Friday 22 February 2019

Anti-US bias was a load of Kabul

Eilis O'Hanlon on Afghan war sceptics Watching Six One News last Tuesday, one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a democratic, liberal regime in Afghanistan which had just been overthrown, so sombre and so anguished was the mood. RTÉ did all but play funereal music, Soviet-style, at the ongoing collapse of the Taliban.

It was a fitting culmination to a surreal previous few days which had seen RTÉ news, like the Guardian and certain anti-American enclaves within the BBC, struggle to reconcile the latest events with the carping ideological gloss it had adopted from the outset towards US involvement in the region.

The sequence had started with scepticism at claims of Northern Alliance advances; it was all black propaganda, or a temporary blip. Then, when Mazar-i-Sharif and Harat fell, that was replaced by authoritative pronouncements that Kabul would be a harder nut to crack. Then, with the Taliban fleeing Kabul, too, RTÉ decided that it was probably just a tactical retreat after all, Kabul in the north was not so significant to the southern-based Taliban, was it? Then the line became one of stressing repeatedly that the Northern Alliance were just as bad.

By Tuesday, this sequence had reached the "it'll all end in tears, you mark my words" stage, with particular emphasis being given to the theory that the temporary political vacuum in Afghanistan "could destabilise the region". There were even suggestions that America should now start bombing the Northern Alliance to stop them making further progress.

Ahmed Rashid, author of an acclaimed study, The Taliban, was briefly allowed on Morning Ireland to stress there was now "a huge opportunity" to catch Osama bin Laden and also to "encourage [the Northern Alliance] to take a line in tune with the international community" to the betterment of all Afghans, but he was quickly ignored, as if he had said something embarrassing, whilst the media doom-mongers went back to work, determined to find the black cloud behind every silver lining.

Of course there were dangers in the Northern Alliance advance, not least of human rights abuses, but it could hardly be argued that the dangers for Afghanistan were greater than already existed under the Taliban and under the Taliban there was no possibility of anything better being forged. Nor indeed did RTÉ attempt to argue any such thing. They just suggested it with sighs and frowns and gloomy prognostication.

One expects this of Irish journalists, of course. They are never more determined to prove America wrong than when they know America is right. What was shocking was to see the attitudes of Irish aid agencies.

"We are in a race against time," Trocaire recently declared. It was essential that "land corridors into Afghanistan be created and secured...for aid to be transported to the needy".

That being so, one could reasonably have expected Trocaire to be relieved that the Taliban had succumbed so swiftly and that there was now the possibility of increasing the supply of aid, just as one might have expected an organisation with the slogan 'Working for a Just World' to acknowledge that the end of the Taliban would be a significant contribution to that very aim.

That was not exactly how it happened. Trocaire director Justin Kilcullen was remarkably grudging in his reactions to the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif and the imminent fall of Kabul when he appeared on last weekend's Saturday File on radio. Was it not a good sign, it was put to him, that aid agencies would now have access to a good road from Uzbekistan instead of trundling all the way overland from Pakistan?

The airfield was what mattered, Kilcullen immediately replied, and that had been "bombed out of all functionality" by the Americans. The latest developments were "something that will help, but it will only be a small amount of what is required"; and he still insisted the US attacks on the Taliban should stop.

Almost alone among the aid agencies, John O'Shea of Goal was ready to be reassuring. "The advance made by the Northern Alliance," he said in a statement, "means that for the first time since the bombing started, there is now a real opportunity to get significant quantities of aid to those most in need ... From an aid perspective, this is the best possible development."

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