The Forgotten War

Posted on July 27, 2008

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Democracy Now, July 25, 2008

Video Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqBogn6ikG8

NATO had killed actually more civilians than the Taliban. And we have
not heard about that. Afghanistan, just as much a failure as Iraq.

Coming on the heels of Barack Obamas highly publicized visit to
Afghanistan what he calls a central front in the so-called war on
terror we play an address by Pacifica radio host Sonali Kolhatkar, one
of this countrys leading voices against the occupation of Afghanistan
and co-author of the book Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords
and the Propaganda of Silence. She spoke last month at the National
Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis about what she called
widespread misconceptions about the occupation of Afghanistan.

Sonali Kolhatkar, host of Uprising on Pacifica radio station KPFK. She
is co-author of the book Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords
and the Propaganda of Silence and co-director of the Afghan Womens
Mission, a group that works in solidarity with Afghans to help improve
health and educational facilities for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to our last segment today, to Afghanistan. While
the Iraq war has created some marginal divisions between Democrats and
Republicans, the US occupation of Afghanistan remains decidedly
bipartisan. Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama was in Kabul
on Sunday, where called Afghanistan a central front in the so-called
war on terror. The visit came just days after Obama proposed sending
10,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of his strategy to shift the
militarys focus from Iraq.

Pacifica radio host Sonali Kolhatkar of Pacifica station KPFK in Los
Angeles has been among this countrys leading voices against the
occupation of Afghanistan. She is co-author of the book Bleeding
Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence, and
she is also co-director of the Afghan Womens Mission, a group that
works in solidarity with Afghans to help improve health and
educational facilities for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Last month, Sonali spoke at the National Conference for Media Reform
in Minneapolis about what she called the widespread misconceptions
about the occupation of Afghanistan.

SONALI KOLHATKAR: My specialty is Afghanistan, and I want to focus a
little bit on it, primarily because it is a war that we have
forgotten, that our media has forgotten. And if its one major thing
that the media learned from Afghanistan that they applied to Iraq, it
is that Americans are willing to sanction a war if they believe that
that war will save those brown people over there. And Americans tend
to respond well to what I call the rhetoric of liberation. Weve heard
it a lot over the past several years since 9/11. Weve heard it a lot.
We heard it ad nauseam in the lead-up to the war with Afghanistan. We
fell for itthose burqa-clad women, the women who needed saving, and
the majority of Americans felt that, of course, in addition to
wreaking vengeance for 9/11, we would have the added bonus of saving a
country and its women.

And this is what BusinessWeek had to say in December 2001 on the
aftermath of the fall of the Taliban. They said, The victory over
Taliban tyrants is a victory for humanist values. The scenes of joy in
the streets of Kabul evoke nothing less than the images of Paris
liberated from the Nazis. Women taking to the streets to bask in the
Afghan sun, free at last to show their faces. Children gathering to
fly kites, a once forbidden pastime. Old people dancing to music,
banned for many years.

The liberation of Afghanistan, says BusinessWeek, from the tyranny
of the Taliban is a watershed event that could reverberate for years.
The warm embrace by ordinary people of the freedom to do ordinary
things is a major victory for Western humanist values.

Now, this works very well. This kind of rhetoric works very well for a
media that is part of the fabric of this society and for a citizenry
that has remained blind to the fact that the only changes in
Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban are on paper.

In fact, things are getting worse and worse. How many of you know
about the fact that violence is up 50 percent since last year in
Afghanistan? Afghanistan is a country thats, by the way, 50 percent
bigger in size than Iraq, has a population four million more than
Iraq. This is not about a hierarchy of oppression; its simply for
comparison purposes. So, last year, violence up by 50 percent; 140
suicide bombings in a country that had never really seen suicide
bombings as a phenomenon before December 2005; over 50,000 NATO
troops, of which about half are US soldiers; US soldiers dying at a
rate higher than dying in Iraq, that is, per soldier, more US soldiers
dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

And we have not heard this from the media. Certainly, the media
coverage of Iraq has dipped, and by the same token, media coverage of
Afghanistan is almost completely nil. You hear about it in the
English-speaking press of NATO countries, because they care very much
about Afghanistan. Their troops are there. Canada, the UK and various
other European nations, Afghanistan is their Iraq.

But the failure of the Iraq war is relatively clear to most Americans, right?

You look at poll numbers. Despite the failure of the coverage of the
Iraq war in this country by the mainstream media, most Americans are
able to get information about Iraq and are aware, because of
alternative medias coverage, certainly, of the debacle in Iraq, of
the failure of the Iraq war. But not so Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is just as much a failure as Iraq, OK?

We are using the same tactics. We are rounding people up, detaining
them, bombing civilians. Associated Press did a count earlier in the
year of how many civilians the Taliban had claimed to kill versus how
many officially killed by NATO. Guess what? NATO was winning that
count. NATO had killed actually more civilians than the Taliban. And
we have not heard about that. Afghanistan, just as much a failure as Iraq.

But what are major presidential candidates saying about Afghanistan?

Lets look at the one that most people are excited about saving us
from the war in Iraq, Barack Obama, saying the Iraq war has distracted
us from Afghanistan. The real war is Afghanistan, according to Barack
Obama. He may get us out of Iraq. He may. And he will get us deeper
into Afghanistan.

And the only way that we can hold him accountable is if we know whats
really happening there, if we hear the voices of women like Malalai
Joya, the Afghan parliamentarian, a young intrepid social worker risen
to fame in her country, known as the most famous woman in Afghanistan.
You hear her more often on my program, Uprising, and Democracy Now!
Amy has interviewed Malalai several timesthan you do in the
mainstream media. What is Malalai Joya, this woman that we supposedly
have enabled her liberation, what is she saying? She wants the US out
of Afghanistan, because theyre doing more damage than good, OK?

The alternative media, unfortunately, are justyou know, are not that
much better than the mainstream media on Afghanistan. We could do so
much more. We could do so much better on Afghanistan than we have done.

And so, just to go back to that question of what the media have
learned from both these wars, is that humanitarian concerns are
something that can be manipulated to justify war, that Americans will
be hooked on the notion that we can save those brown peoples over
there, that we will support war if its based on the premise of saving
lives, rather than to secure oil flows, etc., capitalizing on a mass
sense of well-intentioned superiority that exists in this country that
our armed troops can save those brown peoples. The media knows this,
because it is part of this fabric. It capitalizes on it, parading a
series of grateful spokespeople as proof, rather than giving voice to
a majority represented by women like Malalai Joya, who are perfectly
capable of saving themselves.

So, if we want to knowif we want to know whether the US media has
learned anything about war coverage, lets just examine the coverage
in the lead-up to the war that may or may not happen with Iran, and
youll have your answer. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Sonali Kolhatkar, she is co-author of the book Bleeding
Afghanistan and a producer at Pacifica station KPFK in Los Angeles.

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