The Afghans learned much from their American masters.
The war against the Taliban has gone badly these last months, but Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency has devised a secret plan to reverse the tide of bad news.
In a coordinated action this week, the intelligence men drove up to TV stations and newspapers in SUVs and dropped off an unsigned letter ordering journalists to report more favorable news about the government. In particular, the letter said, they should avoid “materials which deteriorate people’s morale and cause disappointment to them.”
The men from the National Security Directorate would not give their names, and to better ensure secrecy, the letter instructed journalists that “publishing or copying this document is unauthorized.”
Immediately, of course, it was Afghanistan’s top story: The government was imposing censorship, and press groups were protesting in outrage. By Monday night, the fire reached China, where President Hamid Karzai is traveling.
Karzai’s aides there denied that authorities were infringing on press freedom. Rather, “the government … requested the local media organizations in Afghanistan to refrain from glorifying terrorism or giving terrorists a platform,” their statement said.
The letter also demands special protection for the feelings of the mujahedeen — veterans of the 1980s guerrilla groups that fought Soviet occupation. Many mujahedeen leaders are reviled in Afghanistan for destroying the country in civil war after the Soviet withdrawal, but they regained power by providing ground forces that helped U.S. bombers topple the Taliban in 2001.
They are not to be criticized or called “warlords.” And Afghans called back by Karzai from exile abroad to take government posts are not to be described as “Westernized.”
The Afghan Independent Journalists Association counted more than 40 attacks on journalists last year, including arrests, beatings, abductions, vandalism and two slayings.