One of the mainstream media's greatest drawbacks is that its 'news' is almost never contextualised. It is as though the situation reported has always been that way. Take the subject of Afghan drugs for example:
"Afghan opium kills more people than any other drug on the planet, claiming up to 100,000 lives every year... [Afghanistan] produces 90% of the world's opium, which a new UN report says now threatens to cause havoc in much of Central Asia... In addition to drug-related deaths, Afghan opium and heroin pay for weapons that kill Western troops... The UN Office on Drugs & Crime [UNODC] estimates 15 million people take the drug each year and it contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDS... The UN's findings sounded a strong warning about the Central Asian opium-trafficking route, which has become a virtual conveyor belt for heroin between Afghanistan and Russia, referring to it as the 'most sinister development yet'. 'The perfect storm of drugs, crime, and insurgency that has swirled around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for years is heading to Central Asia', Mr [Antonio Maria] Costa [the executive director of the UNODC] says... Russia is now the world's largest consumer of heroin, according to the UN report... The number of addicts in Russia has multiplied tenfold during the past decade, and there are now 30,000 to 40,000 Russian drug-related deaths each year, according to Russian government figures cited by the report. Official Russian news services have said up to 30,000 of those deaths are due to Afghan heroin." (Afghan opium kills 100,000 people a year, The Australian, 23/10/09)
Afghanistan has always been a leading narco-state, right? Wrong. It took the CIA to transform it into one:
"Prior to the [US-sponsored] Afghan Jihad [1979-1992], there was no local production of heroin in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. The production there was of opium, a very different drug, which was directed to small, rural, regional markets. By the end of the Afghan Jihad, the picture had changed drastically: the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world's leading producers of both opium and processed heroin, the source of '75 percent of the world's opium, worth multi-billion dollars in revenue'. In a report released in early 2001, the United Nations International Drug Control Program traced the rapid expansion of Afghan opium production to exactly 1979, the year the U.S.-sponsored jihad began: 'It is no coincidence that Afghanistan began to emerge as a significant producer of illicit opium in precisely the period of protracted war that began in 1979, and still persists'. The big push came after 1985. Accounting for less than 5 percent of global opium production in 1980, the region accounted for 71 percent of it by 1990, according to this same report. The fate of Afghanistan resembled that of Burma, another Asian mountainous region that had been the site of CIA intervention at the beginning of the Cold War. 'Just as CIA support for Nationalist Chinese (KMT) troops in the Shan states had increased Burma's opium crop in the 1950s', concluded Alfred McCoy, 'so the agency's aid to the mujahideen guerrillas in the 1980s expanded opium production in Afghanistan and linked Pakistan's nearby heroin laboratories to the world market'. The heroin economy literally poisoned Afghani and Pakistani life. The figures who thrived in this cesspool [such as Gulbuddin Hikmatyar] had been hailed by Ronald Reagan as 'moral equivalents of America's founding fathers'." (Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War & the Roots of Terror, Mahmood Mamdani, 2004, p 143, quoting Alfred McCoy's The Politics of Heroin)*
But it wouldn't be in the interest of promoting current US involvement in Afghanistan to remind the reader of that quite inconvenient fact now, would it?
In the case of Afghanistan, contextless reporting is invariably accompanied, most particularly in the Murdoch media, by strident calls for more boots on the ground, and a hyping of the threat posed by the chosen 'enemy': "While an improved strategy is as important as more soldiers, it is time for NATO to make more than a token commitment to the campaign. The alternative is almost too appalling to contemplate. The Taliban is a movement of religious fanatics who believe they have divine sanction to slaughter all those who do not share their beliefs. But it is also a gangster organisation committed to making money. While critics correctly point to corruption in the Western-backed Karzai government, a second Taliban state would be infinitely worse. If allowed, the Taliban would turn Afghanistan into a narco-state, where it controlled opium exports but imposed a fundamental interpretation of the Koran. And what would be a catastrophe for Afghanistan would be a disaster for the rest of the world. The last time the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, it harbored Osama bin Laden. It seems certain a second Taliban state would be a safe haven from which to launch terror attacks across the globe, including Europe. Mr Obama and Mr Rudd say they always understand the dangers of Taliban rule. It is time they convinced the Europeans that they have no choice but to join the US, Australia and Britain in taking the terrorists seriously." (Editorial, Taking on the Taliban, The Australian, 23/9/09)
And sure enough (and this is mandatory for the Murdoch press), there'll be a simple-minded, fire-breathing pundit to take the hype to new heights:
"The allegation [that the SAS has needlessly killed Afghan civilians] is utterly baseless and contemptuous. The allegation is made by the Taliban, which ranks with Al-Qa'ida, the nazis and the communists as one of the most extreme, brutal and inhuman political movements of the past 100 years. What is very disturbing in the SAS's experience... is the ongoing strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its associated drug traffickers and criminals. This makes it clear that Afghanistan will need outside help for some years to come." (It's time to salute our Special Forces, Greg Sheridan Blog, The Australian, 28/9/09)
It is interesting to note that, while The Australian's editorialist seems to be familiar with the work of investigative journalist and author Gretchen Peters (Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban & Al Qaeda), he's simply ignored her downplaying of the Taliban as an Islamist threat and only grudgingly conceded her key finding that the Taliban (or rather Talibans) is primarily a "gangster organisation committed to making money": "When people in the west [including The Australian's foreign editor] imagine the Taliban, most think of bearded fanatics, battling from caves under the flag of radical Islam. Having studied their day-to-day activities for more than 5 years, when I think of the Taliban I think of Tony Soprano and his gang. I am not suggesting that Mullah Omar has developed a taste for Chianti, or opened a branch of the Bada Bing at his hideout in Pakistan. As a fighting force, the Taliban remain as determined as ever to drive western forces from Afghanistan, as proven by the rising NATO casualty figures. But examine how the Taliban fund themselves, and how they interact with the local community, and they start to look more like mafiosi than mujahidin. It is hard to make sweeping generalisations about the post-2001 Taliban. There are 3 distinct factions of the movement on the Afghan side of the border, and a far more fractious set of local and regional extremist groups in Pakistan. However, there are broad similarities in the way these various organisations are structured and how criminal proceeds filter up the chains of command. The manner in which they interact parallels the often tumultuous relations between Mafia crime families... Sometimes they collaborate; sometimes they battle against each other. Whether fighting or conspiring, it is virtually always about making money. Western military officials believe that as little as 5% of the insurgents are 'true believers' in their cause. Most of the fighters are in it just to make a quick buck." (Afghanster's paradise, newstatesman.com, 3/9/09)
By asserting, too, that the Taliban "would turn Afghanistan into a narco-state," the editorialist ignores Peters' evidence (as well as that of the UNODC report) that it is already, under the Karzai puppet regime, a narco-state: "As thousands of US Marines and British troops push into the Helmand River Valley, part of the new counterinsurgency strategy, they are discovering the uncomfortable reality that the Afghan National Police (ANP) in that region are more feared than the Taliban themselves. Appalling stories of ANP corruption and brutality are emerging from Helmand. They range from stories of police abusing drugs and extorting shopkeepers and truck drivers, to tales of cops threatening villagers, and even abducting and raping their children. In this atmosphere, it's easy to understand why the Taliban were welcomed back as liberators, despite the horrifying reign of terror they too have imposed... It is critical that international forces bring stability to Helmand, since the fertile province produces more than half of Afghanistan's $4 billion poppy crop. That drug money has not only corrupted state actors, including the ANP and top officials in the provincial and federal governments. It also provides the Afghan Taliban most, if not all, of their operational budget, and helps fund Al-Qaeda as well." (Send in the cops, thecrimereport.org, 3/8/09)
A terrifying thought: Rudd takes his cues on Afghanistan directly from the war propaganda of the Murdoch press.
[*See also my posts American Jihad (9/9/08) and Narco-Terrorists Allege Narco-Terrorism (24/10/09)]