stalked by cops - 'Now journalists are also terrorists'

Over at the web site of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, there are two revealing reports on journalists who ran afoul of the authorities.

The Limits of Afghan Press Freedom

Helmand journalist describes police mistreatment on return from reporting trip to Taleban territory...

By Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Lashkar Gah

On Monday, November 5, four of us set out for Musa Qala, a Taleban-held town. Besides me, there were Aziz Ahmad Shafe, who works for the BBC as well as several other organisations...

We went by invitation of the Taleban, but we also told the governor of Helmand we were going, as well as the head of the department of information and culture, Jan Gul Khan.

We were scared to death going into Musa Qala. ...

We spoke to many people, we took films of the Taleban on parade. They had a lot of vehicles, over 100, with weapons. They let us do what we wanted.

I did not get nervous until we were on the way back. In Greshk, the car I was in was stopped by the police. When they saw my equipment bag they asked me what was in it.

“I am a journalist,” I told them.

“Get out,” said the policeman.

The checked everything, they made me show them the pictures I had taken. Then they listened to my interviews. One was with a man who was complaining about NATO and their bombs.

“They have destroyed our mosque, now we do not even have a place to pray to God,” said the man.

When he heard this, the policeman got angry and began to shout at me.

“Why do you record such things?’ he said angrily.

They also asked me a lot of questions about the trip. They wanted to know where I had stayed in Musa Qala, who I had been with. They asked for names and phone numbers.

... I managed to make a call to a friend of mine in Kandahar. Thank God I did. I think he made some calls of his own, because after about half an hour, they released both of us. ...

But that evening I began to get phone calls, from men saying they were the police, and demanding that I come down to the station. But I told them, “Who are you? I don’t know you, I don’t want to talk to you.”

At 8:00 pm, the police came to my house. They surrounded the place, and they knocked on the door. They were asking for me, but my brother told them I was in Kandahar, and they left.

I thought to myself, “Wow, so now journalists are also terrorists.”

I did not know what I had done wrong. Had I committed some crime? So I called the chief of police, Huseeinm Andiwal, who spoke to me quite coldly, although I know him from other reporting I have done.

“If you have the Al Jazeera reporter with you, or any other guests, hand them over,” he told me.

I called the head of the national security directorate, a man whom we know only as “rais”(chief). He told me that he had no idea who it was who was looking for me.

But someone is. I have gone many times with the government to visit war-torn areas. But this time, when I went with the Taleban, the government started harassing me.

You know it is very hard to be a journalist in Helmand. We risked our necks going to Musa Qala, and the government knew about this. We were aware of the danger - we knew there was a possibility we would not come back alive. And now the government, who is supposed to ensure our safety, is trying to imprison us. They do things that are worse than the Taleban.
Readers are encouraged to read IWPR director Jean MacKenzie's piece on the same site. She recounts what befell the other journalists along that day.

100 vehicles?
Note that Aziz Ahmad Tassal, above notes that the Taliban had over 100 vehicles with weapons on display in Musa Qala, Helmand on November 5. Recall from another post that the Taliban have been busy attacking in several provinces, sometimes in sizable numbers, according to authorities. In fact, insurgents were then said to be holding at least two of the three districts in Farah province which they took in late October and early November. And the third of these districts was reportedly attacked with 40 vehicles. A few days later, 100 are on display in Helmand, and the next day in Daykundi province a district is attacked from three directions.

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