The newsreader Martyn Lewis once complained that there is not enough good news on the telly. To judge by his forays into literature, he would quite happily have presided over a Nine O’Clock made up entirely of dog and cat stories, but he had a point. When there is a spot of bother anywhere in the world there is a queue of foreign correspondents waiting to get in. Come the aftermath, the gradual return to peace and normality, and they are all off again, enticed by the promise of trouble elsewhere.
Take Afghanistan. It is three years since our television screens were bombarded nightly with pictures of al-Qa’eda training camps vanishing in a puff of smoke and of flattened villages where American bombers had missed their targets. Then the Taleban fell and for a few days John Simpson had the run of Kabul in his flak jacket. After that, however, all went quiet save for the odd reference in the Guardian to Afghanistan, ‘the forgotten country’ — the implication being that it was Western powers in general, rather than just TV’s crack reporters, who had abandoned the place. The popular image of Afghanistan is of a lost country which has been ‘bombed back to the Middle Ages’ — or rather, since it has never really emerged from the Middle Ages in the first place, has been bombed back from the Middle Ages to the Iron Age.
Yet how many Britons are aware, as they are fed their nightly diet of trouble in Iraq, that Afghanistan will be holding its first free elections on Saturday? Those few reporters in Afghanistan at present are filing stories not of mutilated corpses but of leathery old mujahedin quietly attending lessons on how to cast their vote and asking innocent questions as to whether they will receive a snack in return for turning out to vote.