The stage that's never empty
Tension in Afghanistan started in 1978, with the reforms of the new pro-soviet communist government. The events of 9/11, in the distant United States, mark a new era in History. The world turns its attentions to the war stage that becomes one of the greatest conflicts of the 21st century and one of the few which have been in the Media the longest.
A WAR WAITING FOR THE NEWS
Tension in Afghanistan started in 1978, when the new pro-soviet communist government made a number of reforms which went against the ideology and culture of Islam. Population, mostly Muslims, was outraged. The RTP team, including Manuel Carvalho and Norberto Lopes, who had gone to Pakistan to film refugees, was now on its way to Afghanistan, where a country at war was awaiting them.
In late 1979, Hafizullah Amin led a coup d’etat in Kabul, killing his predecessor and taking office. The leader’s attempts to get closer to the United States worried Soviet Union and the country eventually invaded Afghanistan.
On the 27th of December, 1979, around 50.000 soviet troops entered Afghanistan. The Hafizullah Amin palace was invaded and 200 of the President’s bodyguards were killed. Hafizullah Amin, who was found hidden behind a bar, was murdered in cold blood. Babrak Karmal became the President.
Western journalists had trouble covering this conflict, since neither of the sides had sympathy for the West. Information access was made harder by the troops and the rebels and filming became impossible.
Meanwhile, the help of the US arrived to the mudjahedin (soldiers of the jihad – sacred war). Muslim rebels started letting news teams follow them on their missions. The US was a mudjahedin ally for convenience. In a Cold War context, the biggest western power desperately tried to defeat the Russian army.
The American government manipulates the Media, praising the Muslim rebels. Everywhere, newspapers celebrated mudjahedin:
“The heroic struggle waged by the Afghan freedom fighters.” [A luta heroica travada pelos lutadores afegãos da liberdade] – Wall Street Journal, 30th of December, 1987
“The Afghan guerrillas have earned the admiration of the American people for their courageous struggle…. The rebels deserve unstinting American political support and, within the limits of prudence, military hardware.” – L.A. Times, 23rd of June, 1986
“Fighting the good fight” – New Republic, 13th of June, 1983
Newspaper The London Observer reported, in January 1980: “the American embassy here [in Kabul]…has been sending wildly inaccurate information to American journalists, exaggerating the number of Russian troops in the country, the number of Russians killed, and the extent of the engagements.”
RTP LANDS IN THE KABUL SIEGE
Six years later in February 1989, a new RTP team, with Francisco Seruca Salgado, Nuno Jorge e Jorge Lopes, landed in Kabul, in the midst of the siege.
“There were hundreds, filling the inside of the full Antonovs and Illiuchines with personal belongings and military equipment. Those were the final moments of the military presence of the Red Army in Afghan territory”, wrote Seruca in Grande Reportagem, about the Russian soldiers in the country.
THE SOVIET WITHDRAWL AND THE BEGINNING OF THE CIVIL WAR
A lot had changed in Afghanistan since the adventure of the reporter Diana Andringa in 1983. Mikhail Gorbachev was in power in Moscow, having signed the Geneva agreements which, among other measures, established the soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan until February 1989. Mohammad Najibullah, supported by the Soviet Union, replaced Babrak Karmal in the presidency of Afghanistan.
In the early morning of the 15th of February 1989, the last Soviet troops left the Afghan capital.
The RTP team filmed the streets of the city and Seruca reported: “Kabul is calm, but people shiver with fear and cold.”
After the departure of the Russian troops, the soldiers faithful to Najibullah’s regime tried to convey normality in front of the foreign TV cameras. But it was inevitable: the mudjahedin, supported by the United States, kept their efforts to overtake the President. Civil war was installed.
When questioned by the investigative reporter Jon Alpert if his Government could stay in office by its own means, Mohammad Najibullah said: "Sure, no problem.”
In Kabul, Seruca Salgado described that the soldiers “pretended not to know about the bombings and the presence of the mudjahedin in the city, at the exact moment where some explosions could be heart”. In a chronicle sent to Lisbon, the reporter said: “if the grenades are sent by the Mudjahedin surrounding the city, as they apparently are, then we are witnessing an indication of the weakness and lack of capacity to invade the city.” His analysis would be proven right.
José Barata-Feyo, the second reporter sent by RTP, managed to convince the Mudjahedin to let him accompany them in the last effort to take Kabul.
However, the journey to the capital would be fruitless. The news team quickly understood what Seruca had sensed weeks prior: Mudjahedin were far from controlling the war situation and peace wouldn’t be reached anytime soon.
In 1992, three years after Seruca Salgado and Barata-Feyo’s arrival, Carlos Fino and cameraman Vadim Meshki landed in the Afghan capital. Mohammad Najibullah had surrounded to the rebels.
“A number of wandering bullets cross the Kabul skies every night, at the same time when repeated mortar attacks and machine gun shootings can be heard. Thousands of mudjahedin, with plenty of arms, now lords of the city, celebrate conquering the Afghan capital, after fourteen years of war against the communist regime supported by Moscow,” described Carlos Fino.
However, war is still going on. Military leader Massoud had overtaken the city of Kabul, but this time around, the war would be against another Massoud faction, led by Hekmatyar.
In their last report before returning to Portugal, RTP journalists found an official of the Hekmatyar forces. Young Najibullah, 25, was ready to take action against the new regime, if the conversations taking place at the time didn’t work: “We will fight again.”
In 1993, CNN made a retrospective of the civil war happening in the country. The story mentioned Reagan and Carter’s regimes, which helped the mudjahedin extremists, led by Hekmatyar, by sending millions of dollars.
The civil war between the mudjahedin would keep going until the appearance of a new Muslim current: the Taliban forces.
AN ANNOUNCED TRAGEDY
The consequences of this movement would be catastrophic for the world, especially for the United States.
A few days after the World Trade Center attack in New York, newspaper Le Monde revealed that Osama Bin Laden, the author of the attack, had been hired by the CIA during the Afghanistan war.
The most wanted man in the world had fought among the fundamentalist faction of Hekmatyar, supported by the US. The events of the 9/11 attack would start a new era in History. The world turned its attention to Afghanistan, which became the main stage of one of the greatest wars of the 21st century. The Afghanistan war is one of the conflicts that have been in the Media the longest.