Oct 10, 2008

Love Me

Under a most quaint plan being considered by the British Government, Afghans would be given handsets and access to the internet to help them gain their own voice.

It follows a growing realization in Washington and Whitehall that the allies are being outflanked by the Taliban in the battle to reach ordinary Afghans.

Sharing video clips is popular in Afghanistan where there are an estimated 6 million mobiles and around half a million internet users.

However, most of the footage is anti-Western propaganda created by the Taliban. It often includes footage of civilians apparently killed in US raids and is widely circulated in the country by phone and internet.

The allies' reputation was particularly damaged by film [YouTube-CNN] of around 90 civilians - many of them children - killed in a US-led bombing raid in August.

The British government's proposal would involve non-governmental organizations distributing mobile phones to Afghans to encourage them to make video diaries.

Devised by an outside consultant, the plan is said by the Foreign Office to "have merit". The BBC reported that the plan, part of a British Government-commissioned report by an outside consultant, would be used to record up to 100 video diaries for a film festival next year.

A spokesman for the UKs Department for International Development (DfID) said: "An external consultant has proposed a scheme but absolutely no decision has been made and it would be wrong to suggest that DfID will fund it."

Whitehall officials (Whitehall officials sounds so logarithmically better than Whitehall Turkeys) have said the aim is to deprive the Taliban of its virtual monopoly on propaganda using new media.

The once media-shy Taliban have gone hi-tech with DVDs, mobile phone messages, ring-tones, emails and a website to publicize their exploits and lambast their Afghan and Western enemies, a think-tank said on Thursday.

The Taliban hanged televisions and music tapes from trees
in an effort to stamp out corrupting Western influences during their hardline Islamist rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Their leaders had only one computer, Afghanistan experts say.

But after U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the austere movement following the September 11, 2001, attacks, the militants regrouped and relaunched their insurgency in 2005, copying the tactics of roadside and suicide bombs from Iraq.

Now the Taliban have also created a "sophisticated communications apparatus" using the full range of media allowing them to project an "increasingly confident movement", the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in last summer's report Taliban Propaganda: Winning the War of Words?[47-page pdf].

With their own website, magazines, DVDs, audio cassettes, pamphlets and mobile phones, the ICG says, the Taliban are able to capitalize on mistakes made by the government and its allies and reveal their own "inflated tales of battlefield exploits".

Taliban statements emailed to the media talk of killing "puppet terrorists", meaning Afghan security forces, and destroying "occupation tanks" and seizing their arms.

So-called night-letters are delivered to homes warning Afghans against cooperating with the government and international troops, while DVDs, text and video messages are aimed at the more tech savvy.

The ICG said the Afghan government and its allies must try harder to combat weakening public support and alienation caused by arbitrary detentions and civilian casualties which the Taliban are able to exploit through their media.

"Whatever the military benefits of arbitrary detentions, they are far outweighed by the alienation they cause," the ICG said.

A series of air strikes by international forces in Afghanistan in the last month, Afghan officials say, have killed more than 60 civilians.

"The effectiveness of aerial bombardment, even if strictly exercised within the bounds of international law, must be considered against the damage to popular support," the ICG said.

The Taliban, it said, are not going to be defeated militarily and are resistant to outside criticism.

"Rather the legitimacy of its ideas and actions must be challenged more forcefully by the Afghan government and citizens," the ICG said.

Militants should be held to public account for killing civilians and targeting community leaders through open trials, and the Afghan government and its international allies should similarly be bound by the rule of law, the ICG said.

Ultimately, winning popular support is not about telling local communities that they are better off today. It is about proving it.

If Afghan civilians continue to perceive civilian deaths as being directly attributable to our presence & activities within their country and tribal regions then those - per proposed plan - distributed handsets could come back to bite us with a fresh swarm of pesky video snippets. It all sounds rather risky, if not downright desperate, given the present state of affairs in injun country. We assume there is buried within the report a suggestion to track the freebie phones - though such easily unveiled intention in itself could very well be grounds for seeing our phones, and the subcontracty plan, smashed to bits.

1 comment:

Jay@Soob said...

Does sound a bit desperate. I'm no grand strategist but the concept of dividing a populace from an insurgency by raining things that go big boom in the night on the populace, whatever the intent, seems a bit counter intuitive. Certainly didn't work in Iraq. What did work to bring Iraq to a semblance of uneasy stasis (as was pointed out in a previous post here) is the realization that the insurgency wasn't monolithic in nature and that it could be divided from within. Plenty of the Afghan muj fought each other after they'd sent the brutal Soviets packing. And the Taliban was hardly unanimous in it's support of Osama and al Qaeda prior to 9/11. Mullah Omar himself had at one point agreed to hand Osama over to the Saudi's.

Too bad the ISI is such a self defeating, two-faced organization as they, having essentially built the Taliban, could be instrumental in taking it apart.