October 10, 2003

Is Media Cluelessness on Afghanistan Partially Based on Bad Cartography?

Strategypage has an article on the fact that Afghanistan has never really controlled the southern tribal areas.

The "national" government in Kabul has never controlled the southern tribes in any sense that Western nations understand it. There have often been understandings between the central government and the tribes, quite similar to treaties between separate nations. The central government understands this, the American military leadership understands this, the US government understands this, but the media, in general, is pretty clueless on this subject. This is a largely self-inflicted wound, as the reality of the situation in Afghanistan does not make for good (that is, exciting and easily sold) stories. But portraying the situation as one of national disintegration and constant rebellion does sell. And that's what gets shipped out of the country by most journalists.

I've never actually seen one but I think that maps that draw territory boundaries of these autonomous/limited central influence zones would be highly educational and not just for Afghanistan. While you can fault the journalists to a great degree, it wouldn't be right to ignore the role of the cartographers. If they aren't drawing politically, economically, and legally relevant lines on their map everybody who's not a local or a specialist will be misled. We all deserve better.

Posted by TMLutas at October 10, 2003 12:54 PM