Kathy Gannon's 'two decades of experience' count for much among her favorable reviewers. Too bad she did the vast bulk of her reporting from Pakistan, and relied heavily on Pakistani officials (and of course, 'independent' Afghan, humanitarian and diplomatic sources also firmly under the Pakistani spell) for her insight.
Contrary to the impression she leaves, Miss Gannon spent precious little time in Afghanistan. When she did, she was utterly dependent on Afghan assistants and interpreters. She never grasped how thick was the fog of war (and disinformation) on which she (thought she) was reporting.
Without understanding them at all, Miss Gannon utterly despises the mujahideen, who fought the Red Army to a standstill in the '80s and then overthrew Moscow's communist lackeys in Kabul in 1992. At that point the 'muj' suddenly found themselves forced to continue the civil war -- now, against proxies armed by an entente of all Afghanistan's militarily significant neighbors, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.
One of the groups besieging the capital was a renegade mujahideen faction. One was a communist militia. The third was a collection of Kabuli Hazara street gangs, led by a Shiite cleric with assistance from a former communist general. Between them, they leveled much of the capital with indiscriminant shelling as they tried to fight their way in. When ultimately they failed, the Pakistanis armed the Taliban -- and arranged for wealthy Arabs including the Saudi regime to finance them. That, of course, ultimately did the trick.
Miss Gannon never really understood events in those terms, or anyway was careful not to let on. Indeed, in the early 1990s she was a ringleader of an informal western news blackout, regarding Pakistani Army arms convoys to the renegade fighters who were shelling Kabul and its defenders.
In fact, Miss Gannon -- who appears to have attained most of her understanding of events at Islamabad cocktail parties -- has always preferred to blame the victims. Therefore her account is a sweepingly inaccurate litany of slander, rumor, and at least one bloodcurdling account of atrocities -- the Afshar 'massacre'-- that never actually occurred.
The story she thought she was covering had heroes. But Miss Gannon pours her bitterest bile on them, the men who defended the capital from a parade of quislings, terrorists and would-be tyrants. These were the Panjsheri fighters led by Ahmad Shah Masood, the mujahideen leader who overthrew the communists and became defence minister. Her irrational, almost obsessive hatred for Masood, his followers and allies -- and her baseless slanders, sourced direct from his political enemies -- followed Masood into the mountains after his retreat from Kabul. As we see it lingers today, fouling bookshelves even after his death at the hands of Al Qaeda assassins two days before 9/11.
To promote her view, Miss Gannon sometimes relies on anonymous sources -- or would like to. Unfortunately, it is clear from tone and content that a key source was Sayed Es'Haq Gailani -- an exiled Pashtun feudal lord from Kandahar who was one of ISI's foremost tools in manipulating western reporters -- and others like him.
Meanwhile, she protects her own pet terrorists: completely misrepresenting, for example, the aforementioned Hazara gangs' ethnic-cleansing operation in southern and western Kabul, from June 1992 through January 1993. Not surprisingly, she goes easy on the Taliban too, portraying them as simple villagers misled by Pakistanis and Arabs.
It must have been hard for Miss Gannon even to admit that Pakistan link: She spent the 1990s (one of her 'two decades') covering up the relationship between the Pakistani army and the succession of Afghan terrorists who destroyed the capital and kept the country at war.
One of the noisiest bees in Miss Gannon's bonnet is her bizarre attempt to blame Masood and his allies for the rise of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. There is no question that Masood did his best to forestall Arab support for his enemies, by trying to convince them that his government -- not Pakistan-backed terrorists -- deserved their support. To that end, it is and has always been common knowledge that representatives of wealthy Arab governments and bunyads - foundations -- occasionally visited Kabul. There is also no question that Masood and his allies were aware of bin Ladin's arrival in eastern Afghanistan in 1996.
Gannon, however, chooses to ignore or misrepresent key points: Masood's writ didn't run in Nangrahar; OBL was invited there by local authorities, their relationship with Kabul was nominal at best, and Masood couldn't have kept him out if he had wanted to. More to the point, Masood never enlisted Arab fighters to help him take on his civil war foes. The Taliban, on the other hand, became utterly dependent on them.
One hopes this book will be translated into Persian and Pashto, and circulated widely in Afghanistan. Masood's memory is widely loved, and keenly respected even among his erstwhile enemies. Afghans (unlike many western hacks, diplomats and do-gooders) aren't stupid. They will swiftly appraise this confused litany of slander at its true worth.