The CNN Screw-Up ?

News, Propaganda or Disinformation? You Decide

By Ejaz Haider

It does not seem that Mr Ware, the CNN reporter, was up to some mischief. But someone else was. If not that then the way the story has been put out is a case of professional incompetence of a high order. Also, did Mr Ware bother to check what someone in the newsroom was doing? If not, next time he should


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The CNN Screw-Up

By Ejaz Haider

July 13, 2009 "Daily Times" --- Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s the credible CNN for you. This is how the story goes.

Michael Ware of CNN interviews Maj.-Gen Athar Abbas, Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations and the network puts out the story thus:

“Pakistan’s military says it is in contact with Afghan’s Taliban leader and that it can bring him and other commanders to the negotiating table with the United States.

“In an interview with CNN’s Michael Ware, Pakistan military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said in return for any role as a broker between the United States and the Taliban, Pakistan wants concessions from Washington over Pakistan’s concerns with long-time rival India (italics mine).”

When I read this story Saturday morning, I couldn’t believe it. The officer to whom these words were attributed by CNN, Gen Abbas, is as smart as they can get. I could not imagine he would say something like this, even if we were to assume, for the sake of the argument, that the Pakistan Army and the ISI can in fact play such a central role in mediating between the Americans and the Taliban.

Let me continue with this assumption and explain why. If the American government wants Pakistan to play such a role and if Pakistan can and is willing to do so, such a course of action and those channels would remain highly secret until a very advanced stage in negotiations — and then too not everything would come out and so openly.

This is the kind of story of whose details one gets well after things have happened. Again, even at that stage, no one person can bring the full dossier to a newspaper office or a tv channel. It requires much research and talking to several actors to piece together the story.

Gen Abbas is a career cavalry officer who has done his war course, his national defence course, and commanded an armoured division. He was chosen to head the ISPR because in addition to his outstanding achievements as an officer, he also comes from a highly literary family and is a very sophisticated gentleman, the kind who is at ease on both sides of the fence.

And he is careful in choosing his words. Did he say this then?

I checked the video of the interview and the transcript. There is absolutely nothing there that matches the CNN story. Let’s begin with the last question by Mr Ware of CNN:

Ware: General, I am getting the wind-up from your aide, just one last question. We saw great success in the Iraq theatre, where America engaged the insurgents it was fighting against and eventually put 103,000 Sunni insurgents on the American payroll that assisted them in their fight against al Qaeda, and it assisted America in its challenge to curb Iranian influence. Is there room for such negotiation here? In the Afghan-Pakistan theatre? Can America negotiate with the groups it’s currently fighting with?

[My italics; please note how Mr Ware is positioning his question...]

Abbas: Certainly [the general agrees with the idea of negotiating; anyone would] — I think that you can’t use one formula in dealing with various groups...” [Anyone who is dealing with COIN operations and terrorism would use multiple strategies to address, lessen and eradicate the threat and talking can be a most effective strategy if one can find partners...]

Ware: But can America talk to these groups? Can part of the solution, America negotiating with these forces?

Abbas: There are reconcilable elements in these whole, in this whole Taliban groups etc. and one has to identify those and they are reconcilable and when there is no harm in negotiating...opening a negotiation with them.

Ware: Just a dialogue.

Abbas: That’s right, dialogue. Eventually one would have to return to the dialogue table.

Ware: And that’s where Pakistan can perhaps provide valuable assistance to the American mission.

Abbas: I think yes that can be worked out, that’s possible.

Mr Ware asks if Pakistan can provide help. Gen Abbas says that can be worked out, that’s possible.

How does it become what the CNN report claims he said? All Gen Abbas is saying is that if the American government wants to open negotiation channels with reconcilable elements and if it wants Pakistan’s help, that’s possible because the American strategy would have changed and Pakistan may be in a better position to help the US; certainly, it could, better than India or Sri Lanka.

Gen Abbas’ statement here may be read with an earlier question by Mr Ware and the general’s response.

Ware: I mean, to what degree can Pakistan’s relationships with both sides — both with the formal Mujahedeen fighters and with America, be a value today in trying to broker a solution? I mean, Pakistan’s long had relationships with Hikmatyar, Haqqani, with the Pashtun tribes. To some degree, those relationships of course naturally continue. How can you use those relationships with these forces who were once friends of America, and now fighting America, of value to bring a solution?

Abbas: That’s right, the ISI was in the forefront of the whole struggle against the Soviets. Now by maintaining the contact with the organisations like what you have mentioned of Hikmatyar and Haqqani, doesn’t mean that the state as a policy is providing them the physical support or the funding or the training. It doesn’t mean that...But having said that, no intelligence organisation in the world shuts its last door on any other organisation. So therefore the contacts are there. The communication remains. But it doesn’t mean that you endorse what they are doing in Afghanistan.

As for the mention of India, Gen Abbas talks, earlier in the interview, about India’s ingress in Afghanistan and how Pakistan perceives the presence and the activities flowing out of that ingress. At no point did he say that if Pakistan were to help America talk to the Taliban it would need the quid pro quo of concessions from the US vis--vis India.

It does not seem that Mr Ware, the CNN reporter, was up to some mischief. But someone else was. If not that then the way the story has been put out is a case of professional incompetence of a high order. Also, did Mr Ware bother to check what someone in the newsroom was doing? If not, next time he should.

For the video and text transcript of Gen Abbas’ interview, please check  and

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at


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