South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

BBC’s fictional documentary
Mohammad Jamil

BBC’s documentary ‘Secret Pakistan’ comprising two-part series was shown on BBC on 27th October and 3rd November 2011, accusing the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) of training Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and other militant groups for attacks in Afghanistan and India.

The documentary filmed fictional scenes of imparting training Taliban in Pakistan, and it also included interviews with so-called Taliban commanders who claimed that the ISI provided weapons and training to Taliban insurgents fighting US and British troops in Afghanistan. One young man held in a prison cell by Afghan Intelligence Service alleged that he was recruited by the ISI. The documentary appears to be biased and the purpose was to intensify propaganda. It is because of the credibility gap that independently analysts have raised questions about the veracity of the story. The TV channels or newspapers that resort to embedded journalism and become mouth piece of the Britain or the US stand exposed. Take the case of the New York Times, it is not as popular in the US as it is in this part of the world. In the US, regional papers e.g. Philadelphia Enquirer has more readership than the New York Times. However, people now rely more on the internet than TV and newspapers.

It has to be mentioned that the BBC documentary is not the first one, as in January 2004, as two French Journalists, Marc Epstein and Jean Paul who worked for L’Express magazine in France were arrested by Pakistani police. Later on court suspended arrest orders and accepted their bail petition filed by the defense attorney. They were arrested for illegally visiting a sensitive border town of Quetta near Pak-Afghan border. A local journalist Syed Khawar Mehdi aiding the two men was also arrested. They were also reportedly involved in making a video showing fake Taliban guerillas getting arms training within Pakistan’s territory. Pakistan Television (PTV) also ran a story showing clips from the making of their documentary, and how the local tribesmen were paid to wear turbans and act like Taliban. Efforts are being made in a section of the Western media to damage Pakistan’s image and undermine its role in the war against terror. Paul Refsdal, a Norwegian, had made a documentary ‘Taliban behind the masks in late 2009, and he must have paid handsomely to the ‘volunteers’ acting as Taliban fighters.

Ijaz Haider, a senior analyst and Contributing Editor ‘Friday Times’, in his comments the BBC documentary said that it fails some basic tests of reporting, faces of the so-called commanders and suicide bombers were covered. Secondly, the documentary film makers were facilitated by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) comprising elements from the Northern Alliance – pro-India and arch rival of Pakistan. Ijaz Haider, among other questions, asked: “Does the BBC not know the published views of Amer Saleh and Bruce Riedel on Pakistan? The questions can also be asked about the proof whether the so-called commanders were genuine and not fake? I would like to add one more question i.e. how the so-called commanders and suicide bombers knew that they were trained by the ISI and not by the RAW or CIA agents who wished to demonise Pakistan through devious methods. Though the overall purpose behind this documentary is to paint Pakistan in poor light, demonise and denigrate it, yet there is a lot more to it. And the most important is that fighting skill and prowess of the British force has been challenged, who have the wishful thinking that they are the best. Anyhow, the Taliban fought with more ferocity after 2006 when the Taliban’s assault increased in Helmand province where British were in charge. The British defence secretary in late 2005 had boasted that they would conquer the restive province “without firing a shot”. Almost six years down the road, his army is bogged down humiliatingly there, with no conquest in sight even distantly. So when the whole of south and east are in Taliban’s and other insurgents’ control, where the occupiers stay mostly ensconced in their multilayered fortified fortresses buying security from gunmen with money, why should the resistance fighters be needing sanctuaries outside the country? Can anyone in his right senses deny that Pakistan is the only country which has genuine interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan, on whose account it has suffered colossally over the past several decades? Its invasion by the Soviet empire in late 1970s had resulted in crossing over to Pakistan millions of Afghan refugees, who were a great burden on Pakistan’s limited resources much beyond tolerable limits.

A majority of those refugees are still in Pakistan with their second generation having grown up here and looking into the third generation. They have pushed out the natives from many a field, apart from indulging in crimes. It was for an inept Pakistani government that this huge baneful burden on Pakistan’s scarce resources found no articulation in the world forums. It has to be mentioned that proliferation of weapons, spread of extremism and drug addiction with which Afghanistan’s Soviet occupation had gifted Pakistan so profusely. The US-spearheaded adventurism in Afghanistan has brought in its wake its own enormous untold miseries for Pakistan. And it will take Pakistan decades, if at all, to cope with the backbreaking perilous load that this adventurism has caused to its national solidarity, security, stability and economy. So out of all countries of the world, Pakistan would like to see peace and stability in Afghanistan.

After recently held Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan, the United States welcomed agreement between Afghanistan, its neighbours, and the wider region on the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland in a statement said: “They have endorsed Afghan priorities including Afghan-led reconciliation, transition to Afghan security leadership, and regionally integrated economic growth (e.g the New Silk Road vision).” This knocks the bottom out of pretense that the US is working for the people of Afghanistan, as its designs of New Silk Road reveal America’s designs to control the region and to keep a check on the influence of Pakistan, China and Russia. Of course, America wants to withdraw bulk of its forces and insists on keeping a few thousands boots on the ground, but with comprehensive air power. The peace prospects, however, look bleak in view of extreme positions taken by the US and the Taliban. The US insists that Taliban should renounce violence, abandon Al Qaeda and abide by the constitution; whereas, the Taliban insist on withdrawal of all foreign troops.

America should remember that whatever semblance of success in Iraq it achieved it was by accepting the principal ie the right of the majority to rule there. If the US can work along similar lines, it can win the hearts and minds of people, the bitterness and the horrors of the long drawn out war notwithstanding. Historical evidence suggests that Pushtuns have either been rulers or king-makers throughout the history of Afghanistan. And any effort to make them play a second fiddle is bound to fail. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani rightly has said that if the US fails then Pakistan also fails. It means that stakes for Pakistan are also high, which is why Pakistan is keen to see a strong, stable Afghanistan, Of course, it would like to see a neutral if not friendly government next door. By the way, what is wrong with that desire? Iran and Central Asian republics and for that any other country would also like to see a friendly and not a hostile government in their neighbourhood.