Since the Pakistan government reacted to the "pre-emptive" attack on their troops by NATO by closing the Torkham border crossing the situation in Afghanistan in general and on the border with Pakistan in particular has been attracting some attention.
Here on "The Seminal" both of Jim White’s thoughtful and well-written postings Pakistan Retaliates for Troops Killed in Air Raid, Closes Key Supply Crossing and As Pakistan-US Tensions Mount, Tankers Burn and Obama Administration Suggests Coup have deservedly generated a lot of interest and comments.
I want to focus on a different aspect of this border crossing closure operation from those that Jim and others have highlighted. What interests me about this particular operation is how successfully the information stream was controlled and polluted by the Pakistani military.
When writing about Pakistan or Afghanistan anybody without direct access to reliable local sources is forced to rely on reports from news agencies such as AP, Reuters, or AFP. The problem with that is that western news agencies have a horrible tendency to treat as gospel whatever some military spokesman or another will tell them without doing any investigation of their own. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the person in uniform is American, or Pakistani, or German, or British, or even Danish, all that matters is that they’re in a uniform. This tendency to believe anything that somebody in a uniform says to them is an aspect of the increasing militarisation of western societies and makes news agency editors and journalists open to manipulation by soldiers who want to pollute the information stream.
The article from Reuters headlined "Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan" illustrates the problem neatly and is a perfect example of deliberate information stream pollution by military sources, I’ve emphasised the critical paragraph in the extract below:
Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan | Reuters:
(Reuters) – Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to three dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, a day after three soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike.
Angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters over the past week, Pakistan has blocked a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan.
[snip] … … …
Senior local officials blamed "extremists" for the attack on the tankers in the southern town of Shikarpur. About 12 people, their faces covered, opened fire with small arms into the air to scare away the drivers and then set fire to 35 tankers.
Read in full: Militants set fire to NATO tankers in Pakistan | Reuters
Reuters started their report by passing on uncritically and without comment a whopping big lie fed to them by Pakistani military sources. If you’re going to start with a lie start with a really big one:
"Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to three dozen tankers … … …
What extremists would those be?
Take a look at a road map of Pakistan. Find the port of Karachi and then going North trace the supply routes to Afghanistan. (You’re looking for two routes an eastern route and a western one) :
The Eastern leg goes through Quetta while the western leg the goes through the Kohat tunnel and the Khyber. As you trace the routes from Karachi you can see that they fork. Shikarpur, which is the town in Sindh where the convoy was attacked is below the fork. — There aren’t any "militant" groups operating in that part of Pakistan. Shikarpur is very far away from the border and from the "tribal" areas.
(As a secondary question, where were the convoy’s armed guards while all this was going on?)
Then there’s the problem with the source:
"Senior local officials … … …
That "senior local official" is either a former member of a particular branch of the Pakistani military 1 , 2 or a civilian who reports to them. A "senior local official" may well be a civilian but they’re not part of a civilian civil service as the term is understood here in the west they’re part of a civilian civil service which defers to the military and often takes its orders from them.
The Pakistani government and military are rightly outraged at an attack on their troops by a supposedly friendly NATO (read America). In response they’ve launched an operation to show how much leverage over NATO/American logistics they have. Part of that operation is to control and if necessary pollute the information stream. I find it hard to believe that twelve "militants" conveniently turned up a hell of a long way from where they normally operate and torched a convoy without any opposition either from the convoy’s guards or the local paramilitary police or army. When I look at a map and consider the facts I find it very easy to believe that the Pakistani military thoroughly understand the concept of "plausible deniability".
Other useful sources:
- Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] – Pakistan Intelligence Agencies
- Inter-Services Intelligence – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia