Of all the programs I’ve seen on Afghanistan, not one was more chilling than Beneath the Veil, an hourlong documentary that has appeared frequently on CNN. Its narrator, Saira Shah, a British woman of Afghan descent, spent five days in the country to see what life there was really like. Shah managed to penetrate places few Westerners get to see, including a secret classroom for girls and a village that suffered Taliban atrocities. She also visited a Kabul soccer stadium that, she said, had served as a public execution ground. To back up her point, the documentary featured a clip of a man putting a rifle to the head of a woman clad in a burqa and blowing her brains out. In an interview with the Taliban foreign minister, Shah asked what he thought the international donors who gave money for the stadium would say if they knew it was being used for executions rather than for sports. Well, the minister said, if they didn’t like it, they should give money to build a separate arena for executions.
Shah’s report captures just how horrendous life in Afghanistan has become. The Taliban’s police-state tactics, together with its harboring of terrorists, has fed a groundswell of support for its ouster. That, in turn, has focused new attention on the Taliban’s main opponents, the United Front, or, as it’s more familiarly known, the Northern Alliance. Eager to report on it, US journalists have swarmed into the sliver of territory the alliance controls in northeastern Afghanistan, where they’re cordially taken on tours by rebel commanders.
“We’re with the troops of the Northern Alliance,” MSNBC’s TomAspell reported on September 27. The alliance, he said, was eager to act as a guide for American forces entering Afghanistan. CNN’s Chris Burns, gesturing toward a mountain ridge, said, “Thirty miles beyond that, is where Kabul is. And they say if they had help from the Americans, they could take that city.” Meanwhile, a procession of alliance spokesmen have appeared on TV to plead for US assistance.
The print media have been no less accommodating. “Front-line Taliban Foes Eager to Help U.S.,” the New York Times declared on its front page. Reporter David Rohde described how a Northern Alliance general “swaggered across the top floor” of a demolished airfield control tower and pointed southward. “‘On the other side of those mountains,’ he said, his voice filled with yearning, ‘is Kabul.'” While the alliance did not pose an immediate military threat to the city, Rohde noted, it did have “encyclopedic knowledge of the Taliban and its bombing targets, units and tactics.” The Washington Post has run a series of glowing reports about the alliance and its grit, savvy and “discipline.” That discipline, correspondent Peter Baker noted in one dispatch, has survived the September 9 assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the guerrilla leader who “by sheer force of personality had managed to hold together this eclectic group of warriors.”
In death, Massoud has been lionized by the US press–literally. “The legendary ‘Lion of the Panjshir,'” the Los Angeles Times called him. “A Lion’s Death,” the New Yorker declared in a headline atop a one-page eulogy by Jon Lee Anderson. In 1992, Anderson reported, Massoud’s “moderately conservative group” defeated the brutish regime backed by the Soviets, and he served as defense minister and vice president until 1996, when the Taliban gained control of most of the country.