Jihad to continue against "foreign forces" in Afghanistan, as we debate media coverage of our soldiers there on TVNZ 7
On a day that Taliban forces in Afghanistan have promised to pursue their jihad against all foreign forces in their country, including the 140-odd New Zealand troops there, Pundit David Beatson and I are heading into the Classic in Auckland to discuss the media's coverage of Afghanistan with Russell Brown on his Media7 show. It screens on TVNZ 7, on Freeview, tomorrow at 9.30pm and will be online from noon Thursday.
Over the weekend, Aghan President Hamid Karzai offered to start peace talks with the Taliban, guaranteeing the safety of Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, despite the fact that Omar is one of America's most-wanted.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, has replied that there can be no talks while foreign troops are in the country.
"The Taliban's (leadership) decided they will not take part in any peace talks with Karzai or Karzai's administration until such a day when foreign forces leave Afghanistan. The Taliban will pursue jihad against foreign forces and (Karzai's) government."
Which is hardly surprising, given the US state department said it couldn't imagine guaranteeing Omar safe passage, but is far from reassuring for our troops, serving as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province.
It'll be interesting to see whether there's any media coverage of this development here in New Zealand. The lack of coverage of the war in Afghanistan and our place in it continues to stagger me, and that's what we'll be debating on the programme.
What little information we get tends to be set pieces – bombings and visits by US officials. We don't get the background we need to get our heads around centuries of tribalism, the "great game" played by Britain and Russia in central Asia through the 1800s, the Saudi and Pakistani influence, and the country's history as a graveyard for nearly every army that has ever entered it, as generals have tried and failed to impose their will on the local people.
America, as it moves to abandon Iraq, is paying ever more attention to Afghanistan. President-elect Barack Obama continues to insist that the US and its allies can still "win" in Afghanistan and is considering sending more troops, yet just like President Bush, Obama hasn't defined what winning means or looks like.
The violence in Afghanistan has increased this year, with those "foreign forces" having killed more than 500 Afghanis this year, many of them civilians. The Taliban has increased its bombing efforts, and new insurgents are arriving fresh from Iraq.
The situation is grim, with British commanders saying a military victory is impossible. That was always true, even if the Americans couldn't and still can't see it.
Yet there are our troops, at risk in that foreign land for the sake of our reputation with our allies. I'm unconvinced that our SAS should have been there, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2001-05, but maybe the troops there now, as part of the International Security Assistance Force, have a role to play there. Afghanistan certainly needs some form of international support. But should it be in the form of armies? Is the work done there by military personnel useful? Is the reconstruction work down by New Zealand troops really distinguished from the bombing raids by US drones, as we are led to believe? Or are the New Zealand troops just more "foreign forces"? These are some of the questions the New Zealand media should be debating, especially given today's news.
I'm not holding my breath though.