Channel 4 Despatches : Afghanistan – Behind Enemy Lines

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Last Monday saw the broadcast of Afghani reporter, Najibullah Quraishi’s film of his time spent with elements of the insurgency in the north of the country. It included footage of operations against local government forces, as well as frank and open interviews with Islamic units – typically members of al-Qaeda linked islamist groups, mainly Hesbi Islami. This largest group is inspired and commanded by Gulbudin Hekmatyar, a former darling of the undercover war against SOviet occupation aided by the USA and Britain.

For most of the presentation, Quraishi appeared to be granted amazingly open access to all the fighters – the only coyness observed came from the Arabic members who seem to drive the various operational insurgent groups, albeit through the command of locals. Emphasising the Wahabist influence which gave birth to these guerilla groups – mainly from the Russian occupation – these people tended to come from Saudi Arabia and Yemeni.

There were a number of points made clear by this different film. There is a gulf between the central Afghan government with its Western sponsors, and these self-styled freedom fighters. Certain insurgents stated they would lay down their arms when the “kaffir” (non believers) leave Afghanistan. Others – and one suspects these are the manipulative foreign elements from Yemen, Saudi etc. – said this was merely the place for jihad; when they won, the fight moves on to the Middle East and Europe (where the West “feels too safe” at the moment).

Scary stuff but nothing particularly consistent or new in the message. What did strike the viewer was the aquiesence – even support – from the local population. Locals may have been cowed or coerced – but Barnaby Kay’s narration suggested there was no evidence of this. Hence, the central government is deluding itself in its strategy to see the Taliban starved of indiginous support. The cameraderie within each fighting unit seemed strong, whilst the operations illustrated were not altogether professional or cohesive. These were guerillas, after all. One wonders whether, given something else to do with their lives, they might consider a different path ? Far from raving nutters, these bands of lethal and focussed fighters were seen in the film as dedicated, clear thinking and in for the long haul.

Certainly this film suggests that neither the staying or leaving of ISAF forces would make little effect to the lives of ordinary Afghans. There may be some support for the argument that our presence there reduces terrorist efforts at home – at least by keeping the hardline Arabs embedded on this battlefield. Otherwise, the film did not guve me any ideas or hope for the situation there, and the wider extremist issues facing the world. Given its point of view, it is worth a look for those interested in understanding more about the Afghan situation. Catch it on 4oD and approach with an open mind.

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