- Date published:
8:49 am, April 25th, 2013 - 34 comments
Categories: accountability, afghanistan, International, Maori Issues, news, spin, us politics, war - Tags: investigative journalism, jon stephenson, maori tv, nicky hager
Last night Maori TV screened an excellent documentary He Toki Huna New Zealand in Afghanistan (by Kay Ellmers and Annie Goldson). It is now available for viewing on Maori TV’s website.
It explores the role of NZ in Afghanistan, particularly through following the investigations of jounrlait Jon Stephenson. The camera goes with him around the streets and in the living areas in Afghanistan. It looks beyond the US-supporting government PR. Afghanis tell of exactly how useful they see the role of the Kiwi forces there.
The documentary is as much about investigative journalism as it is about Kiwis in Afghanistan. Mike McRoberts talks in a low key, down-to-earth way about Jon Stephenson’s work and about travelling with the NZ services in Afghanistan. Nicky Hager and other Kiwis provide commentary in between the footage shot in Afghanistan: footage that tends to have the raw immediacy of foreign correspondents, following the story in the field.
Sally Woodfield provides a review and some background to the documentary in this Scoop article.
Commissioned by Māori Television and directed and produced by award-winning filmmakers Annie Goldson (Brother Number One, An Island Calling) and Kay Ellmers (Canvassing the Treaty, Polynesian Panthers) through Occasional Productions, the documentary gives an overview of the engagement, and backgrounds some of Afghanistan’s turbulent history to provide context to the post 9/11 invasion.
Dr Goldson said the documentary sheds light on our recent past and holds valuable lessons for the future.
“By joining in the war post-911, have we been ‘good global citizens’ fighting the good fight against international terrorism? Or did New Zealand enter into an alliance that has meant our soldiers have been actively and militarily involved in a complex conflict that most of us know little about and have not agreed to participate in?” …
Māori Television general manager of programming Haunui Royal said He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan is an important documentary that all New Zealanders should see.
“We hope that it will generate meaningful discussion and encourage Kiwis to talk about the reasons behind New Zealand’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan.
“Many of those who died while serving in Afghanistan were Māori so the documentary will also serve as a powerful reminder of the huge sacrifices our soldiers and their whanau have made over the past 10 years.”
Well worth a watch. I will view it more than once, as an example of, by and about excellent Kiwi journalism.
I agree- an excellent documentary. It’s heartening to see such great journalism still.
Does anyone know if it can be purchased?
Even more important: when will it be screened on Television One?
It’s on the Maori Channel’s on demand.
I’ll catch up with it later on.
Sobering but a must watch. Probably there has always been a gap between the image for the home audience and the grim reality. But you weep for the people of Afghanistan.
He Toki Huna: New Zealand In Afghanistan
by Kay Ellmers and Annie Goldson
Maori Television, 8:30 p.m., Wednesday 24 April 2013
Some impressions and jottings from a cursory first viewing….
1.) Instead of the usual assortment of political deadbeats, professional time-servers, paid liars and mealy-mouthed “comedians” that usually comment on our “involvement” in Afghanistan, this documentary went to people who really know what they are talking about. So during the hour, we were privileged to hear the insights of such people as James Fergusson, the author of an acclaimed history of the Taliban; Donald Matheson, senior lecturer in journalism at Canterbury University; journalists Nicky Hager, Jon Stephenson, Mike McRoberts and Ali Safi; and even the odd honest New Zealand soldier, namely the Army patrol man Alpha Kennedy.
2.) Of course, to balance out the rigorous analysis and honesty, Goldson presented us with a gruesome line-up of liars and scoundrels, but they were shown up for what they are, rather than being treated seriously as they usually are in the obedient corporate media. These liars and scoundrels included: the new NZ Defence Force chief Dave Gawn; the “civilian director” of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, Richard Prendergast; U.S. General John R. Allen; NZ Chief of Defence Rhys Jones; former Defence Minister Wayne “Inane” Mapp; Commander Shaun Fogerty of the NZDF; and “Not So Honest” John Key.
3.) Nicky Hager revealed a leaked internal memo that set out the government’s and army’s PR strategy: “simply repeat at all times that we are not going to war in Afghanistan, we are going there to assist in reconstruction.”
4.) When NZDF chief Dave Gawn was confronted with this, he blithered: “I’m not familiar with the document he’s talking about. But consistent messages are important. Otherwise you’re all over the show.”
5.) Jon Stephenson actually did something radical: he went out and interviewed some Bamiyan locals. Their responses completely undermine what our Government and Army officials have been saying for ten years. While the Hazara people in Bamiyan acknowledge the NZ soldiers have done some effective security work, they dismissed the idea that the Kiwis have done any useful reconstruction—which is what they are supposed to be doing there. The verdict of the young men being interviewed: “It’s a joke. Their reconstruction efforts were of no use.” ….. “They built my school, badly. It’s falling down already.” The projects were damned as piecemeal, and amateurish.
6.) New Zealand soldier Alpha Kennedy: “We have to ask ourselves: would we tolerate the presence of foreign soldiers in New Zealand? The Afghan resistance is very similar to the Maori tribes fighting the British invaders in the nineteenth century.”
7.) Mike McRoberts: “Our presence in Bamiyan attracts resistance. We draw fighters into Bamiyan by the very fact we are there.”
8.) Television footage of street demonstrations following the Qu’ran burnings by U.S. troops. Major General Gawn has an answer ready: “There are a hundred thousand American troops in Afghanistan. There will always be a few bad apples.” Gen. John R. Allen tries to muster up every bit of gravitas he can as he assures the U.S. television audience that those responsible for the Qu’ran burnings “will be tracked down.”
9.) The Taliban are far more popular than the foreign press would have us believe. Even the many Afghans who do not care for the Taliban admire them for taking the fight to the occupation forces. Even in Kabul, support for the Taliban is open and widespread. Major General Dave Gawn acknowledges the frustrations of fighting against guerrillas: “They are an insurgency. They don’t wear a uniform. They live amongst the population.” Such frustration was also voiced by the Germans in Yugoslavia in the 1940s, by the Americans in South Vietnam in the 1960s, and the Russians in, errrr, Afghanistan in the 1980s.
10.) Nicky Hager: “The Taliban is the name for anyone who doesn’t like us.”
11.) Footage of Rhys Jones and Wayne “Inane” Mapp blithering confusedly about SAS troops being there to “mentor” the Afghan “forces”, and then being immediately undercut by the infamous photo of Willie Apiata and an SAS comrade striding through Kabul, with guns smoking. Commander Shaun Fogerty sounds off about the publication of the photo: “very disappointing.”
12.) New Zealand has little history of journalists confronting official lies. Nicky Hager: “The ideology of the heroic soldier is almost beyond question. To even question the mission—not the soldiers, but the mission—is heresy.”
13.) The documentary effectively and damningly shows the hurried official attempt to cover up the truth of the botched mission that led to the death of SAS Corporal Douglas Grant. Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones comes across as particularly dishonest, but he is the embodiment of Truthfulness when compared to Prime Minister John Key, who reiterates obvious lies at a press conference, then refuses to answer any questions.
14.) Another damning clip of Key, this time spinning his lies on TV One’s Breakfast programme, while interviewer Corin Dann sits mute and bewildered, as usual.
15.) As the documentary nears its end, even Major General Dave Gawn allows himself to acknowledge reality: “I’d be very guarded about whether the insurgency is growing.”
16.) James Fergusson: “We are pursuing exactly the same strategy as the Russians did.”
17.) Donald Matheson: “It is the job of New Zealand journalists to help us work out what has happened.”
18.) Jon Stephenson: “It’s the job of journalism to hold the powers-that-be to account.”
19.) Interestingly, this documentary was preceded by a warning that it contained language that could offend. There was actually no swearing at all on the programme, so I presume this was a sly critique of what we were about to hear from Gawn, Jones, Allen, Prendergast, Fogerty, Mapp and Key.
20.) I’ll leave the last word to an honest soldier, Alpha Kennedy: “The future is very, very grim.”
Thanks Morrissey; that is the Best precis of yours I have read yet; makes for “grim” reading indeed.
Thank you, my friend. I thought the documentary was just excellent; I wonder if any other TV station will ever show it.
My summary of New Zealand In Afghanistan:
The Russians came and when they went all hell let loose. Tribes fighting tribes . Mayhem.
The Taliban asserted control Afghanistan style. Cruel but order restored.
USA + allies invade. Taliban is the enemy and use arms that had been supplied by CIA . The population torn apart and punished by the bombs.
NZ and other allies leave. Money dries up. Tribal forces rule.
What will happen next?
Chaos. The Taliban will step in and the awful cycle begins again
Very good work, Ian. I disagree with just one thing: you write that the Taliban “will step in” once the “allies” leave. That implies that the Taliban is not already firmly in control of Afghanistan.
I was in Brazil when the government decided to commit to invading Afghanistan. I sent a few emails off to various politicians. In reply, I received one from Keith Locke’s deputy vice under temporary secretary acknowledging receipt of my message. I stated that I didn’t think we should be helping the Americans secure land to build a pipeline, that invading a country was not a proper response to an attack by a few fanatics who the Americans had used against Russia, and that the Taleban government had offered to turn Osama over for trial anyway.
Helen Clark did not cover herself in glory by joining this adventure.
I remember going on the demonstrations in Auckland against Clark’s government committing to Afghanistan. The protest didn’t stop it happening.
…demonstrations in Auckland against Clark’s government committing to Afghanistan.
I think you meant to say “committing to the United States.”
Both – 2 in one. Committing to the US in Afghanistan… while the US moved on to Iraq.
I realise that most people who read the posts here will have quite specific views of the reasons why New Zealand went to Afghanistan, but since I have had a direct involvement, and thus remain accountable I will give you my view.
September 11was caused by Al Queada and their base was in Afghanistan. The Taliban Government was requested to remove them and turn over the leadership to US authorities. They were under clear notice that if they refused there was UN sanction to go and get them. As we know they did refuse and Afghanistan was invaded. New Zealand was involved from the outset.
I recall Deputy Prime Ministers Andertons speech in Parliament in Sept 2001 committing New Zealands support. Given the history between the US and NZ (and I am not primarily considering the nuclear issue – the relationship is deeper than that) I do not think that NZ could have simply stood on the sidelines.
Of course once the invasion had occurred and the Taliban government was removed, a new govt had to be established – not an easy task given the history of Afghanistan. This has all been authorised by UN resolutions. Could it have been done better – yes. The US diversion to Iraq meant the effort needed to successfully establish the new govt of Afghanistan during 2003 to 2007 did not really take place.
ON my visits to the PRT it was obvious that NZ had not done enough civil aid work, yes some had been done, but soldiers are not really the best people to undertake long term reconstruction. Since 2008 permanent roads have been built linking the main towns, a hospital has been built, a Polytech has been built, and at long last permanent electricity systems are being established. Some of these things had started in 2007. Quite a lot of this has been done by partners, South Korea, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.There is now a lot more basic economic activity and more children go to school, basic health services are better. The Province has a vastly better infrastucture than ever before.
Bamyan is mostly Hazara, and they have welcomed NZ, but the north east corner are Tajik and they have not. All our deaths have occurred up there. This will be a permanent challenge in Afghanistan, how to reconcile tribes that have historic deep enmities.
The SAS contribution was to deal directly with establishing the authority of the central Govt. The prime way to do this was to train the Afghan Police Crisis Police Unit. This involved very comprehensive training, and effectively working directly with them on their missions in and around Kabul. That inevitably put the SAS in the direct line of fire and on occasion they had to take over the lead when events got too much for the less well trained CRU.
Gen Mateparae and I knew that this would mean more SAS publicity than historically the case. The General authorised TV programmes on the SAS and also a book, so that New Zealanders had a better understanding of what the SAS does.
As we know there were high profile events in Kabul and I gave interviews on all of them. It did not seem to me the option of “No Comment” would be credible, even though various defence commentators thought that should be the approach.
When families have suffered the loss of a loved one they need to know what happened and how it happened. New Zealand needs to know that as well since service people serve on behalf of us all.
As for the future of Afghanistan, well I don’t think the Taliban will simply takeover, but they will become involved in the governance. They seem to recognise they cannot be a base for international terrorists. Afghanistan will have a form of democratic govt supported financially for at least a decade to come. But is a tribal society and the tribes expect a large measure of local autonomy. It is also likely to remain a place where India and Pakistan will compete for influence and that will challenge stability in the region.
You didn’t mention the major oil and gas pipelines planned to run through Afghanistan, needed to avoid routes involving Russia and Iran.
Also that estimates suggested that there were 100 or fewer actual Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, most of the other fighters involved were there for tribal or family reasons.
Levelling those bases is what standoff weapons like cruise missiles are for.
How much heroin was produced in Afghanistan in 2012? Where did the money go?
Maybe you would like to comment on the documented instances of New Zealand soldiers being bullied and harassed by U.S. goons into handing over captives to possible torture and/or summary execution, in violation of international law.
You write as if you were a main player, giving statements to the press, yet speak here anonymously. Puzzling.
Thank you Wayne,
That is a very pro forma statement that unsurprisingly ignores nearly every major point of conflict in the story. CV raises perhaps the most important questions, regarding oil and opium. I would like to add one:
Do you have a comment on the statement from former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that AlQaeda is little more than a fabrication of Government Intelligence Services and is controlled mainly by the CIA and its alphabet of international associates.
Maori TV have posted the film on their site and have the rights to show it 5 more times — we will at some point, release the film on DVD as it has strong educational potential. However, if I can eke out the time! we intend to edit a feature version for the NZ International Film Festival (about 70 mins). As always making documentary, one always has heaps of footage left on the cutting room floor and it would be good to incorporate more aspects of the story, and let it breathe a little more. TV tends to clip along at the faster pace while cinema can take its time.
Thanks for all the support.
Thanks, Annie, for that info. A feature version would be great.
The TV version is excellent and the release was very well timed.
Karol, I understood that the readers of this site know that I am Wayne Mapp, given the nature of my previous contributions to various threads over the last twelve months and I certainly thought that you knew this. I have made it specifically clear in previous posts that I used to be the MP for North Shore.
Good to see you on The Standard, Dr. Mapp. Now might be the perfect time for you to comment on the documented instances of New Zealand soldiers being bullied and harassed by U.S.soldiers into handing over captives to possible torture and/or summary execution, in violation of international law.
Everyday is like Sunday, Morrissey
I have publicly spoken about this before. The NZ SAS protested about the treatment of the detainees by US forces (this was 2003 – I think). As I understand it this led to changes in procedures. The fact that NZ soldiers filed formal complaints reflected extremely well on them, they did not simply acquiesce in the situation.
I would note that the documentary did not go over the material in the Metro article. Perhaps John Stephenson recognized that some of the material was wrong. For instance there was an allegation that NZ soldiers (in 2009 as I recall) handed detainees over to the Afghan police who were then mistreated by the Afghan police. The NZDF carefully checked this out (as with all the incidents in the article). NZ forces were not even in the area.
It is possible that it was British SAS. Quite a number of NZ’ers have joined the British SAS, and the local Afghans could have thought it was the NZ SAS. John is heavily reliant on his Afghan sources, and as he said has had pretty limited resources, so it is a mistake that could easily occur. But this is really speculation on my part.
The documentary relied pretty heavily on Nicky Hagars view of the Afghan situation. It is not a view held by successive NZ Govts. As I have stated, the Afghan Taliban Govt had the opportunity to hand over Al Quaeda, (or least facilitate their handover). This was a requirement of international law. Their failure to do so led to the invasion.
And I don’t think cruise missiles would have worked. This had been tried by President Clinton and failed. As you saw with the Osama raid, success requires actual boots on the ground.
Of course as Colin Powell has said “if you break it you have to fix it”. The Taliban Govt was removed by end of 2001. But a sustainable democratic Afghan Govt has been hard to achieve, given the history of the country.
One would have thought that, as a cabinet minister, you would have acquired a degree of caution, and a modicum of judgement, and even a lick of common sense. I am sure that I am not the only person who will consider your choosing to quote someone as discredited as Colin Powell, and with apparent approval, as a troubling sign.
I’ll deal with your claims about the SAS actions, or lack thereof, in detail later.
Thanks for clarifying, Wayne. Sorry I had missed picking up on your past references to your identity.
Thanks for contributing your views on the issues.
I’d have to admit that I wasn’t sure if you were “out” or not. I’ve seen you hinting at who you are and obviously I can see your e-mail*. We view that the only way that someone should or can be outed is if they explicitly do it themselves. So we act as if they have not until they explicitly out themselves.
Anyhow, I’ll note that you’re now out with a semi-public handle.
* At least until a certain bill gets close to passing in anything like its proposed form. At which point at an overseas server, the logs stop being collected. And all incoming and stored IP numbers and e-mail addresses get automatically and non-reversibly hashed. It will make it more of a pain administering this site as I’d have no idea who people are or where they’re coming in from. However it is a choice of doing that or having an essentially unconstrained anti-privacy law overriding our site rules. But you know that.. Right?
US drone strikes make al-qaeda stronger.
US drone strikes make al-qaeda stronger. ghostrider888
And the awful truth is that distant pilots would never know what destruction they cause. Chilling.
Conduct a drone strike on a Khandahar village, then drive 15 minutes back home off base to have tea with the family and kids.
That’s what I call civilised warfare.
On top of being a war crime, drone strikes are a strategic blunder, but then US foreign policy has been a strategic blunder for decades.
‘September 11was caused by Al Queada and their base was in Afghanistan. The Taliban Government was requested to remove them and turn over the leadership to US authorities. They were under clear notice that if they refused there was UN sanction to go and get them. As we know they did refuse and Afghanistan was invaded. ‘
Hmmm my recollection is along the lines that the Taliban were still engaged in the middle of a civil war against several remaining warlords and it is arguable,I think, that they were even in a position to hand over Bin Laden and his mates. However they did offer at least, if they could get them…to deliver them to a third country where due process of law could begin. In the first instance the Taliban wanted to see what evidence the US had that made Bin Laden guilty. I understand that at that stage..none was forthcoming from the US.
As for the SAS ‘establishing the authority of the central Govt.’ I understand that Karzai would be lucky to have control over the suburb he lives in in Kabul.
What a waste.
Interesting comments from Wayne. I think that there was a fundamental failure of New Zealand to be able to understand the situation, and the consequent reliance on US intelligence and interpretations of that intelligence.
This can be attributed in part to limited expertise in New Zealand on what Wayne notes is a complex part of the world that can be read in many different ways; and this in turn results from the parochialism and profit-focused nature of NZ universities, which have not been able to develop the comparable centres of expertise present in Australia, and a fundamental distrust within elite circles of critics and ‘outsiders’ with expertise.
If NZ ever decides to invade Indonesia*, call me.
*This is an impossibility, I’m joking.
Fascinating and brutally honest. It reminds me of NZs participation in the Vietnam war. I think we are here for the right reasons- to give the people a chance to have their voice heard