In a break with the status quo, a number of American journalists have begun to speak about Afghanistan in an open and unbiased manner. The journalists, most of whom have made extended visits to the country, are refuting the misinformation that is regularly spread by the international media. They include Mike Hoover, a producer for the CBS television network, and Cindy Law, a freelance female reporter who recently took a month-long trip to Afghanistan. Both are working on documentary films and gave interviews to the Voice of America's Pashto language service.
Hoover has been fascinated with Afghanistan for years and made frequent visits there during the Jihad against the Soviets, described his dismay when the factional fighting began in Kabul after the collapse of the Communist regime. Then, when the Taliban took power and peace was restored, the Western press quickly turned against Afghanistan and the smear campaign against the Taliban started. Hoover started to find out more, but, as he said:
"I could never find anything where the Taliban tell us what their thoughts are and what they are really doing. It was just other people talking about them without them ever speaking out. After talking to a couple of people who were over there and had exactly the opposite opinion of the Taliban, it seemed to me that it might be good for CBS to go over there to see for itself, to hear from Taliban about who they are and what they are trying to do, and to observe whether their goals are implemented or are just political talk."
The journalists says that before going to Afghanistan, he half-suspected that the reports that permeate the Western media might be true. But those suspicions were forgotten upon his arrival on Afghan soil. The first thing that he noticed and was surprised by was that there were no weapons and no armed men.
Hoover spent a month in the country, traveling from Kandahar to Kabul. He refuted the Western image of the Taliban as being ignorant. He saw them as being fully aware of both Afghan and world politics.
"When you speak to them on any subject, you realize how bright these guys are. It was surprising….you would learn that the guy you were talking to was only 26 years old when you thought you were talking to someone with the wisdom of a fifty year-old. I was very impressed." Hoover added.
He said that all those that he met there during his trip, whether young or old, were extremely happy about the security situation.
"People were happy that there was security, that there was no rocketing, that there was safety, that you didn't have any worries about crime as you did before."
When asked about the Taliban's harshness, he said, "On certain things, the Taliban are very strict…..I think it is fair. If you commit a crime, you will be punished for it. The punishment is, in my view, fair and swift."
Hoover was surprised by the fact that there is no formality, no red tape in Afghanistan-any one can see the ministers to hand in his petition or idea, and it will be acted upon swiftly. He said that the ministers that he saw didn't even look like ministers. They were dressed in the same way as the average person, and some even wore old clothes and well-worn shoes.
One thing that Hoover saw everywhere and was bothered by was the poverty and hardship, which has been compounded by UN sanctions. He deplored the twisted logic of the sanctions, saying:
"They destroyed their own country fighting the Soviets. They fought bravely. And now, instead of helping them or at least leaving them alone to rebuild, the world is imposing sanctions on them."
Hoover said that he hopes that other journalists and officials travel to Afghanistan with open minds to see the reality and analyze the situation themselves. People must not let themselves be deceived by biased second-hand information, he stated. If the truth was revealed, he said, then he is certain that the sanctions will be dropped and that, instead of confrontation with the Taliban, the world would help them. Hoover's comments are echoed by Law, who said that she had heard all sorts of things about Afghanistan, especially about the Taliban's treatment of women, so she decided go to the country to see for herself. Law spent more than a week in Kandahar and three weeks in Kabul, speaking to women from all walks of life, including female doctors and nurses. She said that while they had many concerns, the burqa (veil) was not one of them.
"Their major concerns, I would have to say, were the sanctions and war. All Afghans pleaded for the United States and the United Nations to end the sanctions and help rebuild their country. They also asked for medical, food, and financial aid."
Afghan women told Law that their first need, after economic assistance, is education for their children. In regards to female education, Law said that she saw some school for girls in homes, especially in Kandahar, and girls studying in mosques. "Taliban officials assured Law that once the war is over, they would turn their attention to the many issues facing the nation, including women's education and employment. She said that she saw work already beginning on some girl's schools in Kandahar."
Scoffing at the misconception held by many that Afghan women are prisoners in their homes, Law stated, "There are many women working in the hospitals and health care, and they comprise most of the women that I talked to. And I saw women walking around in the markets."
Law said that the world must realize that Afghanistan has been devastated by two decades of war, and that its infrastructure has been destroyed. She added that the international concern about the plight of Afghan women is to be appreciated, but "I think the best way to help the women of Afghanistan is to encourage the removal of sanctions. They are hurting the Afghan people, especially the women. And more humanitarian aid should be provided- medical, economic, etc."
Other American media outlets are also challenging the propaganda campaign that is being waged against the Islamic Emirate. The San Jose (California) Mercury, a daily newspaper, published comments made by a female Muslim student leader, Sara Azad, who said:
"The fact is, women in Afghanistan are now protected and their rights are guaranteed. Because no right comes before the right to life, and today they have that right."
Azad added that she receives letters from her grandmother in Afghanistan, who writes that Afghan women have never felt safer than they do now.