Britain: Kabul's unlikely liberator
The Taliban's nosedive has turned Kabul into scoop city for the world's media, but few journalists can match the claim by BBC veteran John Simpson to have personally "liberated" the city. Needless to say he was widely pilloried in the British media for this self-important claim, but overtaking the Northern Alliance forces in the race to Kabul was no mean feat. His account: "As we drew nearer to the city we could see the grim evidence of battle. The roads were littered with the bodies of former supporters of the Northern Alliance who had switched sides and joined the Taleban no mercy for them... Kabul lay temptingly close below us now.
"The small BBC team decided to head on into the city, on our own... It felt extraordinarily exhilarating to be liberating a city which had suffered so much under a cruel and stifling regime."
Perhaps it was Simpson's heroics that prompted Taliban leader Mullah Omar to begin a BBC radio interview by saying the British broadcaster had "created concern." That interview, conducted via a military field radio by the BBC's pashto-language service also turned out to be a major scoop. Claims about "the destruction of America ... within a short while" and a plan currently "being implemented" are probably the rantings of a doomed man after all, earlier in the week he was exhorting his own fighters to stop "running here and there like headless chickens." But these days when a man with nothing to lose starts predicting that America "will fall to the ground" within a short period of time, and suggesting his audience "keep in mind this prediction," folks in America tend to get a little nervous. And they will have taken little comfort from the Mullah's insistence that the Taliban "are all moderates."
Britain: Pulling the nuclear chain
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Not to be outdone in the scary scoop stakes, The Times of London's Anthony Lloyd stumbled upon an abandoned Al Qaeda safe house in Kabul and found "detailed plans for nuclear devices." Notes written in Arabic, German, Urdu and English describe "how the detonation of TNT compresses plutonium into a critical mass, sparking a chain reaction, and ultimately a thermonuclear reaction." Lloyd breathlessly reports that his discovery "confirms the West's worst fears and raises the specter of plans for an attack that would far exceed the September 11 atrocities in scale and gravity." But the documents he describes suggest Al Qaeda's Einsteins have simply been surfing the Web. If Lloyd were to simply type "nuclear weapons design" into any Internet search engine, he'd probably find the much of the same information the terrorists left behind in Kabul.
More convincing, perhaps, is the newspaper's editorial arguing the need for British and other Western troops to be deployed in large numbers to keep Afghanistan's warlords from tearing the place apart. Indeed, while journalists on the ground were searching for scoops in post-Taliban Kabul, much of the world's media was fretting over the political dangers posed by the Taliban's sudden retreat from the cities.
Pakistan: Betrayal in Kabul
Pakistan, erstwhile sponsor of the Taliban, was particularly alarmed at the capture of Kabul by the hostile Northern Alliance. The Islamabad paper Dawn editorialized on the need to turn the capital over to an international force while a consensus is negotiated over a new government. Columnist Tahir Mirza offered a more caustic assessment. "Everyone is confronted with an accomplished fact, and one premise on which General Musharraf extended his cooperation to the U.S. has disappeared. The Northern Alliance has inserted itself into a position where it will seek to dictate the formation of an interim administration, and its hostility to Pakistan is well known and well established... For the Bush administration, this may be temporary embarrassment; for Pakistan, it poses a new dilemma."
Peshawar's Frontier Post was even more forthright: "It is no longer certain, after the fall of Kabul... just how much leverage the government of General Musharraf still enjoys on the future Afghan setup," it editorialized.
If Pakistan was most alarmed by Kabul falling to the Northern Alliance, then Russia was certainly the most pleased. Pravda positively gloated that "for the time being, the Northern Alliance is the organization that holds the power, no matter what the American or Pakistani authorities think of that." It reported enthusiastically about the return to Kabul of deposed President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his attempts to restore his regime, even though a Rabbani reprise is anathema even to many of his Northern Alliance partners, never mind most Afghans and outside parties.
Iran may want the same political outcome as the U.S., but it doesn't want to see Washington gain any credit or foothold in Afghanistan. The Tehran Times reported that Iran's leaders were concerned to paint the defeat of the Taliban as a product of the "resistance of Afghan people and their supporters in the region" rather than anything the U.S. did. Humbug aside, the Iranians support a U.N.-supervised political transition.
Turkey: Peacekeeping has its price
Turkey has long been discussed as a leading component of any peacekeeping arrangement. But, as the Turkish Daily News reports, "Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said on Tuesday Turkey would be willing to send peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan but Ankara must have a say in planning the country's future. Cem said it would not be 'appropriate and productive to have Turkish soldiers doing the main (peacekeeping) job in Kabul when all the political and administrative decisions are taken by' the United States and a small nucleus of other countries... 'We're not going to send soldiers there ... and (have it) left to others to decide what will be the political setup, what will be the administrative setup.' " The U.S. may have avoided "war by committee" in Afghanistan, but "peace by committee" seems inevitable.
Egypt: Infectious terrorism
Despite Egypt's close military relationship with the U.S., President Mubarak this week flatly ruled out Egyptian participation in any Muslim peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. Not that Cairo was asked, of course. Still, his reason may have raised an eyebrow or two: "We have already sent people to Afghanistan as fighters, and they returned here as terrorists," Mubarak said, referring to those who had volunteered to fight in the anti-Soviet jihad. "And we don't want to create new terrorists."
Jordan: Where have you gone, Al Jazeera?
Never mind truth being the first casualty of war, consider the fate of Al Jazeera TV's Kabul bureau. Once the envy of the media world for being the sole source of footage from Taliban turf, the Qatar-based pan-Arab station appears to have suffered a serious setback with the fall of Kabul. The Jordan Times reports that Al Jazeera's star reporter, Taysir Alluni, fled at about the same time the Taliban did. Alluni "disappeared Tuesday after a US missile destroyed the channel's bureau in the capital," the paper reported. "He popped up Wednesday to say he was safe and sound near the border with Pakistan. 'I was robbed on the way,' Alluni, a Syrian with Spanish nationality, said by telephone but gave little detail about what he reported was a difficult escape to the east." Jazeera's Kandahar correspondent, Yussef Al Shuli, apparently also left town Tuesday for his own safety. Perhaps access to the Taliban has its price. "With its two star reporters out of action," the Times reports, "Al Jazeera was reduced Wednesday to airing footage from other channels."