After a long long time, Afghanistan and the Taliban have entered American mainstream reporting and commentary but with a tinge of bias and omission that makes the news extremely boring and ritualistic. The major broadcast and print journalism are chirping incessantly about how Trump knew about the Russians paying money to Taliban-linked militants to kill American soldiers but chose to do nothing about it. Their argument is that Trump is soft on Russia and unfit for presidency. About four decades ago, American bounties to the Mujahideen must have angered the Soviets. I wonder if the Soviets were viewed as soft on the Americans back then.
The media commentaries say a lot about this new issue but what they say says more about them. I am no fan of Trump, but their consistent focus is on his flaws wherever they can find them or worse yet, create them. The media punditry is not about the Taliban, Afghanistan or about America’s longest war or Pakistan’s help in ending it. It is not even about Russia. It is about ensuring Trump’s defeat in November.
But there are some things our natural minds can think of if we close our eyes and shut our ears to the media noise. The attack on which the US intelligence is focusing is from April 2019, which killed three US service members. That is when the Taliban and the US were indulged in active battle anyway. There was no peace deal then. Both sides had their mayhem creating power as their biggest bargaining chip. There are also reports about some attacks from January 2020 linked to Russian money. Again, the peace deal was formally signed in late February. After that the Taliban have not attacked American forces.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said, “These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources. That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
Whether or not Trump knew is meaningless because knowing about attacks on US soldiers from a year before when the battle was on is not significant. Taliban attacks on US soldiers post-peace deal would be crossing the line.
The Made in Newsrooms grave issue is that the Russians paid the Taliban to kill American soldiers. In other words, if the Taliban were doing it with an ideology, it was not so grave but if the Russians did it devoid of an ideology, by enlisting local killers, that is a huge issue.
More importantly, the part of the story that remains on the fringes is that the Taliban outsource many violent tasks to local criminals for money. These are hired mercenaries who would take cash from anyone to directly deliver crime to the end user. The Russians got to them and hired them to kill Americans. Calling those mercenaries Taliban would be like calling Mujahideen Americans. Even if this mercenary story is fictional, though The New York Times reported it, the issue of timeline is still there. Those killings in April 2019 are almost a year before the signing of the peace deal. While the reporting is all about Russia paying the Taliban, the Taliban-linked militants phrase remains obscure, unexplained, and misunderstood.
Somehow, just as the Taliban and the Russians have been outsourcing their violence to the local criminals, the American media has been outsourcing their work too. The Russian meddling in the 2016 election using Facebook, the Ukraine scandal about finding “dirt” on the Bidens, the slow response to the coronavirus, and now this story. All have one common element: outsourcing journalism to some foreign story to help shape the election at home. Since when did the US media become a Super PAC?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2020.