Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are a husband and wife team of journalists who have spent the last thirty years keeping a close eye on Afghanistan. They are the go-to folks if you want to really understand this hot spot and its history. Welcome to OpEdNews, Paul and Liz. Your book, Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story, came out last year. Please tell our readers a bit about your background and what made you the right ones for the job.
Paul and Liz
Big things were happening
in 1978, with new approaches to old problems as the Carter administration vowed
to eliminate the threat of nuclear war and reevaluated detente with the Soviet
Union. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT was a major vehicle for these
changes and by 1979 we had focused on its impact by interviewing the central
figures. By the end of 1979, we had finished a documentary called the Arms Race and the Economy, A Delicate
Balance, analyzing the effects of defense spending on the US economy.
Having experienced a decade of improving relations with the Soviet Union our
documentary was received with great interest.
Then, on December 27, 1979, the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan rocked the world. Weeks later the government of Afghanistan expelled 1,135 Western journalists, leaving what President Carter had labeled "the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War," cloaked in a veil of darkness. Officially viewed as a long awaited thrust by the Soviet Union toward the Persian Gulf and a dangerous threat to American interests, dialogue with the Soviet Union ceased. Within months, we witnessed not only the dismantling of detente, but a near complete suspension of the cautionary approach to nuclear weapons born of the Cuban missile crisis.
Then, an article in Foreign Policy magazine in 1980 caught
our attention. Titled Victory is Possible
Colin Gray and Keith Payne laid out what was to become the Reagan Doctrine. "If
American nuclear power is to support US foreign policy objectives," they wrote,
"the United States must possess the ability to wage nuclear war rationally."
Since 1945 the U.S. had struggled with the idea of using its nuclear weapons to
fight a war rationally but had come up empty handed. But here were two thinkers
doing just that and justifying it with a medieval concept known as the Just War
Doctrine of the Catholic Church:
"Force can be used in a just cause; with the right intent; with a reasonable chance of success; in order that, if successful its use offers a better future than would have been the case had it not been employed; to a degree proportional to the goals sought, or to the evil combated; and with the determination to spare noncombatants, when there is a reasonable chance of doing so."
Somehow, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had thrown American thinking back to the Middle Ages and into the realm of Holy War to justify what all sides had heretofore considered the madness of nuclear war. As we watched the Washington bureaucracy empty of moderate voices, Afghanistan became the rallying cry for an arms buildup that would end public debate about American foreign policy.
But how could the media after Vietnam and Watergate almost en masse take the Afghan story at face value, refusing to question serious omissions that emanated from Washington? That January, we appealed to the Afghan Charge d'Affaires at the United Nations to allow us to bring a TV crew into Kabul to see for ourselves what the Soviets were up to. Six months later, our request for the first visa to enter Afghanistan behind Soviet lines was granted. When CBS News wanted our exclusive story we were on our way.
You've been among the very few Western journalists on the ground in Afghanistan for all this time, correct? The fact that most Western, and particularly American journalists, have spent little, if any, time over there greatly affects their coverage and very attitude toward Afghanistan. Can you talk about that a bit?
We were on the ground in Afghanistan in 1981, 1983 and 2002 at critical intervals in the progress of the war. Our objective was to find the connection between what Washington was doingand what was happening in Kabul. As the first journalists to gain access to Afghanistan in 1981 through diplomatic channels at the UN following the expulsion of 1135 western journalists one month after the Soviet invasion, we began by seeing Afghanistan in a very different light from the overtly propagandized version playing on the evening news.
What we saw was a world away from the monolithic, cold war images portrayed on the evening news. Struggling to find an identity and grow a modern society in the midst of a war, Afghanistan in 1981 was a myriad of cultural clashes - ethnic, religious and tribal - not the least of which were the rights of women and how their role would evolve into the next century. It was in conversations with Kabul's mullahs that we first heard their concern for their religion and culture, calling their brand of Islam progressive. We listened as they explained their acceptance of women's rights and the need for their country to utilize all of its human resources.
At the time, the scenes of Kabul's streets were dramatic but shocking when compared to today. A Soviet backed Afghan president trying to justify the presence of Russian troops. A Kabul University where students studied books in English at the American Library. Crowded markets where both men and women worked and shopped - a culture - vast and complex in the process of evolution - an ancient Afghanistan caught between the three worlds of religion,modern politics andthe Western Dream, an Afghanistan that was and could have been.
Because Afghanistan's was caught behind the veil of super power confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union, their story and the plight of millionsof Afghansremained ignored. When we returned from Afghanistan in 1981 with that story, CBS News only wanted Russians, not Afghans. The story that finally ran was about the Russians we didn't see.
Because we framed our understanding of the Afghan dilemma without
an overbearing American-centric perspective, we not only got a view of an
unseen Afghan life, but a revelatory look at how the US defined itself against
the rest of the world under the veil of superpower confrontation. The fate of
Afghanistan always had a lot more to do with what was going on in Washington
This Administration, following in the footsteps of past ones, does not seem to understand or care about the reality of Afghanistan beyond our own, narrow perceived interests. Is it possible to break out of that simplistic, military mindset? And if so, how? Public opinion, which is increasingly against our involvement there, doesn't seem to count for much.