TIME Magazine’s recent feature on warlords in Afghanistan purports to be an up-to-the-minute expose, illustrating how a handful of greedy and rapacious bandit-kings are preventing the country from developing.
Sadly, it is nothing of the sort. It is an example of how sloppy TIME has become, allowing unchecked facts and old copy to be recycled as news.
Reporter Aryn Baker chooses to base much of her report on the activities of the Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. She outlines an unpleasant (but old) story of how Dostum threatened to have a woman raped by 100 men and also how he is now building a massive pink mansion, complete with fish tanks in the entrance hall.
Baker also gives the distinct impression that she has recently met or spoken to the General. “These days, Dostum strides across the marble-inlay floors of his new mansion – a pink, three-tiered wedding cake of a house”. One assumes, reasonably, that Ms Baker has witnessed the General striding through his new palace.
She also quotes him in the present tense: “The money to build the house, Dostum says, came from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for whom he was military chief of staff. According to Dostum, Karzai pays him $80,000 a month to serve as his emissary to the northern provinces. "I asked for a year up front in cash so that I could build my dream house," he says.”
What is the problem with all this, you may ask? Quite simple. Anyone reading this blog – not to mention other sources – will be aware that Dostum has been in Turkey since early December and that there is very little chance of his return. I reported here that Dostum had recently phoned former President Rabbani to complain about the fact that he had been tricked into leaving and could not return.
Time’s reporter Baker mentions none of this. Presumably she dialed a Turkish telephone number when she spoke to him? In fact, she seems to have done very little checking on this story at all. Much of her report is merely the recycling of a story she filed on 9 December last year. Then, in relation to the woman who was threatened by rape, she wrote:
“Last year Samimi received a phone call from General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a US ally who was appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as Army chief of Staff, threatened to have her raped ‘by 100 men’ if she continued investigating a rape case in which he was implicated. Dostum denied every making such a threat and calls the rape allegation ‘propaganda’. A witness to the phone call, military prosecutor General Habibullah Qasemi, was dismissed from his post soon after, despite carrying a sheaf of glowing recommendation letters penned by U.S. military supervisors."
Compare that to what she reported in her 14 Feb story:
"In 2007, Samimi received a phone call from Dostum threatening to have her raped "by 100 men" if she continued investigating a rape case in which he was implicated. Dostum denies ever making such a threat, telling TIME that the rape allegation is "propaganda." And yet a witness to the phone call, military prosecutor General Habibullah Qasemi, was dismissed from his government post soon afterward, despite carrying a sheaf of glowing recommendation letters penned by U.S. military supervisors."
I should add that other sections of Baker’s more recent report are lifted almost without change from the story filed in December. She has clearly not made any further checking calls or she has accepted the propaganda put out by Dostum's officials.
When I contacted TIME to ask them about all these matters, this was their response: “Aryn Baker, who reported and wrote the article about Afghan warlords in the current issue of TIME, stands by her reporting that, according to General Dostum, Dostum’s men and government officials, Dostum is not in exile in Turkey but is there only to receive treatment for an unspecified condition before returning shortly to Afghanistan.” Oh well, it must be true then.